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Phone Booth now and into the future

July 31, 2012

With all of the results now in from the questionnaires, it is time for final thoughts. The questionnaires highlighted that while there was room for improvement, the students found the technology itself more than acceptable which was a relief. There were, of course, numerous suggestions as to how to make it better, with a particular focus on linking to additional information related to the maps and the areas themselves. Everyone, including myself, had a little trouble reading some of the notebook entries on my phone (something which I didn’t find particularly difficult looking at the entries themselves), scanned as they are in their original handwritten form. It might be interesting to think about crowd sourcing typed versions of the entries.

In terms of building the app in future projects, I thought it was very interesting how after using the app itself, several people thought audio would be really useful. They wanted to be able to just click on the link and hear the entry read out rather than reading something. There was also a desire to be able to plan out a route, or follow a planned route, which is something we had discussed but weren’t able to complete in the time we had given. For myself after much playing around with the application, I still think the most important addition would be to map out the routes that the surveyors themselves followed, as many of the notebook pages refer to several addresses and streets but are only coded for one. By looking at the route you can get a much more complete sense of the exact places the diaries mention.

Some of the detail from the students was most encouraging, and it was brilliant to see such enthusiasm for the project. They were asked to say which locations they had tried to access the maps from, and here is one description:

Catherine Street, Covent Garden; Kingsway: While the main roads along Catherine and Russell Street have remained the same, Kingsway and the crescent along the Aldwych is completely unrecognisable. What surprised me was that the entry recording the area around the Aldwych described the community as an Irish working class … [she continues to reflect on this area when asked how useful the app would be for the class] After I was able to use it, I found it so useful. In fact, it is the transparency settings that enable me to understand from a planning perspective how areas in London have changed. I recall in GY244 where Nead was writing on the planning of a large street Kingsway and Aldwych in order to make Embankment a focal point of the city. The comparison of the maps, past and present allow for me to appreciate this better.

After the end of term we decided to open the testing to include other LSE students who hadn’t necessarily been in the class to get a wider range of perspectives on the functionality. It was encouraging to see how the app seemed to dovetail perfectly into the teaching of other departments such as Social Policy (and encouraging to see that knowledge of the school’s history and foundations remains alive as well!):

This would actually be a really amazing tool as we study how Booth’s study paved the way for social science and led to the development of welfare. I think it would also be quite good for LSE students in general, as Booth’s study is integral to the development of social science as a discipline. It was also what inspired the Fabians to start the LSE.

I was also encourage that some of my students though that they would take this beyond their student days, and use it not just to appreciate and enjoy London on a deeper level, but also to understand the histories of different neighbourhoods. One student thought it would be useful to:

Learn more about places of public interest (Westminster etc.) as they were, though more specifically for me to learn about – or at least get more interested in – history of various places in Tower Hamlets (borough I’ll be working in and therefore will feel massive sense of responsibility to serve as sensitively, enthusiastically etc. as possible)

While this was true for some, others thought this would work really well as part of a class, but didn’t know if they would access it or use it on their own. This makes me think that perhaps more work could be done on the front end of it, a little walk through or introduction to Booth as part of the app which might make it easier for anyone to just download and use. This was mentioned specifically by one respondent, but seemed to be important to several others, while they didn’t quite vocalise it explicitly.
In thinking about next year and how to use the application, the class lecturer and I had already discussed trying to encourage students to immerse themselves in the city and its history, by requiring that one of the essays involve reflections on Booth’s project incorporating journal entries from the area of the student’s choice. Given that discussion, it was nice to see that students thought that this would be a good direction to take as well:

We could do a walking tour of London in the Nead week or the week where we study about Booth and the social improvements in London. The immediate question that comes to mind linking the app’s work and our course is “How have the social improvers like Booth depict and visualise London? (e.g. in terms of poverty, etc.) How has it had implications for planning in London? Perhaps a question set for the first assessed assignment in next year’s project could be something linked to this.

I definitely like the idea of the walking tour as well, and I’m thinking about how to incorporate the phone app into something like that…it would be essential to focus on discussion and not simply make it a meander with each individual staring at their phone (however amusing that would be for everyone around us), but it definitely seems like something we should try!


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  1. This is a really interesting post – and great to hear such positive feedback from the students themselves. It’s really good to see the app meeting its original pedagogical use-case, as well as providing inspiration for other use-cases and ideas.

    I am fascinated by the idea of the app providing a ‘guided tour’ type function for anyone coming to London (or at the LSE). How useful might it be as a ‘way in’ to London for anyone interested. Would it provide a useful framework for a tour, one that gives a unique perspective o a city most people feel they already know to an extent.

    Great post, and great feedback from the students.

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