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|About The Lab|
What is the Lab?
The Lab is a new Melbourne-based pilot project for 10 to 16 year-old young people with Asperger’s Syndrome who enjoy working with computers. It offers one-to-one tuition by technology professionals in areas such as programming, 3D, digital design and gaming.
The Lab’s approach to learning emerged out of previous projects run by its Victoria University founders. By pairing young people who have Asperger’s Syndrome with tutors who have technical expertise in areas of mutual interest, The Lab seeks to improve the wellbeing and life prospects of young people who are often highly skilled but whose condition can lead them to fall through gaps in the mainstream education system. The project is based in a hired space within a Footscray art centre. At The Lab a group of between four and eight computer programmers and designers work on technology projects (virtual world, mobile phone, online etc) for VU, Monash University, Canberra Institute of technology and others. Designers and programmers with an interest in The Lab’s work can stay on after they finish their daily work to tutor Lab participants.
The Lab runs on Thursday afternoons after school, and will caters for nine young people. The facility has high-speed internet, a small bank of laptops for those without their own and large wall displays where young people can share their work.
The aim of The Lab is to work with a group of young people over the long term, and to develop a practical model that can be adopted by other educators. Its name and logo is deliberately neutral to avoid stigmatising participants, and to focus on their potential rather than the fact that they have Asperger’s Syndrome.
The project team includes technologists, educators, a project manager and support workers for parents and participants. A parent support group is being developed, as well as an online clearing house of information for carers and young people.
How did it start?
The Lab started with a 2009 – 2010 VicHealth funded research project that looked into the possibilities of using technology to improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged young people. The team found that one-on-one technology tuition worked particularly well with young people with Asperger’s Syndrome. At the same time, the team needed a space to run its expanding number of specialist technology projects.
Inspiration for The Lab has also come through writer Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia Project, which sees workers on Eggers’ McSweeney’s literary magazine undertaking one-on-one literacy tuition with disadvantaged children. McSweeney’s workers are located in a shopfront premises alongside an after-school literacy drop in centre.
Educationally, The Lab is influenced by constructivist theories of technology-enhanced learning such as Greg Kearsley and Ben Shneiderman’s Engagement Theory, Axel Bruns’ Produsage, Greg Ulmer’s Electracy, Mitch Resnick’s Constructionism and the work of Professor Henry Jenkins. These theories focus on the importance of focused, meaningful activities that deploy digital technology to build on the interests of young people.