Threading elements of the great educational experiments of Bauhaus and Roycroft Community models together with Pierre Levy’s modern definition of “collective intelligence,” La Scuola Open Source (The Open Source School) embodies the principles of the sharing movement. Its success hinges on cooperative work, co-design, shared skills, and an open source culture. The school’s 13 co-founders believe in the power of people’s collaborative qualities. Their unusual constitution is testimony to this.
I believe La Scuola Open Source has the capacity to extend from its origin in Puglia on the southern heel of Italy and inspire the acquisition of knowledge and educational development on a global scale. Recently, I talked with two of its co-founders — Lucilla Fiorentino and Alessandro Tartaglia — how digital artisans, creators, artists, designers, programmers, pirates, dreamers, and innovators are collaborating to create Italy’s most important service for social innovation and community development: education. Fiorentino and Tartaglia answered my questions in tandem.
Alessia Clusini: What is La Scuola Open Source and what’s the idea behind it?
Lucilla Fiorentino and Alessandro Tartaglia: In the early part of the last century, as a result of the social and economic changes produced by the industrial revolution, an architect named Walter Gropius conceived a school in Germany aimed at creating new professionals to provide an answer to the demand of innovation generated by the changes in time. That school was Bauhaus — a place that would become a legend. It was born from the union of an art academy, a technical college and a faculty of architecture. Within a few years, combining skills and working on real projects with the help of many internationally renowned experts, a pedagogical experiment of historic proportions was born.
We believe that, today, we live in a somewhat similar condition produced by the acceleration of technology and by the sudden economic slowdown. We’re in a crisis and struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The reason for this, in our opinion, is that the path to be taken is not linear. Not only should we know how to move forward and how to progress, we must also develop the ability to play on more dimensions with a cognitive agility. We also believe that the digital presence in our lives is changing more and more in our culture. All organizations are becoming cultural organizations and every product today is also product of culture.
This mutation makes the vision of the future a central issue to address and is the reason La Scuola Open Source was born. We believe that in the future there must be new kinds of professionals, new spaces for social gatherings, and new ways of learning and transmitting knowledge.
How do you apply your “educate to emancipate” motto?
We believe that greater knowledge implies greater awareness which is exactly what we need to free ourselves and be able to look at things from different points of views. We embarked on this path because we believe in people — in what they can do together and the surplus value that is created when knowledge is shared and exchanged.
What is the teaching methodology?
We work co-operatively on real projects. Teachers bring knowledge and drive the process and tutors facilitate the work by organizing it; they put the process into practice. Participants work together with teachers and tutors to realize tangible projects, whether they’re robotic, IT-based, crafted, artistic, or theoretical.
In this way, by attracting teachers from around the county (and, in some cases, also from abroad), we develop skills in our territory and simultaneously bring people together. Over time, this process will allow us to rely on new skills formed in Italy due to the influence it will have on graduates.
The teaching process is connected to this research and one produces resources for the other. Teaching modules can be parameterized depending on the number of teachers, tutors, participants, duration, number of hours, field of interest and the operating mode.
How do you use Bauhaus and Roycroft Community models?
A model is something that inspires you and something you think of when envisioning all the possibilities. It is a kind of canvas on which to build your own personal history — a scheme for your reasoning, an image buried in your memory that you tend to complete through the process of interpretation.
How much has the XYLAB experience affected La Scuola Open Source?
I think being able to prototype our idea twice (X in 2013 and XY in 2014) through Laboratori dal Basso (Bottom up Labs, a regional funding program) has been a great fortune. We identified and tried even the most problematic mechanisms with a view to improve the process. We engaged with people who taught us a lot and met new people who opened our eyes to worlds we had previously ignored. This has all been crucial and allowed us to weave a large network of relationships and strengthen the outside perception of our work over time. At the same time, it’s allowed us to focus more and more on our idea, all the way to the proposal document we presented to the Che Fare application (one of Italy’s most prestigious social innovation grants) a year ago and won.
How can digital artisans, creators, artists, designers, programmers, pirates, dreamers, and innovators complete each other with a common vision?
In the institutional paradigm, many of these figures do not talk and do not relate, as it’s difficult for them to do that. According to our idea, though, they can share a dialogue, exchange pieces of knowledge, cooperate, engage with real challenges, and get their hands dirty together. This creates a fruitful opportunity where it’s possible through contamination to generate new professional figures, new ideas for products or services, and even new adequate technologies for this shifting global scenario.
How important is sharing in the Open Source School project?
Sharing is the foundation of contamination and the engine of everything. It is a delicate process, often regulated by empathy between individuals. Some days ago while talking with a friend we came up with the concept, “The project is the recipe, the people are the ingredients, we’ll be the oil.”
What are the commons at La Scuola Open Source?
The commons are what we share, together and with each other. In sociology, we’d speak of “collective intelligence.” According to the French philosopher Pierre Levy, the spread of communication techniques for digital media has led to the emergence of new ways of social bonding based on gathering areas of common interests, open processes of cooperation and an exchange of knowledge. We keep saying, “Innovation is always social, otherwise it’s just profiting from people’s ignorance.” Sharing knowledge is the first and most essential common for us. It generates a real process of emancipation and civilization since it enables any person to serve their community. Simultaneously, it allows each individual to freely express and enhance their uniqueness, while giving them the opportunity to appeal to all the intellectual and human qualities of the community itself.
