Project Ethnography

Project Ethnography pays special attention to collaboration around shared projects. The latter are often material (as in the creation of a garden), but also encompass the creation and maintenance of long-term collaborative spaces held together through shared investment and commitment. Project ethnography brings participants together into groups whose membership is often cross-institutional as well as cross-cultural. Participants, therefore, cannot take for granted a shared “common sense” but must, on the contrary, strive patiently to understand one another.

The interactive forest map displayed below was created at the Town and Country Village Apartments through joint participation in gardening and creative digital remix. The image is interactive, and uses the Goole Maps framework to allow zooming in and out. It is one of a number of informal learning projects which are ongoing at Town and Country, and which seek to nurture local food growing practices at the same time as engaging kids in fun activities that promote creative expression and digital literacy.

(Use the arrows to navigate this map, and imagine changing the foodscape with the Lady Bugs!)

Over the past four years, Ivan Rosero has been working with children and parents from the Town and Country Apartment Complex in Southeastern San Diego, along with undergraduate students from UCSD, to create fun multi-media science learning activities.  Part of a broader collaboration between the Town and Country Learning Center and the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at UCSD, of which Ivan is a member, the goal is to engage community partners in activities that are about, and serve the interests of, the very community where they take place.

One representative example of what these activities look like and the issues they engage is illustrated in the conceptual map above.  As a digital artifact, this map repurposes Google’s mapping software so that in the place of a typical geographic or traffic map, collaborative artistic creations like the “food forest” below become navigable in the same way as a map.  Like a geographic landscape, a creative landscape becomes available for exploration, discussion, and research.

Not immediately visible is the process through which it was created. There are aspects of the image that are photographs taken at Town and Country, and others that are imaginative creations.  All of the photographs were taken by kids, following their own interests in the things that surround them.  Of special importance is the garden bed, which the kids have helped to plant and water, and which has grown in the year and a half since this conceptual map was created to include two additional (and much larger) beds, growing everything from 2 pound zucchinis to grapes!  The collage itself was put together by Camilo Rosero (Ivan’s brother), who is a graphic artist, and Ivan, who is also a software developer, used the open source GMap Image Cutter tool to create the navigable interface.

This kind of work is thus collaborative, creative, and community-centered in all facets of its development. It takes prolonged interaction between collaborating partners to allow this kind of creative process to take place. It takes interest in community issues to find creative ways to blend exploration, research, and art with products that are useful within the community as a way to address its own issues, as well as to create authentic opportunities for learning and development. And it takes committed partners to contribute special expertise in a manner that allows both community members and outside partners to both grow from the experience, instead of framing these interactions (as often happens) as charitable gifts (nothing could be farther from the truth!).

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