Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Telling Stories in the 4th Dimension

Schools should include more 4D displays created by students. 2D is the design of flat images (we have plenty of murals), 3D is objects (sculptures), 4D is spaces, and 5D is interactive design. 4D designs include architecture, interior design, landscape design, urban planning, set design, exhibit design, dioramas and other designs that include spatial dimensions.

Schools have display cases and examples of the types of 4D displays students could create appear every year in holiday shop windows at places such as Macy's, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman (left), Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue (right), Tiffany and Bloomingdales.

Many of these displays are made with inexpensive materials such as foam core, cardboard, and paper. They gain their impact through good design, creative lighting, and an element of story telling. Students could create dioramas that tell stories from the school curriculum in science, history, social studies, etc.

Click on the heading above to see some of the window displays in New York City.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two Views of Problems in Education

There are two movies about the problems with education in America currently making the circuit that address what appear to be completely different worlds.

Waiting for Superman (right), directed by Davis Guggenheim, addresses the problems with under-achieving students, teachers and schools that have placed our education system at the bottom among the developing nations in the world. This film shows students struggling to find challenging education with high standards. The film paints a picture of students suffering from lack of educational opportunities and struggling to get into college. The solution seems to be to challenge students more and expect more from teachers and the education system.

In contrast, Race to Nowhere (left), directed by Vicki Abeles, paints a picture of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink because of high expectations in schools, educators who are worried that students aren't developing the skills they need to get into the best colleges, and parents who are driving their kids too hard to succeed. Race to Nowhere says there is a silent epidemic in our schools because students are being pushed too hard: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. These students know they are going to college - they are being pushed to get into the best colleges and the film seems to say we need to back off and not push them so hard.

The startling contrast between these two strikingly different views of what is wrong with education may actually show us the real problem with education in the United States. We have one culture of privileged elite students who are guaranteed the best in life and suffer from too many wonderful things from which to choose. Then we have another culture of disadvantaged students, side by side in the same communities, who are denied opportunities and resources that would help make them successful in life. Resolving the contrast between these views may lead us more quickly to solving the problems of education in America than attacking either of the problems outlined by the individual movies.

Click on the heading above to see the trailer for Race to Nowhere and then contrast that with the trailer for Waiting for Superman at http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Design Takes on Education

Education is one of the biggest design challenges in the 21st century. Designer Emily Pilloton (right) moved to rural Bertie County, in North Carolina, to engage in a bold experiment of design-led community transformation. She's teaching a design-build class called Studio H that engages high schoolers' minds and bodies while bringing smart design and new opportunities to the poorest county in the state.

Emily Pilloton and her Project H Design initiative are looking at:

(1) Design For Education - the physical construction of improved materials, spaces, and experiences for students and teachers;
(2) Redesigning Education - a systems level look at how education is administered, what is being offered, and to whom;
and (3) Design As Education - actually teaching design in schools by coupling design thinking with real construction and fabrication skills fulfilling an actual, useful community purpose.

The Project H design principles are:
1. Design through action
2. Design with, not for
3. Design systems, not stuff
4. Document, share, and measure
5. Start locally, and scale globally
6. Build

Click on the heading above to see Emily Pilloton explain her work in a small, rural community to apply the idea of Teaching Design for Change at a recent TED conference.

New Toys and Games for Education

Education is about to see an influx of DIY toys, games, and APPS that teach important content and skills encompassing what students should know and be able to do. These learning objects, environments and experiences will at first be crude and unsophisticated but will evolve quickly as online sharing creates an environment of friendly competition that goes viral.

Way back in 2007, Will Wright (right), famous for developing the online games making up the SIMS franchise, talked about creating SPORE (left), a game in which you guide the creation of life. The game had mixed results but represents the kind of thinking people are increasingly putting into immersive environments for learning.

My students, in an Introduction to Design course, are tackling, as a design project, the re-design of environments for learning. This includes 2D images like textbooks, whiteboards, interactive boards, maps, timelines, posters, handouts, etc.; 3D objects like globes, toys, manipulatives, desks, chairs, e-readers, etc.; 4D spaces like classrooms, halls, schools, playgrounds, parks, cafeterias, labs, etc.: and 5D experiences such as interactive exhibits, online games, theme parks, immersive environments, hands-on-learning, etc.

