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Dynamic Learning Futures

Ingrid Lange RISD Industrial Design Senior Degree Project | Spring 2016 Providence, Rhode Island

Dynamic Learning Futures Ingrid Lange A proposal for future learning experiences in early education.

Providence, Rhode Island RISD Industrial Design Senior Degree Project Spring 2016





RESEARCH Observation + Interviews —School visits —Phone interviews Literature Review

10 14

INSIGHTS + TREND IDENTIFICATION —Overall drivers in society and technology —What this means for education —Abilities necessary for the future (+ past/present)

34 40 42 44

INITIAL IDEATION —Shifting educational contexts throughout the year —Learning companion PROPOSAL —Communal learning spaces —Information through dynamic physicality —Transcendence of separate learning contexts

66 70 72

APPENDIX Design Exercises —Inviting Machines to the Act of Speculation —Visualizing the Invisible Writing ­ —Computation in Early Education: A Trip to the MIT Media Lab —From Materialist to Experiential Utopia: Building a Sustainable Digital and Material Future —Internet as Digital Montessori classroom: Learning through Tactile or Digital Discovery BIBLIOGRAPHY


82 84 94 106 114 116

122 124 130 138






The Need The current educational model was built around labor paradigms of the industrial revolution. As society’s system of labor transcends this antiquated model of human rote task completion, insular modes of thinking, and division of highly specialized labor, the current educational model doesn’t provide children with the critical imagination to envision and carry out a better vision of the future.

Why education? In addition to the current need for change in the American educational model, I’ve always been interested in how designed experiences can “teach” someone (subconsciously or consciously) about the past, present, or future. Also, I’m nearing the end of my formal education, so I’m at a point where I can recall my own early education experiences relatively easily, yet education reform will remain relevant to my life, and the whole of society, for the rest of my life.

Why speculative? This thesis is speculative, because education and futuring are intrinsically linked. We cannot think about education without thinking about the future, because the minds that are blooming in the present will be the minds carving out the unknown future. The purpose of education is a paradox– it is meant as a method of preparation for something that is unknown, the future. The act of speculation is an attempt to unearth meaning in the gap between the known present and the abstracted, unknown future. Speculation can help us better understand the purpose of the past, present, and future in education, which can lead to reforms in methods, pedagogy, and values.

Where we are


We need a new conception of learning that doesn’t look like either of these visions. This investigation of early education experiences strives for a productive blend of traditional and experiential learning models, and explores the role of technology in tactile, discovery-based learning methods. It attempts to challenge existing visions of intensely isolated, immersive, and virtual educational experiences.

Top | State Library of Queensland, John Oxley Library– early 20th century

Bottom | Jon Rafman, Sculpture Garden (Hedge Maze)– 2015



Where we are


RESEARCH Observation + Interviews Literature Review See Appendix for reflections on MIT Media Lab trip



7 school visits 4 in-person interviews 1 prototyped workshop 6 phone interviews 1 survey for children 1 trip to the MIT Media Lab Literature Review Since 2014, I’ve been researching early education through a number of empirical, qualitative, and academic research methods that have informed my proposal. The following section includes overall insights and takeaways from these experiences.



NOV 14

NOV 10

NOV 09

NOV 07

NOV 04

NOV 03

OCT 31

OCT 27


Visited Paul Cuffee School and distributed online visual survey for kids

Google hangout with John Fitsioris

Phone interview with Flavia Bastos

NOV 05

Phone interview with Mary Welsh-Schlueter

Phone interview with Mary Claire Angle

Visited Harry Kizirian Elementary School and Lincoln School

Phone interview with Gregg Emery

Visited Moses Brown School


Phone interview with Jennifer Sauvey

Winter / Spring 2016

MAR 28

FEB 19

FEB 16

Visited Santa Cruz Montessori

Phone call with Harald Becker

Visited Wolf School

School visit Phone interview Survey distributed Academic research conducted



OBSERVATION + INTERVIEWS School visits In-person inteviews Phone interviews Prototyped workshop Survey for students



My research into early education began in the Fall of 2014, when I developed an interest in STEAM– an initiative promoting interdisciplinary education, standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Throughout the research process, I visited 4 private schools, a charter school, and a public school in Providence, Rhode Island. I collaborated with Allison Chen (RISD Industrial Design '15) throughout the process. We talked to teachers and students, observing classes in visual art, math, STEM, and woodshop in grades 1st through 4th. Each class was ~45 minutes and class sizes ranged from 9-25 students, depending on the school.



Moses Brown I visited Moses Brown School, an independent, college-prep, Quaker day school in Providence, RI. I spoke with Cathy Van Lancker, Visual Arts Program Director and Teacher and visited Randy Street’s 4th grade woodshop class in the grades K-7 woodshop.

INSIGHTS Art is often utilized in an interdisciplinary curriculum only as a visual tool.

Abundant resources do not necessarily lead to progressive pedagogy.

Paul Cuffee School Paul Cuffee is a public charter school in Providence, Rhode Island, that serves a diverse community of students in kindergarten through high school. The maritime theme that runs throughout their curriculum cultivates independence, initiative, and a respect for the environment. In 2013, 77.3% of Paul Cuffee students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. I visited Stacy Gale’s 2nd grade STEM class and Michelle Carden’s 3rd grade Art class and spoke with both of them afterwards.

INSIGHTS Professionals in STEM fields with the making skills and thought processes taught in the arts are often more innovative and progressive in their work.

Many teachers are enthusiastic about interdisciplinary lessons, but without precedents to be inspired by, it's hard to imagine this new pedagogy.

One can have an understanding of the value in the way in which artists think, but not fully conceptualize how to translate into interdiscplinary pedagogy.

Elementary aged students are more engaged during an iterative process like the Design Process, when they can test something, change it, and see the effect of altering it.

Some current interdisciplinary curriculum is primarily between disciplines that still fall within the arts, like the humanities and visual art.


Many interdisciplinary lessons don’t require expensive materials, so public schools can afford to implement this pedagogy into their classes.


Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island JCDSRI is a private multi-denominational school near the Brown University campus that provides General Studies and Jewish curriculum for Pre-K through grade 5. Since January 2014, the RISD and Brown University STEAM club (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) has partnered with the JCDSRI to share resources and ideas, while prototyping interdisciplinary workshops for grades K-5 in the JCDS Design Lab. Melita Morales (RISD TLAD MFA ‘14) and I collaborated on a geometry lesson we held in the JCDSRI Design Lab in March of 2014. By building with dowels and clay, the students learned how twodimensional shapes can be combined to created three-dimensional forms. This lesson also incorporated an introduction to biomimickry, focusing on presence of geometry in nature.

INSIGHTS Elementary aged students are much more capable of higher level thinking and making connections than many might assume.

The Design Process and Scientific Process share a very similar framework, but bring unique approaches and knowledge, creating a natural but rarely practiced collaboration.

Some educators see value in the unique knowledge and perspective of college students in regards to advancing their students’ thinking.

