Be brave! Share your research! Explorathon Researchers’ Night 2016


Chatting during PhD in an hour session at Explorathon 2014, Photo: Beltane Public Engagement Network

Post graduate researchers are always in short of time. Three years is a very short time but PhD students always have more on their dishes. This often can keep them away from going in public, take the courage to share their research. Many of us might think that we need to focus only on our research, therefore, not become interested in sharing research to lay audience or researchers working in different disciplines. But as a PhD researcher, I have benefited a lot from such events, talking in terms of a non-expert lay audience can give clarity to out thoughts, make us think in a way which we are unable to do being so closely attached to our own research.

I shared my research in PhD in an hour event in the first explorathon extravaganza in 2014. I talked about what I wanted to do and how I am going to do this for an hour in an informal setting, sitting in Hemma bar. I always enjoy sharing my research, the questions I am asked during such occasions help me making my arguments clear not only to the audience but also to myself. Sometimes we need to look at our research from other people’s viewpoints which can show us points that we might not find being too close to our research.


Table set for fun research activities on 30 September 2016 on the eve of Explorathon Researchers’ Night

I have finished my field work, analysed the data and now working on my 2nd draft. Now it’s time to share some of the findings with researchers from related disciplines,  lay audience, policy makers and designers. While presenting in conferences can take our research to other researchers, sharing research in a fun way in organised events like Explorathon Researchers’ Night can take our research to people inside and outside academia. I explored sharing my research in a fun way asking the participants to design a school ground that can accommodate children’s formal teaching in the Curiosity Forest. While the participants were discussing in groups what they can provide to teach force, motion and speed I used the opportunity to share what I found from my PhD research.

“I had a PhD bachelor years back from the University. However, the things I remember still are the ones we have learnt through hands on activities.”- one participant shared while making a pyramid using modelling clay which can be used to teach structure to children. One school teacher joined us and brainstormed what can be there in the school ground to teach children History. Her realisation was they should use the outdoors more, the message I wanted to give through all these fun activities.

Children can make forts with crates and recreate battles to learn history – A school teacher while designing school ground

I also shared the research with children and family as part of Fun Palaces Scotland . Kids enjoyed making tiny pool, merry go round, slides, climbing frames and trees, their parents became interested in the poster presenting the findings from the research. I have to agree that I could not attract policy makers and educationalists to the event which was completely my fault. I was so overwhelmed with the thesis writing and few other deadlines that I could not manage time to contact people beforehand. I regret that. Therefore I do have some suggestions for new and present PhD students of all years on how they can best use the opportunity for their own benefit.

  1. PhD, 1st year – You can share your research plans, what you want to do and how you are planning to do. You can use the feedback to develop your instruments, rethink the methods and moreover and learn from other presenters. Try to make the event short and interactive, a poster or display of your works can helpful to attract people’s attention.
  2. PhD, 2nd year – You might have finished your data collection and some bits of your analysis. Planning the fun event can give clarity to your analysis process if you can utilise the opportunity properly.
  3. PhD, 3rd year- Its time to share some of your findings. All the discussions can contribute to writing your discussion and results chapter.

Children and parents co-designing school grounds using different materials

But the success of all these depends on audience. Don’t hesitate to invite people, invite all people of your acquaintance. This is an opportunity to tell your friends, colleagues and acquaintances what you are working on in a legible and fun way. Invite the policy makers you want to reach for the fun weekend event. Plan earlier, share some glimpses of your plans with the people you are inviting. Write that email as soon as you can, people have plans, let them have time to accommodate your event in their calendar, also don’t forget to send some reminders!


Handle with care! 🙂

My thoughts after attending Mobility, Mood and Place Conference


Last week I had the privilege to attend the 4th conference of Open Space People Space Series on Mobility, Mood and Place while helping in the organisation. This was an amazing opportunity to interact with the leading researchers in this field and learn contemporary research on Healthy, happy and active ageing, Co-designing the built environment with mobility in mind, Experiencing mobility and Health, mobility and place through the life-course across the globe.

The keynote, plenary and the parallel sessions I attended enriched my knowledge of the research on older people’s health and well-being as well as created an impact on my thoughts on the issue. I am intrigued to explore the issue of health and well-being, and at the same time I wonder how our research can have a true impact on people’s life in real.

At this point of researching on open space, I wonder whether we are creating and/or in confusion about what we mean by ‘green space’, ‘open space’, ‘natural environment’, and now ‘blue space’. I was really moved in an Outdoor Learning Conference when a delegate spoke about how ‘nature’ is a construct of ourselves. ‘Natural environment’ or ‘nature’ is something we put in contrast of ‘man-made’ or ‘built’, however, natural environment is something men design and therefore, a part of the built environment. The contributions of open space/green space to people’s health and well-being are now widely recognised, however, what is it’s implications? Are we working on creating more and more evidence on the benefits of green spaces/blue spaces which don’t provide enough guidelines for implementation in built-environment design?


Fig: My colleague Ziwen presenting his PhD research on walkability in the conference

The discussion on the gap between academia and practice is something common at every conference. We are discussing on how we can reduce the gap between academia and practice for years, yet it still seems we are not even close to that. I know some Scandinavian countries have been successful in integrating academia and practice in the design and the development of the built environment. In some countries, industries now a days appoint researchers for evaluation of the designed built environments. What I very much appreciated in mobility, mood and place conference was the diversity of presenters in each parallel session. Delegates from academia and practice were presenting at the same session on a certain theme, therefore, complementing each others’ works.

In order to address the gap between academia and practice, in the Young Researchers’ Workshop (as part of IAPS conference 2016) a group of researchers suggested the need of a group of professionals who would work to connect researchers and practitioners. However, rather than injecting middlemen, I do think researchers need to take risk and go beyond their comfort levels adopting experimental action research strategies and practitioners should step in the field of research. If that’s too ambitious, I wonder if the practitioners and researchers could have worked at the same project as a package, that could create much stronger evidence feeding the new design and also redesign of the existing environments.


