Report on Learning from Kilburn #1: Course on Observational Skills October 2013

I just taught a workshop on observational skills for the program, Learning from Kilburn, a tiny experimental university program that is currently happening weekly along various spaces on Kilburn High Road, from October 2013 until March 2014 . The program is initiated and directed by Spacemakers.

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The project’s brief is to teach a set of ideas/skills by using Kilburn as the initial point of reference. I decided to teach observational skills since I’ve been teaching ethnographic methods to commercial consultancies lately. I wanted to see the difference between teaching observational skills in a publicly accessible program versus conducting a private training for a consultancy. 18 people signed up for the workshop and 14  participated. The group was extremely interesting with a range of interests and professions: architecture, photography, anthropology, and local activism.

The workshop lasted for 5 hours. I introduced the workshop by saying that I would not be doing a presentation of ideas, followed by exercises. Rather, we were going to learn by doing, so that as we did various exercises, we would then focus on the theories and analytical questions through the experience of doing. The participants were very open to this way of teaching.

I structured the class into 3  observational exercises to experience and elucidate a method and a concept. In the first exercise, we took a short walk around Kilburn High road. The participants were divided into groups in which each group focused on a different aspect of Kilburn High Road.  We then discussed and analyzed what the participants saw and did not see, and why.  The second exercise involved conducting analysis of interviews, in which I screened a range of interview clips and  we discussed the clips together as a group. The last exercise was to conduct a formal observation of two sites along Kilburn High Road. Again, the participants were divided into groups, and we discussed and analyzed their experiences together.

This was a wonderful experience, for which I thank Tom Keeley from Spacemakers for having invited me to participate as a tutor.  The participants were extremely interesting, open, and engaged. On top of that, nearly everyone was living in Kilburn, so it feels quite comforting to know that I can potentially run into someone from the workshop somewhere along Kilburn High Road. Somehow, it makes London seem like a more accessible place.  The discussions that we had as a group were provocative, introspective, and highly critical.  When we finished at 5 PM, it felt like we could have continued the discussion for another 2 hours, which is always a good sign.

On a side note, the workshop was held at the Tin Tabernacle, a crazy tin church located across the street from Kilburn Park tube stop. This was my first visit inside the space and it was overwhelming. There are large loaded weapons, including a functioning canon, inside the space. To further add bizarreness, there is a chapel in one of the side rooms. However, this chapel was created initially in a Richard Burton movie and then transported in its entirety to the Tin Tabernacle. How weird/cool is that?

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