In traditional education, students rarely practice verbal analysis (or “critique”) of their ideas and others’, which is a valuable communication skill.



Lincoln School Lincoln School is an independent, college preparatory school offering allgirls educational programs for Grades 1 through 12, with a co-educational Early Childhood program that is Nursery through Kindergarten. Founded in 1884, Lincoln has high academic and ethical standards, with a focus on character and values that reflects their Quaker heritage. I met and spoke with Anita Thompson, the Department Head of Visual Arts and Upper School Visual Arts teacher.

INSIGHTS Some educators imply that interdiscplinary education can inform how students perceive other people and how they treat them.

Wolf School Founded in 1999, Wolf School provides a unique educational environment for children who are complex learners with multiple learning differences. The Wolf School has dual approval by the Rhode Island Department of Education as an Independent School and a Special Education Program. The school follows the standards of core grade-level skills for language arts, math, social studies and science. Their curriculum encompasses a rigorous blend of academic subjects and intensive therapeutic support that addresses three major learning challenges: language processing/production, sensory regulation, and socially effective communication.

Hands-on and interdiscplinary education is more easily taught at the Nursery and Pre-K levels through the Reggio Emilia approach because the pressure of standardized testing is not yet relevant.

INSIGHTS Many of the “embodied learning� methods used at Wolf School that emphasize learning through physical movement could easily be applied to traditional schools.

STEAM is not the first educational initiative to encourage interdisciplinary learning-- in fact, similar methodologies have existed for a long time and in other parts of the world.

The wooden gym was designed to not only feel welcoming, but also to dampen sounds and provide a calming physical learning space.

Most of the funding for a school like Wolf School goes towards small student-toteacher ratio, rather than expensive technology or material resources.



Harry Kizirian Elementary As part of the Providence public school system, Harry Kizirian attracts an ethnically diverse group of students. As of 2014, 85.8% of its students are free lunch eligible. I visited Patricia Maguire’s 1st grade Math class, observed the class for an hour, and briefly spoke with students and Patricia separately.

INSIGHTS Math was easy for some students because of a visual and tangible tool (their fingers) that they could manipulate to problem solve.

“We don’t have time for art class in here” was Patricia’s way of apprehending a kid for taking time to organize practice cards aesthetically.

When I visited the class, other teachers thought I was the District evaluating the teacher. There was immense anxiety about the District evaluations happening that week.

Patricia showed me a new report card: an 11” x 17” sheet on which she checks boxes. She told me she’d rather write a narrative about each student, because it’s easier for the parents to understand a paragraph rather than a list of boxes that are checked.

When the class was asked questions throughout the lesson about subtracting, about 3 out of 25 students responded. There was no way of truly gauging the classes’ understanding.




—Flavia Bastos Director of Graduate Studies in Visual Arts Education at the University of Cincinnati

—Gregg Emery Head of Visual Arts and Volleyball Coach at Trinity School in NYC

—Jenn Sauvey 7th Grade Language Arts teacher at Wyoming Middle School in Cincinnati, Ohio

—Mary Welsh-Shlueter Founder and CEO of PIE: Partnership for Innovation in Education

—Mary Claire Angle Assistant Director, School-based Learning at the Cincinnati Art Museum




There is still a stigma that accompanies “stereotypical” artists, which implies a lack of intelligence and unprofessional process of working.

STEAM is sometimes interpreted as only combining content from different disciplines, rather than the unique thinking processes or methodologies.

Despite having heard about the initiative, some educators struggle to define what STEAM means beyond the acronym.

Many K-8 educators at private schools with abundant resources are open to crossdisciplinary curriculums, but don’t know how to do it.

Many large employers still see value only in the STEM acronym, which heavily influences education and business.

The exponential change in society in the last few decades is a possible reason for dire need of change in educational pedagogy.

Sometimes, there are differing definitions of the purpose of education as a whole and as a result, varying definitions of what innovation truly means.

Many schools are trying to push empathy into the students’ learning at a young age, which is often an integral part of Design Thinking.

STEAM is often seen as purely an arts advocacy initiative, and the mutual benefits of collaboration between disciplines is somewhat lost in the definition.

Because of this, some art educators aren’t satisfied with the acronym of STEAM. The initiative is dangerous because the true meaning gets simplified into an acronym that doesn’t effectively communicate it.

Flavia Bastos Gregg Emery Jenn Sauvey Mary Welsh-Shlueter Mary Claire Angle

Phone Interviews


LITERATURE REVIEW Academic texts Lectures



Throughout my research, I read the works of educational philosophers, developmental psychologists, and technologists working on the development of machine learning technology. For the full works cited, see the bibliography on page 144. This diversity of experts from many disciplines forced me to think more deeply about education and human intelligence in relation to other species of intelligence. What is the future of human learning as we witness the emergence of machine learning in everyday life?

Literature Review




Jarod Lanier John Markoff Kevin Kelly Benedict Evans Seymour Papert Marvin Minsky


Mitchel Resnick Nicholas Negroponte Stephen Wolfram Alan Kay Bret Victor Klaus Krippendorff



Victor Margolin


Ed Boyden


Andy Clark David Chalmers Jean Piaget Lev Vygotsky Sarah-Jane Blakemore John Dewey Maria Montessori Sir Ken Robinson EDUCATION

Literature Review



Inspired by Dunne and Raby’s “Speculative Everything”, these incomplete sketches can act as a starting point for discussion about the boundaries (or blurring boundaries) between various sectors of art and design. These sketches were in response to interpretations of “critical design”, “speculative design” and “design fiction”, exploring the role of commentary, critique, and speculation in all of these approaches to design. For additional writing on the relationship between Industrial Design and Futuring, see the appendix.



l design

Speculative design



Critical design Possible

Speculative design




Critical design




Fine art Critical design



Critical design

Speculative design




Hopefulness Hopefulness


Speculative design


Speculative design

Design fiction

Speculative design


Critical design Critique Fine art

PossibilityCritical design Design fiction

Speculative design

Optimism Critical design Pessimism

Fine art





Fine art


Critical design

Optimism Critical design Hopefulness



Speculative design Skepticism



Design fiction

Speculative design

C Critical design

Optimism Critical design

Critical design

Speculative design Skepticism







Critical design

Fine art



Literature Review Speculative design

Possibility Design fiction

Critique Speculative

Commentary Critical


“Growth and psychic development are therefore guided by: the absorbent mind, the nebulae and the sensitive periods, with their respective mechanisms. It is these that are hereditary and characteristic of the human species. ” —Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind



The Absorbent Mind

0-3 YRS

3-6 YRS



6-12 YRS

12-15 YRS Puberty

Period of Uniform Growth

Period of Transformation Construction of self as individual

Herd instinct (collective action) Rightness & wrongness of actions High confidence as individual Awareness of self as group member

Period of Tra Socially consc

Vulnerable confide

Awareness of self a member, a




form Growth

ollective action)

ngness of actions

ce as individual as group member


12-15 YRS

15-18 YRS



18+ YRS

Period of Transformation

Period of Uniform Growth

Socially conscious individual [experiences of Vulnerable confidence as individual objects in his environment] Awareness of self as individual, group member, and society+ movement Introvert Unconscious —Passive absorption: taking photos

Conscious —Active absorption: drawing an image

—Development of distinction between self and environment


—Sensitive Period for Order (around 2 yrs) Literature Review



Dr. Maria Montessori’s theory of development explores how tactile experience with objects in a child’s structured environment helps a child transition from unconscious learning to conscious learning around age three. Dr. Maria Montessori’s theory of development breaks down a child’s development into three or six year segments, explaining the unique characteristics of a child’s growth during each of those periods.



