Playing with Lego? No it's metaphorical modelling to explain the power of the interactive web.

Inaugural lectures – by which new professors celebrate their appointment – can be a bit, well, academic. Not so that of David Gauntlett, now chair of Media and Communications at the School of Media, Arts and Design, University of Westminster.

David chose November 12 for his lecture because it was the 18th birthday of Tim Berners-Lee’s memo proposing the World Wide Web. After a learned yet amusing review of how the the Web has developed in that time, David turned to how we might use the web to tackle global issues like climate change.

However, before doing so, he asked us to take up the free pack of Lego pieces given to us at the door and build a tower, followed by a place we would like to be … I think. (By that time I was rather absorbed in discussions with my neighbour on the function of different pieces).

The new interactive web allows us to be active, hands-on participants and change the world … and the Lego was a way of getting us engaged in a lecture room famous for more passive media – the first British cinema show by the Lumiere brothers.

I found it a powerful message, but couldn’t resist practising a bit of hands-on interactive media at the reception after the lecture, popping my Flip video camera in front of David with a cheeky challenge to explain the Lego modelling.

As you can hear, David said with great good humour that what we were really doing was building a metaphorical model showing what we thought a better world would be like … then effortlessly took in my rather irrelevant reference to home cooking.

All this gives me a chance to point to David’s web site,, which “explores the complex connection between media and identities, and tries to have a little fun.” There’s more there on how to do that using Lego, seriously.

I’m hooked. I can remember the lecture, and I’m now learning lot’s more from David’s site. Teaching 2.0. I think Tim Berners-Lee would approve.


  • November 13, 2008 - 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Great video and follow up post David. I really enjoyed the lecture too and remarkably for a talk about web2.0, 95% of it had absolutely nothing to do with technology.

    I have noticed how the web2.0 communitity (of which I tentatively, recalling groucho marx’s famous quote, might include myself as a member) doesn’t appear to have grown significantly over the last couple of years.

    My colleague Rohan is determined to ‘ungeek’ the whole scene which I think would help. And it’s people like David G who can communicate clearly about what’s so exciting about it, and not get carried away with the tools, are what we need to spread the word about the future potential of the web.

  • November 14, 2008 - 12:33 am | Permalink

    lol @ home cooking 🙂

    Having worked with an awful lot of freelance trainers in my previous job I’ve seen some awful examples of this sort of thing – they read it in a book or hear it from somebody and think “oh its practical” or “its different” I’ll stick it in and it’ll make me look innovative. The problem with those failures is they don’t make the relationship between what people are hoping to get from their training/activities/workshops – they end up just throwing it in as an activity and hoping that will work.

    They do work really well though with good facilitation – when the facilitator has a clear idea of what they’re trying to get participants to think about – and also (and it sounds like this worked for you David) using the activities to get people talking about the subject (and not talking about why the hell are we doing this?!)

    I like Rolands comments about getting more people to make discussions about using the web more accessible and ‘ungeeky’.

    I have to say that having 2 very young children I’m confident I could have built a very big lego tower 😉

  • November 14, 2008 - 12:41 am | Permalink

    Mike – part of it was being pathetically grateful for some fun interaction in a University lecture hall … I’m sure Prof G can do more in a less traditional setting:-)

    I’m hoping NESTA will host an unconference for ungeeks…

  • Roxanne Persaud
    November 14, 2008 - 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m a closet geek and found the lecture simple and thought-provoking. The concepts landed in my brain with a light touch and I can’t get them out. Good job, David.

    *btw this is my first ever comment on a blog!

  • Roxanne Persaud
    November 14, 2008 - 7:22 pm | Permalink

    By the way, if it’s ok to post links, here’s another interpretation of websites as gardens. Nott LEGo ones though.

  • November 16, 2008 - 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Now there’s a challenge I like!

    Well as it happens, we (at Nesta) are hosting an event for ungeeks, although it isn’t an unconference, it’s a film plus a little bit of talking and game playing thrown in for good measure. The film is called UsNow, by Ivo Gormley, which is very good by the way, and our target audience is precicesly those people who don’t really know what all the fuss about the web is all about…yet! Anyway, details (including sign up) here:

    PS. Mike – I also have 2 young children and I challenge you to a lego tower building competition! 😉

  • November 16, 2008 - 8:51 pm | Permalink

    So many good events at just the wrong time for me lately :-/ The Ivo Gormley thing sounds really interesting.

    I’ll be spending the day instead buying additional lego – watch out for the film evidence soon (I have competitive issues 🙂 )

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