RUGroom Launch for students with ASD at City College Norwich with Charles Clarke MP

I’ve worked on some pretty special projects around the world with Cleveratom andnorwich.jpg my previous employer, but it is hard to compare with the fun, excitement, and innovation surrounding ‘RUGroom’ at City College…
City College Norwich (CCN) caters for 18,000 students from all over Norfolk and the surrounding counties, it has 1,200 staff. It is one of the largest colleges in England. The college also has approximatly 80 students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD); find out more about the Autistic Spectrum here on Wikipedia, but in a nut shell people with autism say that the world is made up of people and events that they struggle to make sense of.
CCN recognises the importance of providing learning opportunities and support for students with various needs and learning styles. For ASD students it has created what they proudly refer to as the ‘RUG’ (Really Useful Group).
rugroomlogo.jpgThe RUG (group) and RUGroom (the physical space) work had started prior to our arrival at the college. Danusia Latosinski, head of the Regional Centre for Learners with Autistic Learning Disorders (based at the college) and her team had created a social space comprising of a couple of sofas, and some activities in a small room on the college campus. At the heart of the project Danusia and team provide learning, teaching and support for the ASD students, and have made a lot of progress. The evolving RUGroom model quickly became unsustainable due its rapid and increasing success. Rapid growth resulted in the original RUGroom space (which also incorporated offices) becoming far too small for purpose; a move into a larger space was desperately needed.
In May 2007 City College won funding from the Learning and Skills Council to develop a new physical space and work on RUGroom Mark II began.
The Cleveratom team were already familiar with CCN having made presentations of its work to the college board. Richard Burley from the board recommended Danusia Latosinski telephone and invite Cleveratom to Norwich. We arrived and talked about how our team could help them to develop RUGroom Mark II into a student centred, useful and engaging space that encouraged learning and socialising for RUG students. The big challenge was that it was then May, and RUGroom Mark II had to be operational by September.
Dick Palmer, the college principal, who has already had major successes in demonstrating City College as a leading UK higher education institution, gave over the old (underused) college staff room space to the project. It looked like this:


To see more images of the space prior to development click here (Photographer: Hal MacLean).
Cleveratom understand both learning and technology and are experts in working collaboratively on educational technology projects nationwide. Project partners including the BBC, MacMillan Cancer Support, Edison Schools, and London Business School. We recognised the potential for this development and wanted the very best design team involved. It was no surprise that we called on the skills of
Team a g0-go and together we engaged with students who would be using RUGroom physically and virtually and involved them in the design and decision making. Cleveratom helped primarily in the specification of technology which could be used within RUGroom and the associated teaching and learning spaces the students use.
Here is a photograph of the installation in progress, taken during a trip to the college to answer questions about power and networking for the technology we had specified:


Progress happened fast; the RUGroom had to be operational by September term start date 2007.
Here are the pictures of the space after completion of the bulk of the building work was finished:

Click here to see more images taken in November 2007
The young people with ASD who use the room were involved in all aspects of the design team from the layout of the space, the design of the pods and the colour scheme. The very popular pods allow students to retreat to quiet havens where they can control the lighting depending on their mood. Other areas include a small kitchen space to encourage domestic skills and co-operation, a ‘den’, wider open spaces and semi enclosed computer areas.
Cleveratom specified a mix of Apple Macs and PCs for the space, and began a programme of training to engage students and staff in the potential of new technologies for learning opportunities. Our team; Hal MacLean, and myself, have been working every Tuesday with students on projects including:

  • Animation
  • Film Making
  • Music Production
  • 3D Interactive Programming
  • Collaborative Writing
  • Photography
  • 3D Design

Here are some images from the Animation classes:
Click here to watch ‘Boulderdash Animation’ by Aaron and Jamie which has been uploaded onto Youtube.
Spending every Tuesday with the students to embed technology into RUGroom has been a great opportunity. We were told that people with ASD typically have an attention span of around eight minutes, so to see learners engrossed and engaged in activities for hours at a time has been a positive experience. The students are incredibly creative with unique talents and abilities; so far we’ve found the students can:

  • design gardens online using 3D planning software;
  • animate scenes and stories in clay;
  • collaborate together in the same document for creative writing;
  • build virtual buildings and spaces using design software;
  • create and manipulate images; and
  • programme movements for game design.