Period of Uniform Growth

Period of Transformation Construction of self as individual

Herd instinct (collective action)

The Absorbent Mind

0-3 YRS

3-6 YRS



Period of Transformation Construction of self as individual

Rightness & wrongness of actions


High confidence as individual


Awareness of self as group member 6-12 YRS

Extrovert 12-15 YRS

15-18 YRS


Period of Uniform Growth


Period of Transformation

Herd instinct (collective action)

Socially conscious individual

Rightness & wrongness of actions

Vulnerable confidence as individual

High confidence as individual

Awareness of self as individual, group member, and society

Awareness of self as group member Extrovert


[experiences of objects in his environment] + movement [experiences of Unconscious Unconscious

—Passive absorption: —Passive absorption: taking photos taking photos

objects in his environment] + movement




—Active absorption: drawing an image

—Active absorption: drawing an image

—Development of

—Development of self distinction between and environment distinction between self —Sensitive Period for and environment



Order (around 2 yrs)

—Sensitive Period for Order (around 2 yrs)

Literature Review



“The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.” —John Dewey, Experience and Education Throughout my research, many theorists illustrated the differences, as well as advantages and disadvantages, of “traditional”, instruction-based education methods and “progressive”, experiential learning methods. Although I’ve come to realize that education can’t simply be one method or the other (there must be a symbiotic relationship between experiential and instruction-based methods in early education), I started to map the differences between the approaches.





Public school system in the U.S. —Outcome-based education —Values derived from skills and information needed in the past

Montessori method —Process-based education —Values are arguably more focused on the future- provide kids with skills to keep growing beyond formal education

Instruction —Lesson is taught to entire class —Classes are divided into short 45-min periods based on subject —Teacher is hailed as sender of message

Instruction —Small lessons are provided throughout the day —Children can attend the same lesson multiple times or can continue working independently —Groups of 6-10 students —Self-discovery of the student is emphasized

Practice + Engagement —Homework —Worksheets —Digital games

Practice + Engagement —Self-correcting materials —Student learn to self-evaluate and self-correct

Assessment Quantitative methods of assessment (such as standardized testing) that gather data on students’ “progress” at scale

Assessment Student and teacher develop student work plans that tracks a child’s progress and self-correcting materials let children assess their own understanding

Literature Review


INSIGHTS Overall Insights Trend Identification and Forecasting



After employing a number of research techniques, I distilled my findings into high level themes, trends, and principles. The trends represent both aspirational and current existing trends in society and technology. Specific influences for these trends include Jarod Lanier, Kevin Kelly, John Markoff, Alan Kay, Bret Victor, Jason Severs, Peter Frase, Ethan Zuckerman, and Sep Kamvar.

Combined Insights from Research



01 Education is a paradox— it is the act of preparing for something that is unknown, the future. 04 Education and futuring are intrinsically linked— the minds that are growing in the present will be carving out the unknown future.

02 Human needs do not change as we evolve— we just reinvent the methods of fulfilling these needs. Education is one method that can be reinvented.

05 Technology creates an equal amount of problems as it does solutions.

03 Education is not about instilling knowledge and intelligence— it’s about teaching a child how to learn and love learning.

06 The capacity to learn is not exclusively held by humans.



07 We can’t avoid or ignore the presence of technology in today’s society— it’s more productive to create a symbiotic relationship with these technological systems.

09 Engagement with reality and physicality is especially important in early education— children use their environment as a frame of reference as they formulate their understanding of themselves and the world.

08 There must be a symbiotic relationship between experiential and instructionbased methods in early education. 10 Engagement with peers is also especially important in early education— social intelligence is only learned through interaction with others.

Combined Insights from Research





“One of the functions of an organization, of any organism, is to anticipate the future, so that those relationships can persist over time. The way that organizations and organisms anticipate the future is by taking signals from the past, most of the time.” —Kevin Kelly

Trend Identification


“The conception of education as a social process and function has no definite meaning until we define the kind of society we have in mind.” ­—John Dewey, Democracy and Education




Augmentation of human ability With the rise in machine learning and computational “intelligence”, humans’ own knowledge and intelligence will be augmented, rather than replaced, by computational intelligence. A symbiotic, rather than harmful or threatening, relationship with technology will slowly emerge. —Jarod Lanier, Kevin Kelly, John Markoff

New definition of labor There will be no “post-work” society– instead, the concept of labor and industry will be redefined and new disciplines, industries, and uses of human intelligence will emerge. Fields that emerge (or survive) will utilize human-specific skills and abilities, such as social intelligence. —Jason Severs, Peter Frase

True connectivity The web was supposed to connect cultures across the globe, yet invisible algorithms in social media and search experiences constructed close-knit bubbles of homogeneity and sameness, keeping us within the same geographic and demographic communities that we would normally be in. With a rise in grassroots initiatives and technologies, these bubbles will slowly dissolve. —Ethan Zuckerman

Meaning through data With so many aspects of individual lives, environmental fluctuations, and other societal patterns being translated into datasets, the focus will shift from the issue of how to collect data to the issue of extracting meaning from these large datasets. With our concentration on augmenting the collective intelligence of societies, we’ll focus on building databases of insight, rather than databases of futile data. —Alan Kay

Dynamic environments and objects The distinction between analog and digital is blurring. Advancements in technology will allow for our environments to react to our presence, leading to dynamic content embedded within immersive spaces. —Bret Victor

Need for symbiosis with nature Issues of climate change and dangerous environmental fluctuations won’t be addressed if the next generation does not develop a respect for the natural world. This respect for non-human life can only develop if children are given opportunities to build a symbiotic relationship with the natural world through play, educational experiences, etc. —Sep Kamvar

Trend Identification


“We then become witnesses to the development of the human soul; the emergence of the New Man, who will no longer be the victim of events but, thanks to his clarity of vision, will become able to direct and to mold the future of mankind.” —Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind




Beyond the Screen Software provides children dynamic, and customized learning experiences, yet doesn’t utilize the full breadth of modes of understanding. New paradigms of dynamic experiences will emerge so that spatial, tactile, iconic, and sensorial modes of understanding are engaged. This allows for more embodied learning and a return to physicality in practice.

Humans as facilitators, AI as assistants Human educator’s role shift further towards experience facilitator, and machines that learn act as assistants to these facilitators. Machines are already good at providing answers, yet they will slowly be able to help humans rephrase or rethink the questions they pose to children in learning experiences.

