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Learning With Lego:
An Introduction to Technical Communication

Learning With Lego is a group-based activity, designed to foster efficient communication of technical and scientific ideas. Participants attempt to recreate a Lego microscope from faulty instructions, encouraging them to reappraise their own approach to communication. How can we communicate our ideas more efficiently and accurately?


Made by Sophie Kay of the Open Science Training Initiative

Course Leaders: Session Preparation

  • Print out copies of the three sets of group instructions provided below;
  • Session leaders may also wish to build their own microscope in advance, using the "Instructor" version provided here (NB: This version is not to be released to the course participants);
  • If the course is being run for research scientists, session leaders may wish to familiarise themselves with current issues surrounding repeatability and reproducibility.

Steps for the Activity

  1. The course leader should set the scene with a brief introduction about communication of ideas, using the suggestions below. This session aims to get all participants thinking about potential issues relating to technical communication, and how they can be remedied.

    • What technical writing does the audience work with?
    • What information do they try to convey day-to-day?
    • What could the consequences be if ideas aren't communicated clearly?
  2. Partition the attendees into groups.

    • Numbers: 8-10 people per group is ideal for a 45-60 minute session. Times should be adjusted accordingly if more or fewer people are taking part.
    • Age/Expertise Range: This session is suitable for a range of ages and levels, from teenage high school students, to undergraduates, to established researchers.
  3. Explain the main rule of the session to all participants: NO COMMUNICATION IS PERMITTED BETWEEN GROUPS.

  4. Assign a letter A, B or C to each of the groups. More than 3 groups can be accommodated, if each letter is assigned to more than one group.

  5. Provide the relevant set of instructions to each group. Session leaders can download and print these in advance if required, from the links below.

    • Instructions for Group A: PDF
    • Instructions for Group B: PDF
    • Instructions for Group C: PDF

    Session leaders may wish to modify the instructions to create their own version of the course. Editable ODP and PPTX files are available via the GitHub Repository for the Open Science Training Initiative, in the "Lego Sessions" folder.

  6. Announce the start of the building phase!

    The construction instructions have been intentionally designed to be problematic. Participants may have to modify them as they go or fill in the blanks if they find any omissions. They should note any such changes, ready for discussion later.

    Group work at the inaugural "Learning With Lego" session at SpotOn London 2013. Photo by Neil Chue Hong (@npch); licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY-3.0.

  7. On completion of the microscope model, each group should discuss what the good and bad points were of the instructions.

    Where did things go wrong, and why did this happen? How could the instructions be improved?

  8. Course leaders should call a halt to group work at the end of the allotted time. Each group should bring their model up to the front of the room, displaying these for a side-by-side comparison.

    Have the faulty instructions resulted in different outcomes for each group?

  9. The session concludes with an open forum to discuss lessons learned: each group should contribute ideas to the debate. Session leaders may wish to shape the forum using the Discussion suggestions provided.