SEAN TUAN JOHN: BOMBASTIC – LIVEHIVE
BLOG – January 2017
Bombastic are working with tech partners Moon to explore the creation of a digital platform that
creatively combines education and live art to offer more frequent and impacting engagement for
its schools audiences. Artistic Director Sean Tuan John shares some key moments and updates
from the project so far.
It’s been a busy few months with steep learning curves and a number of key moments to share…
From June to September I was immersed in generating the creative material for our prototype A, the
first iteration of the tech that we’d be testing with pupils in the autumn. Almost immediately this
creative process opened my eyes to an amazing new way of working for us. For the first time in
Bombastic’s history I found myself creating work in tandem with an educational team, and realised
the impact of this very quickly. This project has allowed us the freedom to step outside our existing
funding and touring cycle, where the go-ahead on funding often comes late in the day, leaving us no
time to facilitate work with educationalists to inform content before moving into production. In this
instance we could dedicate our focus solely to developing creative material anchored in the
education system. Creatively and organisationally, sharing the room with educational and
technological expert collaborators was an amazingly positive moment for me and felt like a true
consolidation of the ambition that we’ve always had for Bombastic.
This simple yet fundamental realisation about how our funding model shapes our approach to
making work will impact how Bombastic develops both its live arts experiences and its digital work
from this point on – this way of working has to be the way forward for me.
Our first classroom trials took place in October working with three schools, with six classes of year
3, 4 and some year 5s.
It was a nerve-wracking moment putting the theory into practice – we’d been warned that user-
testing at this stage of prototype development can be unpredictable due to the raw nature of what
we were trialling. We were therefore blown away by how far Moon had been able to develop the
working prototype, and despite us being braced for some tricky moments there were in fact no big
problems with the streaming or the interconnectivity between the screens the teacher’s and the
pupil’s devices. The tech was functional, easy to set up and it worked well. It was a huge relief.
Live Hive works by offering interactive activities punctuated by creative films that act as the stimulus
for teacher-pupil activity. As well as setting up and testing the interactivity between the white board
and the pupil’s devices, we were able to collect a wealth of feedback from children and teachers
about the creative content. An overwhelming 98% loved the experience, and 100% teachers thought
it was a valuable way to learn. One school based in an area of extreme deprivation with pupils
experiencing a range of behavioural issues, produced levels of engagement previously unheard of.
Children who usually managed up to 1 ½ minutes engagement, managed nearly 10 minutes of
engaged interactive learning. That must tell us something about what art can offer the curriculum
Another key piece of feedback was the tool’s strength in generating group discussion. Before
embarking on this project I certainly hadn’t been aware that there are few opportunities for full-
class digital-based learning sessions in primary school classrooms. Instead, digital learning is often
done in small break-out groups. What’s striking about LiveHive is the opportunity it presents in
uniting an entire class of children in a shared digital learning experience, with teachers and teaching
assistants able to enjoy, participate and share the experience alongside the pupils.
The interest and support from teachers has been invaluable for us moving the project forward…
We have been delighted by certain teachers voicing interest in coming on board as educational
advisors to help developing the tool further. This has been a surprising and fundamental shift for us
in shaping LiveHive not just as a digital education product, but the outcome of an active
collaborative relationship between an arts organisation and the educational system. For me this fits
perfectly with Bombastic’s artistic and creative integrity –while developing a commercial strand for
our organisation, we’re keeping it rooted in the values of creativity and the relationships we build
with our audiences.
A couple of weeks ago I had the brilliant and frightening experience of taking part in the Educational
Change Makers Lab in London. I spent three days with a group of UK-based and international
entrepreneurs working to revolutionise education through innovation projects. It was interesting
how LiveHive stood out as different to the other products on the table as they only tool that aimed
to use creative interactivity as a means to engage learning across all areas of the curriculum. It
seemed to highlight how arts-based digital learning is still a path relatively untrodden.
Keeping the focus on arts and creativity as a way of engaging children in learning is what LiveHive
is all about…
Offering children the chance to articulate feeling or expression while learning range of subjects
across the curriculum allows emotional development to connect with the act of learning which in
terms deepens engagement. This opens up a whole new way of looking at what the arts has to offer
education – and what Bombastic has to offer that process is a huge learning curve but one that is
hugely refreshing and very exciting.