Ambient technology Without being deceptive or invisible, the role of technology in education will not be intrusive or disruptive. Technology will quietly enhance learning experiences, unlike visions of VR headsets strapped to children’s faces, isolating and individualizing their experiences and disconnecting them from the natural and human world.

Communal Learning and Cross-Community Accountability An increase in geographic and demographic connectivity results in more accountability towards learning between disparate communities. A greater sense of responsibility to contribute to the collective intelligence of society emerges, and cross-community relationships strengthen.

Method over content Specific sectors of academia and the industry will remain specialized, yet there will be a shift in how we organize information and present it to students in the form of individual classes. Rather than the discipline or content defining the structure of the school day, methods that span across disciplines or fields will determine arbitrary divisions in the school day. By focusing on methodologies and processes shared by many fields, children will learn what process for understanding the world is most interesting to them. From there, their interests will span across disciplines, leading to a truly transdisciplinary understanding of the world.

Personalized, yet shared experience An increased focus on individual learning patterns and needs do not result in learning in isolation. Educational institutions remain fully social spaces, where children’s experiences are cumulative and continuous. The experiences are silently personalized so that social interaction is not hindered, but enhanced.

Trend Identification





Influenced by experts in trend forecasting, futuring, education, and psychology, these ten abilities necessary for the future (some of which were necessary in the past and present) are interpretations of potential goals of education.

Trend Identification


DOUUOD Kids Collection Spring / Summer 2016



1 Critical & reflective mindset— ability to reflect and reject existing systems, approaches, and structures when appropriate

Photography is by Achim Lippoth

Trend Identification


The Model Room Olafur Eliasson, 2003



2 Transdisciplinary skillset + interests— ability to understand how to blend theory and practice across disciplines

The Universe Within Olafur Eliasson, 2015

Trend Identification


Hanazono Kindergarten Hanazono Kindergarten on the Japanese island of Miyako-jima is designed to endure typhoons and offer outdoor play spaces.

Designed by studios Hibino Sekkei and Youji no Shiro



3 Social intelligence­— ability to develop truly empathetic understanding of others and predict and react to different social situations and relationships

Photography is by Studio Bauhaus/Ryuji Inoue

Trend Identification


TUBO Tubo, an interactive, foam-filled space for kids, is designed by Italy-based Mathery Studio as part of the Hangzhou International Design Week in China, 2015



4 Self-awareness— ability to introspect, selfevaluate, self-correct, and develop a consciousness of one’s own biases, motives, beliefs, and scope of the world

TUBO Campaign shoot by Mathery Studio

Trend Identification


MilK Magazine Summer Outlook Editorial Photographer: Jonathan Malpass



5 Symbiosis with technology— understanding of how to use technology to augment our own intelligence, intuition, and skills, rather than replace or inhibit

Facing Page Cooper Hewitt Museum New Experience New York, New York 2015

MilK Magazine Summer Outlook Editorial MilK Magazine is a contemporary children’s fashion and lifestyle quarterly magazine based in Paris, France.

Trend Identification


Pawn Tomorrow What could you exchange at a pawnshop in the future, and what would it be worth? As a way to explore future needs, exchanges and value systems, The Extrapolation Factory developed Pawn Tomorrow, a multi-staged project that attempted to construct a feedback loop for impacting the future, linking researchers & technologists, the public, and expert futurists.

EXO-LIFE A small machine that creates new organisms to test the capacity on sustaining life in new environments on exoplanets and space stations.



6 Prosumers, not consumers— increased techno-literacy & the ability to not only consume media and objects, but produce, create, and curate them

SEE YOURSELF AS A HUMAN The US have invested all their money into developing humanoids. They are obedient slaves with subhuman power. With increasing humanoids the US enter their humanoids in the world cup. They demolish every team labeling the games as the most boring in history. The US people should feel happy with the win, but instead they feel ashamed of their abilities. The quest for what it means to be human begins.

Trend Identification


Farming Kindergarten This Vietnam kindergarten by Vo Trong Nghia Architects features a knot-shaped roof with a vegetable garden on top and three protected courtyard playgrounds.



7 Symbiosis with nature— understanding how to respect, protect, and preserve our environment and resources on Earth, as the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” blurs

Aerial photography is by Gremsy. All other photography is by Hiroyuki Oki.

Trend Identification


Anansi Playground Building Designed by Mulders vandenBerk Architecten in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the Anansi Playground Building excites and stimulates curiosity and creativity of children.

MilK Magazine MilK Magazine is a contemporary children’s fashion and lifestyle quarterly magazine based in Paris, France.



8 Adaptive problemsolving skills­— ability to recognize and appropriately react to the emergence of societal problems that technology both creates and solves

Anansi Playground Building Utrecht, The Netherlands

Trend Identification


Dip in Space Matali Crasset, Milan 2011

Photo by Baptiste Coulon



9 Relentless curiosity and inquiry— ability to retain and utilize inquisitive and creative behavior beyond childhood

Saint Jean Schools Dominique Coulon & associĂŠs Strasbourg, France

Trend Identification


SP Nursery Architects HIBINOSEKKEI and Youji no Shiro designed this nursery in Fukushima, Japan with a long and wide corridor so that the children can run at full power indoors.



10 Intercommunity accountability— desire to keep other students and peers in dissimilar communities accountable and excited while learning

Ekya Early Years: Kanakapura Road by CollectiveProject

Trend Identification





Early ideation involved concepts of having students shift educational contexts throughout the year, accompanied by an artificially intelligent learning companion that augments continuity between learning contexts for students. Some of the general ideas embedded in this initial ideation are found in the final proposal, yet the form of a learning companion seemed to give too much power to a singular technological being in a child’s learning experience. Having AI, rather than other humans, as learning companions ultimately projected some dystopian consequences.

Trend Identification


Using these trends and goals as guiding principles, I mapped the possible forms of solutions or visions. Because I entered this research without a specific medium of solution in mind, this allowed me to better assess the different applications of these end goals. Once I mapped both analog and digital— as well as intangible and tangible— applications, I explored the advantages of these different mediums.



Possible Applications Mediums of Implementation of Insights INTANGIBLE

Digital Interfaces (Software)

Educational Theory

Classroom spaces


Library spaces


Systems Spaces

Playscapes Interfaces Services



Physical Interfaces (Hardware)

Physical learning objects (Montessori) Objects Furniture


Advantages of Analog

Advantages of Digital

–Sensory growth –Motor skills, physical development –Movement: creative, health, learning through doing –Qualitative analysis –Engage with abstract subject matter concretely

–Access to information –Access to people –Quantitative analysis without bias –Visualize the invisible –Tracking progress based on data –Archiving/sharing

Initial Concepts


Initial Vision 01 / Shifting educational contexts throughout the year This original proposal explores the idea of having students shift educational contexts throughout the year. A community learning space would give all students from both public and private schooling institutions an equal learning experience in a highly interactive space. “Field work� would attempt to bring the future closer to children by providing them with insights into career and life paths. Traditional school environments would allow children to reflect on these experiences in a familiar space.