They are going through the steps of Ideation (identifying and clarifying the problem, researching the problem and other attempts to solve it, and developing criteria for a successful solution); Visualization (brainstorming multiple potential solutions to the problem in visual form so others can see and contribute to their ideas); Prototyping (selecting potential solutions and mocking them up to see any design flaws or additional challenges in realizing a viable solution); and Implementation (which, because of the classroom environment, consists of presenting their ideas to classmates and others to see if they have created a compelling and plausible solution to the problem.)

Click on the heading above to hear what Will Wright has to say about developing toys and games for learning.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

From Your Computer to a "Printed" 3-D Object

Neil Gershenfeld (left) described the coming revolution of 3-D printing several years ago in his book "FAB". We have reported about Gershenfeld's work and book before but, with the production of the world's first 3-D printed car (see article below), we need to take another look at the amazing potential of this revolutionary technology.

Imagine the potential of a technology that allows you to design an object on your home computer using free software and being able to have it printed out as a real 3-D object. This does for product design what the traditional printer did for graphic design.

Neil Gershenfeld is a professor at MIT and the head of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, a sister lab spun out of the popular MIT Media Lab. His book, "Fab, The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop - From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication" (right) explains the technology and relates some of the applications in surprising places like underdeveloped areas in India and Africa.

Gershenfeld also points out that not only can the fabricating process produce objects but it can produce the machines needed to produce the objects. He refers to a "personal fabricator," a machine that makes machines, called "fab labs." Gershenfeld and his colleagues have actually established these systems in India, Africa, Norway, and Boston to empower local people to use technology to create jewelry from junk, capture solar power, and make milk safe to drink.

Click on the heading above to see Gershenfeld's presentation at a TED conference.

Urbee - World's First 3-D Printed Car

A century after Henry Ford revolutionized automobile production with the introduction of the assembly line for the Ford Model T, a car has been produced using a process that could prove just as revolutionary – 3D printing. Code-named, Urbee, the car is the first ever to have its entire body, including its glass panels, 3D printed. A collaborative design by Stratasys and Kor Ecologic, the Urbee is the first car ever to have its entire body printed using additive manufacturing processes.

3-D printing technology takes an image designed on a computer and prints it out as a 3D object with layers of a variety of materials. Several design software programs, some free, others for sale, including Alibre and Autodesk, allow a person to design a product on their home computer, then send the design to a company like Shapeways, which will print it and mail it back.

3-D printing is being used to build everything from costumes for movies, buildings, to even body parts (right). A 3-D printer creates an object by stacking one layer of material, typically plastic or metal, on top of another. The technology started as a tool used by designers to build prototypes and is now used to print things like iPhone cases, lamps, doorknobs, jewelry, handbags, perfume bottles, clothing and architectural models. A California company is even working on printing houses.

3-D printers can cost from $10,000 to more than $100,000. Stratasys and 3D Systems are among the industry leaders. MakerBot is one company that sells a hobbyist kit for under $1,000.

Click on the heading above to watch a video (a commercial) that explains the 3-D printing process from one company's system.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Video Games as Models for Learning

Until recently, most of the conversations around video and online games were about their seemingly negative effects, but now people are beginning to see how video games have tapped into some very important learning concepts that are applicable to the real world. We are being asked to rethink our negative attitudes toward the visual power of video games and see how we can use that power to improve education and the world in which we live.

Game designer Jane McGonigal (right) asks: "Why doesn't the real world work more like an online game? In the best-designed games, our human experience is optimized: We have important work to do, we're surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment."

Game theorist Tom Chatfield (left) asks, "What if society harnessed that energy [of game players and creators] to redefine learning? Or voting?" Chatfield believes that understanding the psychology of the videogame reward schedule is not only important for understanding the world of our children but it's a stepping stone to improving our world right now.

The complex challenge and reward systems developed and tested by game designers can be applied to making the real world a better place in which to live, work, and play. McGonigal's challenge to designers and future designers is "Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality."

Click on the heading above to watch Jane McGonigal's presentation, "Gaming Can Make a Better World", at the TED conference. Then check out Tom Chatfield's presentation, "7 ways games reward the brain", at the TED conference as well.