What has become evident is the students’ abilities to learn quickly and apply new skills for the challenges we put to them. Two particular successes include the impressive 3D design work. Alex created an amazing 3D model of a house and surrounding grounds in some design software. The detail incorporated into his design was so impressive that it even included the items on the shelf in the property’s garage. Staff in the college were so impressed with Alex’s work that he is now re-creating campus buildings for official use by the college for virtual tour guides. Another student, Sam, has shown his awesome skills with music; spending hours composing from scratch using ‘Garageband’.
We’ve also been working to upskill the RUGroom staff in technology use; to find out more about one of the workshops click here.
Danusia commented on our work with Cleveratom so far for our marketing brochure:
“We particularly like the creative way in which Cleveratom work, picking up on learner and staff ideas and showing how technology can be used to involve learners and put them at the centre.”
In January 2007 the staff and students presented RUGroom to an audience in the ‘Schools of the Future’ zone at the BETT Show in Olympia. Cleveratom joined Team-a-go-go and the students to present the successes so far, and celebrate the achievements. BETT is attended each year by around 27,000 visitors and over 600 education companies exhibit. Here is a view from the balcony of about 1% of BETT (its a big show!):


Here are some of the students prior to their presentation:


The students captivated the audience for half an hour, talking about their experiences and why RUGroom was so successful.
Also speaking on behalf of the City College was Robyn Steward, a specialist asbergers trainer and former student at the college. Robyn grabbed the attention of passers by with her unique and engaging presentation style, she was remarkable to watch and professional in her presentation of AS.
On completion of their presentation the students retreated to the Cleveratom stand for drinks and an early look at the evolving ‘’ software being built for them by our company. Here is the Cleveratom 2008 BETT stand:


With so much creative work being produced by the students the challenge had become to provide them with a virtual space to share their work and continue the positive experience of RUGroom, online. was born.
rugroomnetlogo.jpgThis stage of our involvment with City College was the development of; the space the students are encouraged to upload, collaborate, share and celebrate their work. As well as being a learning space also acts as a safe retreat for the ASD students providing a social environment for use when not in RUGroom (although some students assume and engage with their online identity while physically in the RUGroom space).
Cleveratom’s team of designers worked with RUG students over a four week period at the Chelmsford offices to design, plan and begin construction of specifically for use with students with ASD. After an initial meeting with a group, RUG students undertook the long journey each week from Norwich to Chelmsford to begin work on the development.


Katie (pictured above left) did a lot of research into avatars, and the look and feel for the site; Rob (pictured above right) explored programming languages. The students were involved throughout the process. phase 1 has now been rolled out for use by the students. Each student has their own page within the site and is able to upload and show work, thoughts and ideas to other students. Here is my page:


In the next version of the software I’ll be able to join groups, comment on other people stuff and enter debates. Each student is in control of the look, feel and identity in this closed community. The reason why and RUGroom have so far been well received by their users is primarily because the users have been involved in the entire process of design; both the physical and virtual spaces are fit for purpose. Hal from our team is involved in lots of Building Schools for the Future teams across the UK and he’ll be the first to tell you that if you don’t involve the users of learning spaces in their design then the challenge of designing a learning space suitable for purpose is much harder.
The Regional Centre for Students with Autistic Learning Disorders is planning to reach students with ASD beyond the walls of City College Norwich. We hope that will make that virtually possible and is part of the strategy for outreach. We’re looking forward to being involved in the process of rollout.
Nick Platts and Alex Blanc from our team continue the development work of with Hais Deakin, our latest recruit, working on SMS integration for the site.
rugroomtvlogo.jpgWith technology so well received by the students an opportunity arose to bid for some additional funding to improve the RUGroom experience further. Challenged by Danusia, I sat up one night and drew up a vision for and the next day Hal applied his budgeting skills to the proposal and we cost what rr21.jpgwe believed would be a realistic proposal for TV/Radio/Broadcasting studio specifically for the use of students with ASD.
The proposal was successful and we’re now in the process of now making it happen, creating a space for experimentation and learning whilst not trying to create a high level broadcast studio. Much of our time working with BBC Blast to specify and implement the use of technology on their national BBC Blast Truck Tour has helped us to define what was possible and desirable. We’ve been involved in lots of learning space design projects all over the country, helping design schools to engage learners, we’ve also visited schools and other learning spaces across the world and learned about the successes and failures. Here is the BBC Blast Truck which some of our team helped specify suitable technolgy for learning:


Like the BBC Blast Truck, will be a state of the art audio and visual studio and media casting unit that is intended to form part of the innovative RUGroom development at City College Norwich. The newly developed space will be built directly opposite the existing RUGroom facility within the college site.
The new multi-purpose studio and editing suite will contain enviable cutting-edge technologies which will enable collaboration and creativity through media capture, visual editing and sharing.
A typical day in will see a radio production take place, some filming, editing, webcasting, scheduling, podcasts and recordings for the wider student community. Norwich, Norfolk, and the worldwide community will benefit from improved visibility and exposure of the RUGroom project; pioneering experimental work for young people with ASD. The most exciting thing about is that its use and operations will be manned, and managed, by the talented AS students based in the college. will be located directly opposite the existing Rugroom space. The following diagram (not to scale) demonstrates the location of the two rooms:


Running between the two spaces is a corridor. Rugroom has been designed with glass doors allowing passers by to look in and see what is taking place in the space. The intention for the wall along the main corridor is that it will be made entirely of glass from wall to ceiling allowing visitors and passers-by to look in and see the creative work being undertaken. will be filled with cutting edge technology, a stimulating and engaging place to work. There are two separate rooms; one playing home to an editing suite, and the other a small studio. Students will be able communicate through the speaker system to record programmes and broadcast live images.