01 Community Learning Space Students would spend the first three months of the school year in a communal learning space that is open to students from various local schools and communities. This space would resemble a hybrid between a traditional classroom and a children’s museum, and would faciliate interaction between students from various communities of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. 02 Field Work Students would spend the next three months learning in spaces found in various industries for a few weeks each. Artist studios, scientific laboratories, natural parks, engineering facilities, and historical libraries would be equipped with resources and space in order for children to study in these spaces. Students would continue to learn all the necessary subjects in these spaces, but gain a deeper understanding and interest in various industries and disciplines. By temporarily allowing students to engage with these industries directly, students gain a more concrete emotional connection to their futures. This is an attempt to bring the future closer to the present. 03 Traditional classroom Students would spend the final three months of the school year in a traditional school context, with a blend of experiential and instruction-based learning methods.

Initial Concepts


Initial Vision 01 cont. / AI Learning Companion that increases continuity between learning contexts The Learning Companion gives agency back to the learner during structured learning experiences, prompts students with content and teacher-generated questions to engage with, and identifies trends in student understanding at scale over time and equips parents and teachers with these high-level insights. Rather than a watchman, a conscious being, or a vehicle for quantification of learning, the learning companion is a tool for social, emotional, and academic growth. Technology is not used as a teaching or learning mechanism, but rather for communication and visibility of information between parents, teachers, and students.



02 Field Work

01 Community Learning Space

03 Traditional classroom

04 Home

Initial Concepts



Capture Analyze Facilitate


Hard drive Facilitator Companion


A watchman A conscious being A vehicle for quantification of learning




Teacher teaches a lesson or tells a story to the students

Students individually capture their favorite moment in a lesson or story in their learning companion

John tied his shoelaces carefully because he didn’t want to trip while playing outside. Tia followed the trail of seeds until she found a big nest of blue birds.

“John tied his shoelaces carefully because he didn’t want to trip while playing outside.”

Students load their captured moments

The audio clip of that part gets converted into text

John tied his shoelaces carefully because he didn’t want to trip while playing outside. how

carefully how

he didn’t want to trip

And proceed with a language lesson that deals with spatial cateogorization of elements in those captured sentences

Initial Concepts




—Asking questions, rephrasing a problem —Problem-finding + problem-solving —Defining purpose, principles, and intent, and providing these to machines —Applying a biased world view to solving problems —Developing new forms of “intelligence” —Telling stories | our collective intelligence is a narrative —Qualitative analysis | understanding grey areas between categories —Spatial and visual understanding of the world —Social intelligence —Proactive behavior 76




—Answering specific types of questions with information generated and discovered by humans —Statistical, algorithmic learning —Analysis of data at massive scale/over time —Applying a less biased perspective to decision making —Collective intelligence as patterns —Quantitative analysis | categorization of data —Reactive behavior

Initial Concepts


Additional Explorations Top | Plan view for hypothetical hexagonal classroom design The space is divided based on various methods of understanding used across multiple disciplines/subject matter.

Bottom | Reimagined Classes The division of time in a school day, based off of current paradigms in American public schools, is instead separated by methods that span across disciplines.



Plan view for hypothetical hexagonal classroom design


The space is divided based on various methods of understanding used across multiple disciplines/subject matter.

Traditional School Schedule

EXPERIMENTATION English –Math –English –Physics –Biology –Art –Music

CREATION –Science –Art –Music –Computer Science –English


Social Studies INSTRUCTION




–English –Math –History

–History –English –Art –Science

Trend: “Method over Content”


Study Hall


–Science –Math –Philosophy –Literature

Reimagined classes


ous ross er.

Traditional School Schedule

Future School Schedule


TION English Experimentation


Science Creation

CRITIQUE –History –English –Art –Science

Social Studies







Synthesis Study Hall




Examination Critique

Initial Concepts


Additional Explorations Top | Collaborative, Play-enabled Research These students are able to spatially organize webpages, digital books, PDFs, images, 3D models, and other types of content for their project. The dynamic wall responds pointing gestures. The student on the floor configures the letter blocks to spell what the team has decided to search for. Imagine “typing with LEGOs” instead of a keyboard.

Bottom | Assessment through Play Students build a physical artifact in order to understand a concept (such as a vertex in geometry). Teachers then assess their understanding of a concept based off of the artifact the students built. Through the act of creation, students have more agency in crafting a new form of “test”.



Trends: “Beyond the Screen” and “Dynamic Environments”

Collaborative, play-enabled research


P O L A R _ B E A R S


What is this?

Kids build something

3D scans object

Put in information, label parts, etc.



Student practices geometry skills by identifying parts of their object– they use their own creations as platforms for assessment of knowledge

Initial Concepts

This results in not only an archive of a specific classroom or school’s learning, but a social network between schools/communities


PROPOSAL Communal learning spaces Information through dynamic physicality Transcendence of separate learning contexts



The following section covers the final proposal, which is composed of three subthemes: 1— Communal learning spaces, 2— Information through dynamic physicality and 3— Transcendence of separate learning contexts This investigation of early education experiences strives for a productive blend of traditional and experiential learning models, and explores the role of technology in tactile, discovery-based learning methods. It attempts to challenge existing visions of intensely isolated, immersive, and virtual educational experiences.






Structured environment, unstructured time Inspired by Montessori, the space is structured, yet the students have autonomy to move through these spaces and individually explore and discover. Unstructured self-guided learning time fosters discovery-based learning.



Embodied learning Collaborative spaces expand children’s tasks into a larger vertical space, so that children use their minds and bodies in unison when collaborating. Teachers become facilitators in this space, yet still hold short lessons to small groups of students throughout the day.


Collaborative, methodfocused spaces Top | Spatial and Temporal Mapping of Concepts As learners, we engage with concepts/ subject matter by categorizing representations, identifying examples, replicating processes or effects, connecting multiple ideas and forming analogies, comparing and contrasting multiple ideas, or by building a mental narrative. These spaces allow children to engage with concepts and subject matter by visually mapping parts spatially, temporally, and otherwise. Bottom | Practicing Spatial Engagement Unlike machine intelligence, humans inherently engage with the world spatially and form an understanding through this spatial experience. Many humans are also strong at recognizing the grey area between things, and this spatial matrix allows children to hone these skills in an embodied way.





Hybrid environments These collaged environments attempt to bring these ideas to life by illustrating the relationship between structured and unstructured space in the communal learning spaces. They also explore sensory experiences within these spaces, reflecting the presence of different materials (natural and man-made) and natural light.



Communal Learning Spaces






Intimacy over immersion Rather than proposing for fully immersive experiences, technological and analog experiences are scaled back down into intimate objects.



Archive of physical representations Part of this idea of engagement with concepts physically is the idea of an archive of physical representations that grows over time as learners build their own physical representations to understand a concept (more on page 102).



Interconnectedness of experiences Tactile representations of concepts and skills help connect the experiences throughout the space. Physical tools can be brought into the collaborative spaces as a central points of discussion and interaction between learners.


