Popcorn Learning Lab London

When you schedule a Learning Lab for 11 on a Sunday, and the sun decides to shine on the British Isles, you start to get nervous about whether people show up. This was the predicament at 10:50 am on the day of our first-ever Popcorn Learning Lab, held at Mozilla’s new London office. Imagine our delight, then, to see more than 30 people come through the doors!

#poplab hacking

To get started, we showed a series of popcorn demos. The project is always much easier to understand when you see the different ways people have applied it – watching the evolution of demos from things like the Rebellious Pixels semantic remix to the recent Know Your Exit creation had lightbulbs going off around the room.

We wanted to have participants move into creation as fast as possible – to facilitate this, Brian Chirls created the “Popcorn Boilerplate” project: a bare-bones HTML page featuring popcorn. For content, we had everyone work with Episode 4 of Kirby Ferguson’s fantastic Everything Is A Remix series.

@thecole working with new coders at #doclab

Before lunch, Popcorn community members Brian Chirls and Cole Gillespie led folks with a background in Javascript through the basics of using the library and creating custom plugins. Those with no prior coding experience were brave enough to test drive the alpha version of Popcorn Maker.

After we had recharged with some food, we broke into several groups in order to get down to some serious webmaking. Group 1 wanted to apply their newfound knowledge of the Popcorn.js library to a unique creation. Group 2 decided to use Popcorn Maker to try and augment one of their own videos. And Group 3 wanted to ideate a web native project in more detail with wireframes and a project spec.

#poplab wireframe

The first order of business was paper prototyping – each of the 3 groups began mapping out the experience they wanted to create. Brian and Cole each acted as the “help desk”, answering questions that hackers would bring. Folks using Popcorn Maker pushed through the bugs to upload their own videos, apply events, and export their code. Before long, far more time had flown by then we realized. Those who were determined to get a demo done began a furious hack to the finish line.

At our closing circle, we showcased the results of the day. Stephen Johnson, who’d come to explore the potential of using Popcorn at British Telecom, made a custom Popcorn.js plugin to sample frames from a movie to populate a collage. Try it out here

#poplab demo

Lawrence Job, a frequent hacker at Young Rewired State, paired up with Chris Hutchinson, a Birmingham student whose website won the Guardian’s “Website Of The Yea” at the Guardian Student Media Awards. Together they hacked up a commenting system that uses websockets to allow multiple people to create comments using popcorn. Try it out!

Kat, who produces video content for the Salvation Army, realized how useful Popcorn Maker can be to non-profits. She augmented one of their videos using the Pop Up Video template, to add the name, picture and twitter page of a local MP who had attended one of their events (scroll to around 0:31 seconds in the video). She also added a link to the Salvation Army’s donations page (1:32), a simple but powerful use of “hypervideo”. Techniques. Watch her video!

What We Learned

Working with a shared video was definitely something we’ll continue to do in future learning labs – it lets participants focus on creating popcorn experiences rather than video production. We’d like to take the concept further and provide a series of simple exercises that everyone in the group can explore right away. The popcorn boilerplate was a great start, but we need a series of simple recipes everyone can follow, regardless of coding skill. Further on that point, we chose to separate participants into those who knew JavaScript and those who don’t , which in hindsight goes against our cross-disciplinary working model. Many participants let us know in the closing circle that they would have enjoyed the chance to “cross the aisle” and work with people of different skill sets and experiences. It’s on us to design a flow for the day that allows coders and media makers to be working together for the entire time.

#poplab team vision

We also learned that the future for these types of events is quite bright – that there are lots of people eager to not only learn technologies like popcorn, but who want to challenge themselves to roll up their sleeves and start hacking. A big thanks to those who gave up their Sunday afternoons to hack with us and kickstart the Popcorn Learning labs!

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