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Lab 1: Learning and unlearning

By Maaike Meindertsma, BA Fine Art Student from Hanzehogeschool, Groningen Netherlands, e-mail:

STEAM+ Citizen Science for Marine Conservation, hosted by Ca’Foscari University College, Venice.

On Sunday the 18th of July I arrived at San Servolo for the first meet up with the participants and organizers of the first STEAM+ Innovation Lab. After taking a wrong boat in the burning heat of Venice I was happy to be welcomed at the island with much kindness and enthusiasm. The informal dinner that evening already gave me a nice introduction into the group I would spend the full week with.

On Monday morning we directly started with our first activities. We got an introduction meeting by Dr. Victoria Palacin Silva, who introduced us into the phenomenon of Citizen Science and gave us examples on how to use this kind of structure for a research project.

The afternoon presentation was given by Silvia Rova about the Venice lagoon. Her knowledge of Environmental Sciences helped us immensely for the day to come, but also, because Silvia was born in Venice and still lives there, she was able to gives us some more personal information about what being an inhabitant of Venice meant for her. I found this very valuable, because it gave us more of an emotional connection to the lagoon, as well as the city.

The lectures by Victoria and Silvia gave us background information for the rest of the week, but most of all it gave us food for discussion. Discussion from that point onwards became like a thread through the entire program for me. The moments of discussion were often initiated by the content of the lab itself, but touched upon other points as well. Broader themes like education and sustainability in general were always present and that helped me shape my own idea and opinion about the STEAM+ program as a whole.

It was fun to use different methods of discussion. Short discussions after every lecture or activity made sure I talked to every single person in the room and didn’t stick to the safe bubble of people I already knew. Next to that there were silent discussions. By using colored cards, we were able to write down our thoughts uninfluenced by everyone else in the room. In silence we would share the cards and group them together. I like that this method made sure that there was input from every single participant.

The second day was an excursion day to Ca’ Roman , which gave me and I think all the others too, a lot to think about. We touched upon the point of nature preservation, but I learned other things than I expected. I came to learn that nature preservation is very closely related to human intervention, which was brought up by some of the participants. It opened my eyes, not only on this specific topic, but also on the point of how valuable it is to bring people together from different counties and with different worldviews and ideas.

Apart from that, it was great to have a day trip to a very special place in Venice. It gave me more of a feeling about what kind of place the Venice Lagoon actually is and how the city is part of an ever changing ecosystem.

All the information we gathered during the first two days came together on Wednesday and Thursday. These days were focused on discussion an creation of a project. We got into smaller groups based on interest and with this group we stared to make an Citizen Science project. Our group had many great discussions and we ended up creating an idea for an app that could connect people and have them work together to collect plastic waste that is polluting the Venice Lagoon. I loved how our project turned out, but personally I found the theme of Citizen Science a bit limiting. There was a clear difference between our open discussions on Wednesday (when we didn’t think much about an actual project yet) and our more boxed thinking on Thursday (when we had to shape border our discussions to create something we could present). I found it hard to create a project within the box of Citizen Science, while there might be way better other solutions than with using this set method. Of course, it was part of the project, but after the presentations I realized that for me the concept of Citizen Science and the projects we created functioned more as building blocks to understand the broader issues and discussion points than as clear results.

Maybe I found this ‘assignment’ kind of structure not very suitable for STEAM+, but on the other hand, there is some structure needed to help you think and also to make you realize that structure can sometimes be consciously left behind.

Friday, for me the most fruitful day. It was a morning of reflection, which I enjoyed a lot. Sometimes there is not much time for reflection in education, because a lot of time is taken away by production only. I’m sure I wouldn’t have found the week as great as it was, if we didn’t have this moment of reflection together. It made me realize that STEAM+ is indeed about all the disciplines. The fact that the name STEAM is build up out of the words Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and All Others hinted me to think that the sciences and technical parts might more valued than ‘all others’, which turned out not to be true. I’m very glad that this entire project proved me wrong in this aspect.

To round off, I would say this entire week gave me new views not only on Venice, but on humans, education and sustainability as a whole. I’ve opened my view even more and I look back on a great and fruitful week in Venice.

Thanks to everyone involved in the project!

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