Contributing to the physical archive / understanding through creation A key component of the learning experiences for the students is the act of contributing to the physical archive themselves, creating tangible representations that allow them to assess their own knowledge of a topic, while feeling like they’re contributing to the greater good of the classroom. This attempts to foster a greater sense of accountability and communitycentric ideas in the space through time and throughout age groups.





Sensory web experiences / Self-correction in technology Top | Sensory Web Experiences Emphasis of physicality in learning is found in existing methods like the Montessori method, so I wanted to explore how (or if) technology could augment these tactile experiences by providing children with personalized, responsive information. What if web and search experiences became physical again, tucked away into objects that focus on the discovery process of the learner? Here, dynamic hardware populates with information when a student places an object inside it, so it responds to anything from a plant from the garden to the drink the child is drinking. Bottom | Self-correction in Technology Unlike machine intelligence, humans inherently engage with the world spatially and form an understanding through this spatial experience. Many humans are also strong at recognizing the grey area between things, and this spatial matrix allows children to hone these skills in an embodied way.




Fixed shape and volume

Freezes at 32 degrees F

H20 Fixed volume, no fixed shape






Capturing moments in experiences This system of interconnected experiences and objects contribute to a larger narrative of a student’s growth by allowing students and educators to capture and archive moments of a learning experience. These captured moments can reflect moments of fear, frustration, confusion, pride, excitement, or interest in a student.



Moments from April 27, 2016

Jane D.


Fixed shape and volume


Freezes at 32 degrees F

H20 Fixed volume, no fixed shape


9:21 am


1:30 pm


10:38 am

States of Matter

12:41 pm

2:18 pm

Story w/ Sean

2:50 pm


3:00 pm



3:00 pm



Narratives of growth Patricia, a 1st grade math teacher at Harry Kizirian School in Providence, expressed to me that she’d rather write a paragraph to parents about their child’s progress, rather than a giant report card with tons of check marks (which is what she’s forced to use). A narrative of growth, rather than checked boxes, fits more accurately with how humans learn. The captured moments from the dynamic objects and spaces contribute to this narrative. Once we start seeing a child’s progress and growth in education like a story rather than check marks on a report card, I think we’re getting closer to a more humane form of education.



Spring 2016

Jane D.


Fixed shape and volume

Freezes at 32 degrees F

H20 Fixed volume, no fixed shape


Jane and Paola worked through understanding prime numbers better


Jane started to learn and write about antagonists

Jane and Lawrence worked together on identifying vertexes


Transcendence of separate learning contexts The captured moments and narratives of growth contribute to a clearer relationship between analog and digital experiences in education, and ultimately helps to blur the line between separate learning contexts. Educators, parents, and students can all use these moments as a way to improve communication and personalization of learning. By documenting these moments and making them visible to many kinds of educators (including parents), technology is used to enable human collaboration and invention of method.










APPENDIX Design exercises Writing


During this process, additional design exercises and writing allowed me to explore tangential ideas through other mediums. Through animation, I visualized abstract concepts related to how we learn. Through social media experiments, I learned what aspirational future careers intrigued the public. In addition to the design exercises, I wrote about my trip to the MIT Media Lab as I researched alternative intersections of education and technology. I also began to tease out similarities between learningthrough-discovery paradigms found in both digital and analog contexts of formal and informal education.


DESIGN EXERCISES 1 | Inviting Machines to the Act of Speculation 2 | Visualizing the Invisible



“Education is really not about preparing people for jobs. It’s about preparing people to shape the jobs that don’t exist. I think the world in which we live today is changing so rapidly during the 12 years that kids go through school. So you can’t predict what a 15 year old is going to do at the end of their school life.” —Flavia Bastos Flavia Bastos is the Director of Graduate Studies in Visual Arts Education at the University of Cincinnati. I spoke with her on November 7, 2014.




Future Job Generator Eli Block and I collaborated on developing a Twitter bot that employed algorithmic processes to help predict what kind of jobs could exist in 10 years. By inviting machines to the act of speculation, we found unexpected and surprising combinations in the resulting professions.

Design | Inviting Machines to the Act of Speculation


“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.” —Marvin Minsky Marvin Lee Minsky was an American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy.




Societies of the Mind In his book “Societies of the Mind”, Marvin Minksy described four mental processes our brain goes through when learning– accumulating, uniframing, transframing, and reformulation. Using Cinema 4D, AfterEffects, and Ableton Live, I visualized these abstract, intangible mental processes in an animation, as an attempt to reduce the mystery around these concepts for those who are not in the scientific field.

Accumulating is the simplest form of learning, where you simply remember each example or experience as a separate case.

Uniframing amounts to finding a general description that subsumes multiple examples.

Transframing is forming an analogy or some other form of bridge between two representations.

Reformulation amounts not to acquiring fundamentally new knowledge per se, but finding new ways to describe existing knowledge.

Design | Visualizing the Invisible


WRITING 1 | Computation in Early Education: A Trip to the MIT Media Lab 2 | From Materialist to Experiential Utopia: Building a Sustainable Digital and Material Future 3 | Internet as Digital Montessori classroom: Learning through Tactile or Digital Discovery



Computation in Early Education: A Trip to the MIT Media Lab Friday | 3.4. 2016



Learner can do unaided

Learner cannot do

Zone of Proximal Development (Learner can do with guidance)

Above Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development


oday, I visited the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA and spoke with two graduate students, Kim Smith and Anneli Hershman, who are working in the Social Computing and Social Machines research groups. As part of the Social Computing research group, Kim works on various facets of the Wildflower Montessori initiative, from physical Montessori materials to digital tools and resources for teachers interested in starting and certifying a new Wildflower Montessori school. The Wildflower Montessori lab schools utilize the underlying principles of Montessori schools, such as learning through self-directed discovery and engagement with physical learning tools, yet augment these principles with modern computation technology and adapts them for skills needed in the 21st century. To do this, they’re using sensors in children’s shoes and cameras placed in the classrooms for advanced data collection. They’re also developing new analog Montessori learning objects that teach concepts of computation to children. With a background in developmental psychology, Anneli is embedded in the Social

Writing | Trip to MIT Media Lab

Literacy Learning research initiative with PhD student, Ivan, in the Social Machines research group. Rather than working on physical learning tools, they’re developing social mobile experiences that extend into in-person literacy practice and act as powerful learning analytics tools for teachers and parents. Influenced by Lev Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” theory, the mobile experiences allow children to engage with spelling and language in a highly social, experimental approach, either through only the screen-based interaction or a physical game with stickers that’s enhanced by the mobile app. The application allows children to build words by dragging and placing letters into different orders, then the application pronounces the word they built. Much like Montessori’s self-correcting tactile learning tools, this mobile application provides children with the immediate aural feedback, yet the child has autonomy to decide on whether the pronunciation sounds like what they were trying to achieve. Throughout the mobile experience, the child’s finger movements across the screen are tracked.


Binary Tree This material introduces the concept of binary trees in computer science, consisting of branches and connectors. Branches have different sizes, which gives a sense of depth of the tree. The child uses the branches and connectors to construct a concrete tree that mirrors the abstract concept of the binary tree.

