Citizen Sensors | Round 2 | Update 1

We’re back at it with our second round of sessions in our two schools. As mentioned in our previous blog, we asked the mentors for their feedback on the sessions and areas where we could improve. The main points were what we sort of already anticipated:

  • Making sure that the same mentors facilitate at the same schools throughout the sessions to create a relationship between learners and mentors.
  • More offline sessions that don’t require as much technology and that are more engaging, less presentation based sessions.

Our main focus for this round has been to make the sessions more engaging and less presentation based, so we’ve had to get creative and think outside the powerpoint box. For our first session, we put together a matching activity as a way to recap some of the content the students learned in the last round. Here is what we did:

BEFORE THE SESSION:

We created a set of 6 air quality flashcards, with images on the front and some sort of description on the back.

We then created an A3 “board” with 6 questions and empty blocks, asking questions like “what is air quality” and “how does the weather impact air quality”

Assembly: Glue the A3 board onto an A2 poster. Put the flashcards in an envelope, glue the envelope to the other side (back) of the poster.

DURING THE SESSION:

Break the class up into groups. Each group will receive a poster board paper with questions on it and a deck of air quality cards on the back. On the piece of paper there are questions about air quality with blank squares. On each card is a picture on one side, and a corresponding answer on the back.

  1. Each group will receive a poster board with questions on one side, and the cards on the back. Before opening the cards, ask the students to discuss and answer (through discussion) each question. Once they have discussed these questions, they can move onto the matching and cards.
  2. Take the cards out of the envelope, and place all cards picture face up, so answers aren’t visible.
  3. Looking at the questions on the poster and the pictures, try to match the card to correct question. Read the answer on the back to see if you choose the right card. Each student must try to match the correct answer onto the square. Once the student or team has matched all of the answers, it must be checked by a mentor to ensure it is correct. If the student/group has mismatched, show them which ones are mismatched but don’t tell them where they do.
  4. Once the groups have matched all the right answers, then they can draw their interpretation of the answer in the square. This is meant to be their interpretation of the answers — the cards are meant to be guides. They shouldn’t copy the answer or the photo directly from the card.

Here is what it looked like in action:

Creating more engaging and less presentation based sessions has proven slightly difficult for two reasons. On the one side, there is much more input that is required to go into a non-presentation based session in terms of planning, buying materials, assembling the materials, and thinking of activities to do. On the other side, this additional input makes scaling this project a bit more complicated due to the detailed and time-consuming nature of assembling the materials for the sessions. Considering we are only currently working in two schools, assembling an interactive activity and curriculum is still possible, but would be erring on the side of unsustainable if we started working in 5 or 10 schools. If we were to expand this programme with these interactive sessions, we would need to expand the team or at least change the way the delivery of the sessions is organised. One of the ideas we’ve tossed around is to rely more on the mentors to assemble materials and take a more active role in planning the sessions. However, with all of the different competing priorities that university students have, it is difficult to ask them for additional time spent on this project beyond what they’ve already committed.

We are looking at solutions and ways forward that are sustainable and will elevate the project while also ensuring that we scale sustainably. One of the solutions we see and that is becoming increasingly necessary is to build an ecosystem around this project that takes on the process of setting up the data journalism clubs and running the sessions, while we provide the data platform, conduct or assist with analysis, and offer support where needed.

To build this ecosystem, we have been engaging with a number of different stakeholders to map out the different efforts that are already taking place and looking at how we can plug into these efforts. For example, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) has been operating in the air quality and environmental justice space since 1995 and has made a lot of effort and headway alongside other organisations such as groundWORK, and has laid down a good foundation for a project like the Citizen Sensors project to contribute to. Further, there is interest from universities and other local organisations in unpacking and solving issues in air quality monitoring and providing citizens with accurate data about the environment around them, and we believe that bringing all of these efforts together in a strategic way is an important step in realising this project.

While we have only just begun the second round of sessions for this project, we are looking towards the long-term and how to move this project forward sustainably. We’ve still got about 4–5 weeks of sessions to get through, but will be pursuing this larger strategic vision simultaneously.