Using the same equipment featured in the photograph above connected to the dual screen/keyboard editing suite equipment imaged below (located in the editing suite) the studio will be able to deliver high quality visual imagery both live and on-demand.


The latest chroma key technology developed for the BBC by Reflecmedia will allow to adapt to become any location in the world. The Reflecmedia material will be hung from the roof as a curtain and can be pulled across the glass front of the studio to allow privacy for filming if desired. This glass reflector material technology is used by broadcasters to present the national weather news for programmes and will allow both still and video images to be streamed live behind a presenter. Using cutting edge software by it is possible to feed the live images straight to the internet.
The soundproof studio will also be rigged with high quality microphones allowing students to produce audio programmes for podcast and radio.
When the studio space is not being used for radio or television productions, conference kit for video conferencing will be made available for the Rugroom students and staff, and the wider college, to interact with others globally. It is intended that the RUGroom will begin a programme of using this technology to link up with other AS academic communities from around the world to collaborate, share ideas and celebrate success.
The editing suite will have two benches running along each wall, the TV editing desk will look straight into the studio and allow editors to interact with students working the cameras and those presenting. On the opposite wall space will be dedicated to editing audio material for use on podcast and radio mediums. Headphones will be provided for this work. Anyone passing in the outside corridor will be able to see through the glass wall at what is happening in
The editing suite will also be home to the website which will be an archive of work created by RUGroom students as well as the place internet visitors go to watch live webcasts produced by the RUGroom. The booking out of the recording equipment, space and editing facilities will all be managed through the website online. will offer filming and DVD production and replications services for the college, students from will be able to film off-site and build DVD’s for internal clients at a charge.
rugroomlaunch.jpgRUGroom is certainly the talk of City College at the moment, and it was great to be at the official launch to celebrate with the team the successes so far. Charles Clarke, MP for Norwich South and former Education Secretary (2002 – 2004) officially opened the RUGroom commenting on how well the room and its technology had come together to maximise students potential. The centre was officially opened on 8 February 2008. Charles Clarke commented on how the technology in the RUGroom is cutting edge and went on to say:
“What this room does, and all the facilities, and all the staff, and the college is to help people deliver their potential.”
And delivering the potential from students with ADS is exactly what RUGroom is all about.
Dick Palmer, Principal of the college commended staff and students on their achievement and thanked Danusia and her team for all the hard work and effort involved. As ever, the ASD students were central to the launch, welcoming guests, introducing the speakers, demonstrating creativity, engaging with the visitors, and being interviewed by the press.
In the official City College Press Release Dick Palmer states:
“I am incredibly proud that we have been able to help establish this incredibly innovative Regional Centre for Learners with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. It will play a vital role in ensuring that these learners can have equal access to courses at the College while having a safe space dedicated to their needs. The RUG Room has been so successful because learners were involved in from the beginning, working with the designers to create an exciting and innovative space which meets the very specific needs of young people with Asperger Syndrome.” Read the CCN RUGroom Press Release

When interviewed by BBC Look East’s Louise Holmes RUG student Kirsty said:
“I’m lot more confident now because I get to speak to people who are in the same boat as I am, so it has been really nice.”
Louise then interviewed Emi-Jo who stated:
“I’ve got a safe environment where I can go if I’m angry or I’m upset, I’m away from everyone, but in the middle of college …no one can come and get me”. The Look East report is available at the end of this article, here on youtube and also here on the BBC website.

Danusia Latosinski, Head of the Regional Centre for Learners with Autistic Spectrum Disorders stated:
“The students were involved in the first meeting with the designers and then involved at every stage of this rooms development and thats why it is such a unique space, quite different from other spaces, because there are elements in here that the students have particularly asked for.”
Kim Briscoe from Norwich Evening News was also as the launch and enlisted Sam, one of the students, to present a film introducing the new space.
Watch it here (and below)….
Well done Sam, very nicely done!
Here are the photographs I took at the launch.
Click here to read what Hal MacLean wrote about the launch.
Watch the BBC Look East news item:

At the heart of the RUGroom success sits Danusia and her dedicated team of professionals who work tirelessly are more than 100% committed to provide the very best opportunities and bring out the potential of every student they work with. This project has been the most amazing journey because the people involved are willing to try new things and break the mould.
The team at Cleveratom are delighted to be involved.
Some images from the event:

BBC Look East News Item – 8 February 2008: Play Now | Play in Popup

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