Both sets of research use data collection to quantify and analyze patterns in messy learning processes, yet with slightly different approaches. Kim’s work with the Montessori schools use spatial data in a classroom, whereas Anneli and Ivan’s uses kinetic data within the confines of a screen. This kinetic data, once gathered and analyzed, could potentially reveal nuances in the child’s process for crafting words from individual letters. For example, a student’s confidence in a spelling could potentially be measured by the speed in which they constructed the word. The extensive data collected through the cameras and sensors in the Montessori schools allows teachers to visualize patterns of movement within a classroom. Because specific areas of the room correspond with specific subject matters or skills, teachers are able to visualize how much a student is engaging with a specific subject matter even within a highly unstructured learning period. It also provides social data on peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher relationships in the class, which allows Kim’s team to visualize these


relationships based on interactions in the physical space. John Dewey, an educational theorist and philosopher, reminds us that these social relationships inside and outside the classroom are incredibly vital to a child’s education, since educational institutions are inherently social institutions. Dewey argues that schools have moral responsibility to help shape a child’s social infrastructure. Although these social relationships and other interactions can be analyzed with this data, extensive tracking of children’s movements and decisions are deeply reminiscent of dystopian societies found in literature like George Orwell’s 1984, where Big Brother’s citizens are under constant surveillance. Because of this, this kind of data collection can understandably be met with some skepticism and discomfort from parents and other educators. The Wildflower Montessori schools are explicitly lab schools, so parents of the students opt in to this kind of tracking and are comfortable with the basic spatial data it collects. Of course, both Kim and Anneli’s


ongoing research is in flux, and they’re continuing to learn what data and methodologies are in fact beneficial for educators and other researchers. Kim admitted that the cameras placed in the classroom ceilings didn’t ultimately result in significant or novel insights, so they’ve since removed them from the classrooms. Data collection simply for the sake of data is futile until that data unveils specific insights that human intuition or other methods can’t. Although Montessori applied a highly empirical and scientific approach to her research, it’s difficult to say what late theorists would think of this shift in approach to learning analytics since technologies that greatly impact how we live today did not exist when theorists like Montessori and Dewey were writing. It’s entirely valid to anxiously object to this quickness to implement technology into education spaces and experiences– technology often creates an equal ratio of problems to solutions, and when utilized in a desultory manner, it has the ability to hinder learning. However, due to the speculative

and experimental function of research, I’m interested in thinking about the favorable possibilities of these methods right now, while keeping these critical oppositions in mind. Whether it’s physical Montessori materials or a screen-based application, the Wildflower Montessori schools and Social Literacy Learning applications have the ability to provide educators with information about patterns in a child’s cognitive learning process. Normal standardized tests are the public and private system’s attempt at quantifying progress in a child’s education, yet they don’t reveal anything about the child’s mental process that led to the answer they chose. When grading a multiple choice test, educators only know the end results of the cognitive process, and have no insight into the mental journey the child took to get to that answer. There’s no way of assessing a student’s level of confidence in an answer they chose or their strategies for problem-solving. Experiential (or “constructivist”, “progressive”) methods of learning could benefit from this ability to gather information

Logic Gates These materials cover Boolean logic (input/ output; truth tables) and logical operations (combining gates [NAND, NOT]; connecting gates [adder]). Boolean gates perform logical operation on bits. AND, OR, and NOT gates are the building blocks of computers and are the first step in changing bits into data.

Writing | Trip to MIT Media Lab




about specific mental processes during problem-solving. Fully experiential learning sometimes faces criticism due to the difficulty of accurately measuring the impacts of these unstructured experiences. However, these new methods of data collection could potentially provide deeper understanding of patterns that are normally difficult to fully recognize in a self-discovery learning process. Since experiential learning often uses tactile, sensory tools to explain concepts, a student’s problem-solving process is made visual and spatial, which is easier to observe than problem-solving that occurs simply on paper. Assessment of understanding through kinetic behavior allows educators to assess the process that a child uses to get to the correct answer. Teachers are excellent at observing and know their students in ways that computers are obviously unable to, so these tools are not meant to replace the educational relationships between students and other students, teachers, and parents. They are meant to augment these relationships and the skills of individual educators, whether it’s in the context of the home or classroom. The



data collection allows teachers to recognize patterns at scale, since a single teacher can’t realistically divide their full attention across 20 students in a single moment. Also, it helps educators recognize patterns over time– a teacher can identify some patterns in a child’s learning over time, but our fullest attention and focus remains in the singular present moment. The visualized patterns helps teachers track patterns temporally. Although we’ve had formal education systems and pedagogy since ancient civilizations around the world, humans still don’t know a lot about how humans think and learn, so this additional insight into students’ cognitive problemsolving skills could be invaluable. Ironically, advancement in research on human cognitive processes has been greatly enhanced by research on computational and logicbased learning found in the vast spectrum of “artificial intelligence” technology. As we try to build machines that “think”, we learn more about how we as humans think. While it’s interesting to begin identifying the advantages of applying various technologies to education methods, I realize that many facets of learning can’t


Above Dr. Maria Montessori’s cycle of self-correction, which is designed into almost all of her learning materials

The Absorbent Mind

simply be reduced to digits and pixels. Quantitative data and human intuition, 0-3 YRS 3-6 YRS 6-12 YRS YRS skills each 15-18 observation, and12-15 analytical tellYRS us things about humans and learning that Unconscious Conscious Puberty Adolescence the other methods cannot. But rather than supposing that machine intelligence is superior to human intelligence or vice versa, I think it’s more productive both forms Period of Transformation Period of Uniform Growth Periodtoofview Transformation of intelligence as simply of different species of intelligence. Humans can augment Construction of self as individual Herd instinct (collective action) Socially consciousmachine individual intelligence and machines can augment Rightness & wrongness of actions Vulnerable confidence as individual human intelligence. Because research in artificial intelligence and computational High confidence as individual Awareness of self as individual, group member, and society The Absorbent Mind thinking has deeply impacted neurological Awareness of self as group member research, the symbiotic relationship Introvert extends Extrovert into learning about learning my YRS 0-3 YRS 3-6 YRS 6-12 YRS 12-15 YRSas well. For 15-18 thesis, I’m interested in crafting education Unconscious Conscious Puberty Adolescence experiences that facilitate that kind of synergistic relationship between human intelligence and machine intelligence, and I’m Period of Transformation Period of Uniform Growth of Transformation excited to figure out whatPeriod that looks like. The work of Kim and Anneli at the MIT Media Lab Construction of self as individual Herd instinct (collective action) Socially conscious individual represents just a tiny fraction of research into Rightness & wrongness of actions Vulnerable confidence as individual the intersection of technology and learning, High confidenceand as individual of the self as individual, group it’ll be interestingAwareness to watch trajectory member, and society theirmember findings. Awareness of self asofgroup Extrovert

