The Lab started with a 2009-2010 VicHealth funded research project, Connected Lives, that looked into the possibilities of using technology to improve the wellbeing of young people living with multiple forms of disadvantage. This project was awarded the national B/HERT Award for Community Engagement in 2010. Project leaders Dale Linegar, a software developer, and Dr Stefan Schutt, a community technology researcher and educator, found that one-on-one technology tuition worked particularly well with young people with Asperger’s Syndrome. At the same time, Linegar’s consultancy Oztron needed a space to run its expanding number of specialist technology projects. The team also sought advice from the young people they had previously worked with, parents and youth organisations.
A space was found in the Trocadero artist studio space in the inner-western suburb of Footscray. Oztron’s developers worked on software projects during the day, then with Lab participants after school. The inspiration for this dual-purpose space came from writer and social activist Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia Project,(http://826valencia.org/), which began by renting a cheap shopfront in a (then) poor San Francisco district and co-locating Eggers’ McSweeney’s literary magazine with an after-school literacy drop in centre. The Lab’s formation was also 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.
The Lab became known quickly and soon found itself with a long waiting list, even after expanding its number of weekly sessions. Others became interested in running their own Lab sites using the proven model, which was externally evaluated in 2013. (Click here to view the 2013 evaluation) With the help of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, this led to the formation of a national network of Labs, currently sitting at 15 sites around Australia delivering over 240 sessions every school term. After helping to run the Lab, then set up the Lab’s not for profit company and board, Lab co-founders Linegar and Schutt handed over the baton to other experienced Lab Network board members in 2015.