That’s what we’ll focus on, experimenting and developing the best practices, starting from the co-design of the school itself with the triple workshop XYZ. Of the commons, this is a very important field of research for the future of humanity, and we’ll play our part.
How could you make the project sustainable and what is the economic/organizational structure?
Each module or teaching activity activated will have its own financial provision system (funding mix) such as fundraising, crowdfunding, access fees, sponsorships, project financing, etc. Research projects will be funded through agreements with companies, public administration and government agencies, as well as through EU-grant applications or any potential sponsorship. The co-living and utilization of the space will be controlled by a membership system which will allow us to cover the running costs of the space, the consumables and maintenance. Besides this, the school will secure consultancy contracts in the field of social and technological innovation with any kind of interested subject.
Describe the co-design process of La Scuola Open Source and how to participate in a project.
For 12 days during July, 24 internationally renowned teachers and tutors together with 60 participants (selected from 199 requests from Italy and abroad) took to the Old Town of Bari to work at the triple co-design workshop XYZ from morning to evening.
It was an event that drafted the three building blocks of the school (identity, tools, and processes) in preparation for the launch of its activities this October. A total immersion with a multidisciplinary approach based on cooperation and skills osmosis was the result of the direct creation of the school by its own open community.
As the school’s key concept is one of trying to aggregate and prototype new open research, teaching, mentoring, and co-living models (the four axes of the school), this will occur in relation to the patterns emerged during XYZ.
XYZ began with the identity lab — X — which has produced the iconographic stock, the creation of an ad hoc font, a website, and a publishing system. Following this, the tools workshop — Y — targeted management software, hardware (such as Arduino and Raspberry) to manage and monitor a 24/7 access to school, and open data management. Finally, the processes’ lab — Z — focused on teaching modules and policies, research projects frameworks, and the use of space and equipment depending on whether the target is public administration, a company, or an individual category of users. We identified how to integrate with territory, stakeholders and partners. All the outputs are free and available on the slidesharechannel.
The remaining summer month following XYZ will be dedicated to developing and implementing the solutions to result from the workshops.
Still, the essence is that there will never be a final result, but only a continuous flow and a constant work-in-progress that will feed itself with mutations and implementations. We, therefore, envision to host periodical XYZ labs according to an iterative and evolutionary logic.
How important are the making and hacking philosophies for La Scuola value creation?
In a way, from the time we are born, we are all hackers. We start our lives in a world we haven’t created and we learn to modify it over time with our actions. But there is a huge semantic battle around the very word “hacker.” Some would paint hackers as IT pirates who steal sensitive data, but there are those who wish to spread values of openness, freedom, and trust.
For us, the hacker ethic (as opposed to the protestant work ethic) is a key issue. In addition to the “open source” element which in its incremental logic (fork, versioning, etc.) represents the blueprint of a cultural system of new values by being collaborative, adaptive, and recursive, we should use this approach in all fields of knowledge in order to ensure new possibilities for everyone. The methodology and the goals of this project are themselves the subject of a reflection on social innovation which aim to “hack the educational system.”
How can openness and diversity be inextricably linked with the concepts of the Mediterranean and the south of Italy?
Being at the center of the Mediterranean, we are necessarily placed amidst profound issues such as the relationship with others, connection between worlds, contamination, social inclusion, and social innovation. We’d like to keep the Mediterranean ‘biodiversity’: a melting pot of people, cultures, food and nature. It’s particularly crucial in a time like this when thousands and thousands of refugees land on our shores — each with their own story, skills, and desire to feel at home.
It is essential to be open, particularly to that which is different from us because there is a potential that would remain unexpressed in the event of closure. We, therefore, deeply believe in sharing and openness and are aware of the social and cultural role we could have. We must be open — open-hearted and open-minded.
Who is your target? Who will benefit from La Scuola Open Source?
We’ll work with children, seniors, unemployed people, professionals, students, and researchers. For each category, we’ll elaborate teaching modules and research projects. We’ll try to mix multiple categories and different generations in order to foster mutual contamination.
The school is primarily aimed at three main categories of users:
• Those who have something to learn— individuals and those connected to the school through a membership relationship.
• Those who require research/innovation — organizations and institutions connected to the school through counseling or research relationships.
• The whole society — that in the long haul will be the end recipient of our activities by openly accessing the outputs generated in the school and be able to take part in our activities as members.
How was it to involve partners of social innovation such as Ex Fadda and Rural Hub, scientific projects such as Societing and Nefula, as well as sharing economy players like OuiShare and public institutions?
Ours is an artisanal weaving work. In the words of Italo Calvino, “We seek whom or what is not hell amongst the hell we live in every day by trying to defend and give them space.”
How can people be involved and participate to La Scuola Open Source?
Activities will go from basic making and hacking courses to recycle workshops, vertical thematic formats (singularity), lectures, access to technologies and networks, to XYLAB research and co-planning labs as well as humanistic activities related to different disciplines.