Expressive Photography

Children in school, remote control

Challenges in the classroom around social inclusion and technologies have, to date, been particularly underexplored in relation to photography. This case study set out to explore how photography may be practiced at school by children with additional needs and their teachers, as a means to support and enhance interpersonal communication; it also sought to generate considerations for the design of photographic tools for use by teachers and pupils to support and enhance interpersonal communication at school. Our research team included an interdisciplinary mix of designers, computer scientists, social scientists and healthcare clinicians.

We partnered with a local school that accommodates children with a broad spectrum of complex individual needs aged between 2 to 19 years. Our study was co-designed with the school staff. Discussions with staff at the outset determined our sample of Keystage 3 pupils aged 11-14, their form tutor and facilitators. In dialogue with the staff, we planned a series of five workshops that took place at school during the Spring Term. Each workshop aimed to explore an aspect of photography, including ‘how’ and ‘why photos are taken and used in the classroom and beyond. Activities for each workshop were planned in response to output from the previous workshop, in dialogue with staff.

Significant for SiDE, we were keen to explore a methodology with potential efficacy for understanding social inclusion. We adopted a design-led, experience-centred approach whereby we enlisted creative design practice as a form of inquiry that would direct our procedure and ground our exploration in an observed, tacit and experiential understanding of the school activities. Our design-led inquiry also determined our case study orientation, to generate in-depth, qualitative insights. In application, this approach motivated us to understand how staff currently draw upon resources and strategies for managing and enhancing the learning environment for their pupils, and how the pupils in turn draw upon these resources and respond to the learning environment, the teachers and each other.

We designed bespoke props for each workshop to support our exploration, including hand-held camera lenses and filters for ‘framing’ creative and accessible ‘ways of looking’. The workshop experiences also inspired our prototyping of novel design ideas, which were evaluated by the class. We identified a significant design challenge to support how the school flexibly manages contingency and the wide ranging needs of its pupils in-class, and also to support how to give pupils greater voice in display-making at school. We iteratively developed a photo-triaging system that supports both pupils and teachers better ‘triage’ photos taken at school, of them and by them. The system further enables new opportunities for pupils to access and annotate photos to enrich everyday expression. This system will be deployed at the school for an extended user evaluation during the Summer term.

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