Blake Greene's logo Lego Education: Digital + Analog Research

Winter 2015 - Design Research - Futurist Design - Education Design

Greene Face™

In the winter and spring of 2015, I worked with Lego Education to develop new models of thinking about early education in an increasingly automated world. The above video is a summary of my findings. Below you can follow along with my presentation and read my transcribed speech.

Hello, my name is Blake Greene and I am a junior in Industrial Design. From the start of this research process, I have been interested in how the digital world and the analog world come together in education. And when I say “education” I’m not only referring to education within the United States, I am referring to education throughout the world because the 21st century looks nothing like the 20th century, and we must not be educating children for a world that existed 20 years ago. Through my findings it turns out there aren't a lot of meaningful intersection between the digital and the analog in the classroom.

The world we live in is amazing. We have self driving cars, automated factories, and drone delivery services. Now what you’ll notice about all of these machines is that a human is not required to operate any of them. Conceivably, we could have a self driving truck that ships raw material to a factory, which is manned by no one, and produces a packaged product that is then delivered by a robotic, pre-programmed drone. In this process, not a single human hand touches a piece of the process, with the exception of an engineer here or there to monitor for kinks, but even that position could be replaced by a robot designed to check for kinks. This world is pointing towards…

... job extinction, on a large scale. Humans are becoming increasingly irrelevant in tasks that require basic motor skills and basic pattern matching. Just recently the two best jeopardy players in the world were beaten by a super computer, IBM’s Watson. Watson, self driving cars, automated factories, and drones all signal a coming shift that we as humans must change the way we approach work, because soon many old jobs like factory worker, librarian, driver, delivery person, etc, will become extinct or evolve to a point where we must work with machines.

In an even crazier twist, Watson recently created an award winning hot sauce! Watson is a computer, Watson cannot taste. But he can understand taste. He can understand what we put into him and analyze what we want, need, and like on an extremely human level, to a point where he can make delicious sauces.

So what does all of this mean for the world to come? As basic human tasks become replaced by robots, we must radically rethink our place in the world. We must reconsider what and how our children learn so that schools fosters what we as humans do best, and that is imagine and create new and original things. This all begins with education.

I went to a Montessori school. Montessori education is based on freedom for the young student to learn at their own pace in an open concept classroom. I learned using the objects you see above. I learned math by counting glass beads, and I learned other basic skills in language, science, art, and geography with analog, tactile objects. This analog approach to education creates a mind-body relationship that is important to learning, and I back that statement up with Piaget’s findings that children “learn best from concrete [sensorimotor] activities.”

The class room I worked in looked like this, which looks more like a playground than a school room. I loved learning here, and many of the tools and materials I used in this space gave me the foundation I needed to end up at a place like the Rhode Island School of Design. However, the one crucial thing missing in this work place, and, can feel seemingly contrary to an analog, hands-on Montessori education, is…

... digital technology. Digital technology had no place in Maria Montessori’s curriculum back in the 1900’s because it didn’t exist. No one had the foresight that in 100 years many of the worlds basic tasks would be overtaken by machines.

Now this class room I grew up in was great at several things. An open class room that promotes self directed learning insights creativity, and allows for self corrected, tangible learning. But this space lacks an appreciation for our new, digital world.

If we are to create a classroom where all of these objects can co-exist, we must do more than just place them on the shelf next to each other.

An understanding of the digital and the analog alone are not sufficient any more. The two must be joined together by making…

... human imagination paramount in education. We must start structuring education around these three entities. Digital tools must be brought into the classroom because they make it possible for students to explore more quickly in a risk-free manner, thus cultivating a better understanding of our increasingly automated world. Analog must not be neglected so that we maintain our mind-body connection. And…

... in a world where so many things are being done for us by robots we must not lose sight of what keeps us human: our ability to imagine and create these incredible machines. Schools should foster imagination by…

... removing a hierarchy. Typically, the most “important” subjects are given the most presidents, but I argue that in the 21st century model of education, all subjects must be treated equally.

Schools no longer have any place producing humans that only push buttons, stand on assembly lines, and perform the tasks of robots.

Now, how do we begin to fuse the digital with the analog in a classroom setting? And fuse the two in a way that maintains an environment that promotes…

... creativity, and allows for self corrected, tangible learning?

Remember from previous slides an object from Montessori education, the color tablets. Color tablets are designed to help students understand color, shade, hue, and basic grouping. These objects are great in their tangibility; they come in wooden boxes and are made with a smooth lacquer finish. The limitation of this object is that each physical object is limited to its tangible state.

Now if we introduce an iPad into the class room and combine it with the colored tablets, we can create a meaningful, augmented experience that utilizes both the digital and tangible while promoting creativity. Say the iPad is programed with an app that is synced with the color tablets. Now the student can hold the tablets in front of the camera and the iPad is able to analyze the colors he or she holds up. On the app, the student will then be able to mix the colors on the screen, see what happens when you mix all of them together, or maybe paint a digital image that can be brought into adobe software. The app could even show the kids how tangible paints mix together to create something new in the analog world.

And, the app can track the students development, seeing how the student understands and interacts with color. This data collection can help teachers understand how students learn and improve art education. Or other kinds of education. Imagine movable letters that when arranged can be tracked and added to a system that allows teachers to monitor a child’s linguistic development. The classroom does not need just iPads or just laptops, it needs a creative fusion of the physical world and the digital world. Here’s a system that is similar to what I just mentioned, essentially analog objects interacting digitally with an iPad, but functioning in real life.

Now these are fairly basic digital analog combinations right now, but consider some of the work MIT’s Media Lab is doing with “radical atoms” and tangible computing. Right now these technologies look primitive, the way computing used to look in the early 80’s and 90’s, very pixelated, but consider regular analog objects endowed with physical capabilities driven by digital technology. You could almost see how humans could get lazy if we allow these machines to take over our daily lives.

A 21st century education must not allow that laziness to take shape. As smart objects and physical computing become more sophisticated, education must focus on imagination. To economic challenges of the 21st century must be met with a highly creative work force. We must rise with the occasion so that our children will grow up with a fusion of the digital and analog. We must not allow the world to leap forward before our children, leaving humanity reaching and grasping to stay relevant. This fusion must take place so that education can become a system that fosters what we as humans do best: create and imagine.

Thank you for reading! All bibliographies and notes can be found here.

This project contains deliverables that cannot be viewed here per request from Lego Education. For more information on this project, please contact me directly.

Blake Greene, 2016