Fig: Delegates during a session

I was struck by one question during one plenary session. What evidences we are showing in 2016 in order to create a healthy and active city are same what Jane Jacobs said in her “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” 50 years back. We should ask what held us back implementing these evidences. I am sorry I could not concentrate on what Professor Billie Giles-Corti responded to that question, but I was looking for opportunities for a discussion with Billie on that.

Professor Gloria Gutman’s powerful words in her keynote were thought-provoking. While I totally agree with ‘there is no such design called universal design’ and ‘one size does not fit all’ but I am also aware that we all live in the same built-environment. It’s a challenge how we can make that environment livable and accessible for all – elderly people, people with visual environment, pregnant women, children and young people and also women who would prefer to walk in heals. Therefore, one thing that worries me much is whether in order to narrow down our focus in research, we are creating too many categorisations. Would not age-friendly cities also be child-friendly? In the process of creating and co-designing age-friendly cities, are we sometimes too focused on people of only one age group and therefore, not taking other age-groups’ needs into account?

“Our cities are growing and greying” – What a powerful quote from Professor Gloria Gutman. This made me think about completely different but related topic. How the geographies differ from one country to another, one continent to other! On the other hand, how similar the new cities across the globe look like. If the geographies are different, the built environment ought to be different. For a sustainable living environment and life style we not only need to reduce the gap between academia and practice but also between different disciplines. Mobility, Mood and Place Research project worked with people from different disciplines and the conference brought people from different background on the same platform. I hope the spirits of the conference would also be reflected in our everyday works in academia and practice, we will contribute to reduce the gaps bit by bit on every single day.


Fig: Conference dinner in the magnificent Playfair Library

Successful completion of the Workshop entitled ‘The role of School building and outdoor environment on children’s learning’

We were supposed to hold this workshop in the beginning of February. Due to some unavoidable reasons we had to postpone it but we are really happy to inform you all that the workshop was held last saturday, 14 March 2015 at Raipura PTI, Narsingdi. Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology was a partner in this effort. The purpose was to disseminate the knowledge we have gathered through the process of our research on children’s environment. We talked about the school environment as a whole with an emphasis on the outdoor environment of primary schools. I have worked with Tulatoli Government Primary School very closely for the last few months. During this period I have shared my views and opinions with the teachers and also come to know about many things in close interaction with the teachers for hours.

While I was in Edinburgh me and Dr Simon Bell thought about organizing a workshop so that we can include the design ideas from diverse group of teachers for the development of the school ground. During my visit to the USA to attend the prestigious EDRA conference where I met Dr Mohammed Zakiul Islam and found out that Zaki sir is also thinking about such a workshop. We discussed about arranging this workshop over email and skype several times after going back to Edinburgh. Zaki sir has been working on arranging this since he was back from USA to Bangladesh.

After coming back to Bangladesh for field survey we again met and talked about this. Due to the shortage of time mainly I could not arrange it before the development work started in Tulatoli Primary School. But later on we have thought of arranging a workshop where the teachers will be engaged in more rigorous session about how they can use the school ground for teaching. The principal purpose was to build the confidence in the teachers about teaching in the school ground. The workshop would have been difficult to arrange without the unconditional support from Dr M Zakiul Islam. Professor Robin Moore, a pioneer researcher in this field  has kindly given his consent to contribute in the workshop by sending a video and presentations. Dr Eva Silveirinha de Oliveira and Dr Sarah McGeown from the University of Edinburgh have also contributed in the workshop with great enthusiasm. Ahammad-al-muhaymin, lecturer, Department of Architecture and Muntazar Monsur, Post Doctoral Research Fellow from North Carolina State University graced the workshop with their wonderful talks respectively on the use of local materials in school architecture and the role of indoor-outdoor interface in children’s learning. Kashfia Alam Khan, working voluntarily as a research assistant and Abdullah Al Shafi Khan, a volunteer research support staff for the project made sure of the logistics support for the workshop.

At long last when the workshop is finally arranged it focused on letting the participants know about the importance of school’s physical environment, how local materials can be used for the development of the school environment and how the school ground can be designed and developed to teach different curriculum content to children. The participants were also led to the newly developed Tulatoli Government Primary School for a practical experience of a designed school ground for learning. The participant teachers really enjoyed this part of the workshop about which most of them opined as the most interesting part of the workshop. They also liked other sessions. They enjoyed the practical session where they made the layout of a school in groups of five members where anyone of the group members teaches and did brainstorm about how the school ground can be developed relating to different curriculum contents. They evaluated the workshop in a four point likert scale. They also evaluated the design of the school ground with respect to teaching and learning and also filled up the questionnaire about children’s motivation and attitude towards learning in the indoors and outdoors.

Due to time and funding constraints only one school has been developed this time. But the workshop tried to guide the teachers how they can easily develop the school ground with minimal changes at lower costs using locally available materials. They have also been given directions how they can organize their classes for a workout in the outdoors.

Here are some pictures of the workshop-

Dr Mohammed Zakiul Islam delivering his talk

First session on importance of school outdoor on children’s learning

Ahammad-al-muhaymin delivering his talk

During the field trip at Tulatoli Primary School (Photo Credit: unknown)

Explaining different behaviour settings of the school ground (Photo credit: Kashfia Alam Khan)

Practical session

Practical session: making layout plans

Working closely on one school ground in groups

Presentation of the school layout by the participants

Presentation of the school layout by the participants

Certificate Giving Ceremony

Group Photo at the end

All the photos except the mentioned ones in the brackets are credited to Abdullah Al Shafi Khan.