[experiences of objects in his environment] + movement Unconscious


—Passive absorption: taking photos —Development of distinction between self and environment —Sensitive Period for Order (around 2 yrs) Unconscious —Passive absorption: taking photos

—Active absorption: drawing an image


Left Dr. Maria Montessori’s theory of the absorbent Performance mind, where a child becomes a conscious learner once engaging with physical objects in his or her environment


[experiences of objects in his environment] + movement

Performance Conscious —Active absorption: drawing an image

—Development of distinction between self and environment


—Sensitive Period for Order (around 2 yrs)

Writing | Trip to MIT Media Lab


From Materialist to Experiential Utopia: Building a Sustainable Digital and Material Future Friday | 3.18. 2016



Norman Bel Geddes Streamlined Car Design, 20th century


uturing and the profession of Industrial Design have been intrinsically linked since the emergence of the discipline after the dystopian reality of the Great Depression in the 1930s. With the United States in a state of economic despondency, industrial design emerged as a silent and strategic business methodology to bring the nation towards a utopia of economic prosperity. In “Design and Consume to Utopia: Where Industrial Design Went Wrong”, Tara Andrews illustrates the relationship between Industrial Design and “consumer engineering”, unveiling the tight correlation that societal mentality cultivated between the logical methodologies and the utopian ideals. Despite these rational methods, industrial design has aided in expediting the path to an unsustainable future. Today, with the contemporary environmental crisis of over-consumption, society is experiencing a shift from utopia through consumption of goods to consumption of content, media, and experiences. In addition to the environmentally unsustainable future, the experiential utopia of the present Digital Age has the ability to redefine dystopian futures as socially and economically unsustainable as well.

During the Great Depression, before an unsustainable future could be imagined, the concept of utopia within the American society veered towards an image of economic success. Other representations of utopia, such as political, spatial, environmental, or social conceptions, fell to the wayside as the connection between happiness and capital tightened. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal was a deliberate and transparent effort to bring the United States closer to this ideal of utopia, with policy as his medium.1 In the realm of business, industrial design emerged as a less conspicuous attempt at closing the gap between an economic utopian future and the present reality. With consumerism as a means to an end, consumer engineering and industrial design generated desirable value for consumers through form and product styling— form was innately linked with meaning and cultural significance. Consumers were given the unique opportunity to own tangible representations of cultural phenomena at that time in society, as form-making emerged as a new method of making sense of the tumultuous culture during the early-to-mid 20th century. In “On the Essential Contexts of Artifacts or on the Proposition That “Design Is

Writing | Industrial Design as Futuring


Making Sense (Of Things)”, Klaus Krippendorff proposes an alternative to the design montra “form follows function” that embodies this shift towards form as a conduit for meaning. He suggests that “form follows meaning” consciously “brings the user back into the picture and strongly suggests that designers need to discuss not only the contexts in which their forms are used, but also how these forms are made sense of or what they mean to someone other than themselves.” If a designer could understand the consumers, then consumers would be more likely to buy products and help stimulate the economy. In order for industrial designers and consumer engineers to really understand how to design for someone other than themselves, highly logical and quantitative methodologies were established. Consumer engineering and other seemingly rational disciplines were highly valued by society, placing logical methodologies and processes on an ideological pedestal. The concept of industrial design, having grown out of and with existing design professions in the mid 20th century like advertising, needed to

build trust from other rational professions in business and politics. Andrews demonstrates how the traits of a “consumer engineer” were identical to that of an industrial designer, illustrating how an expressive, artistic field was seen as comparable to a field historically based on reason. Subjective human intuition in design practices fell victim to quantitative testing and data that emanated a sense of knowability and security in this journey towards a consumerist utopia. During a time of societal turmoil and uncertainty in the Great Depression, the American public and the business institutions saw rationality and “functional analysis” as the answer to perfection. Andrews describes user research methods found in consumer engineering, called “humaneering”, which even quantified human consumers behavior so that the artificial obsolescence of products could be calculated and planned. Because objectivity superseded and transcended subjectivity, design professions had to shift their ideologies towards what was accepted by institutions of power in society. This marriage of business interests and the

Phantom Corsair Streamlined Design 1938



Backlash Culture Stills from The Future Laboratory’s Spring/ Summer 2016 Trend Briefing “Backlash Culture”

capabilities of design cultivated the idea that the “efficient consumer” will be the champion utopian perfection, achieved through calculated artificial obsolescence and “humaneering” methodologies. However, as Andrews points out, many industrial designers like Walter Dorwin Teague saw consumerism as only a means to an end. Many designers of that time were more concerned with attaining the high level objective (utopian perfection) than the medium they chose (consumerism). If this is the case, then it could explain why much of the design industry today is willing to redefine the concept of consumerism as a conduit for utopian ideals. As Victor Papanek, Tara Andrews, and countless other theorists and environmentalists have helped us realize, industrial design has historically been an incredibly irresponsible, unethical, and dangerous profession. By encouraging the depletion of certain materials and natural resources and failing to truly understand the people and context for which we are designing, it has aided in closing the gap between the present and an environmentally unsustainable future.

What we’re witnessing in today’s society is a shift in value away from consumption of goods towards consumption of media, content, and experience. Physicality is less intrinsically linked to meaning and value for consumers, as the awareness of the dangers of traditional consumerism escalates among consumers themselves. In their Spring/Summer 2016 Trend Briefing titled “Backlash Culture”, trend forecasting group The Future Laboratory reveals this heightened awareness among consumers of the broken capitalist system, where brands possess immense power. The age old mantra “the customer is always right” is challenged— consumer criticality is at an unprecedented high in today’s society. With the American economy fully recovered from both the Great Depression and the recent financial crisis of 2008, the definition of consumerism as a medium for utopia is evolving. The contemporary environmental crisis of overconsumption married to the advent of personal computers and other technologies embedded in consumer’s homes shifts the concept of consumerist utopia towards an experiential utopia. The experiential utopia is distributed throughout video games, user interfaces throughout digital products on the web and separate applications, and experiences afforded by the sharing economy model championed by AirBnb and Uber. Brands across industries are selling temporary utopias in carefully packaged experiences, whether it’s a pleasant and efficient experience while booking a dream AirBnb loft on a friendly interface or literally temporarily withdrawing from reality in an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. In “Utopia as Method,

Writing | Industrial Design as Futuring


or the Uses of the Future”, Fredric Jameson proposes an alternative definition of utopia as not a space or representation, but rather, a reflection of society’s visionary abilities and desire (or lack thereof) to think of a different future. “..What is important in a utopia is not what can be positively imagined and proposed, but rather what is not imaginable and not conceivable. The utopia, I argue, is not a representation but an operation calculated to disclose the limits of our imagination of the future, the lines beyond which we do not seem able to go in imagining changes in our own society and world (except in the direction of dystopia and catastrophe).” This description begins to illustrate the concept of utopia as a mental state of extreme contentedness and delusion, where an alternative vision of the future, or any future vision, is perceived to be unnecessary. The technological trend of virtual reality is a physical manifestation of this desire to disconnect oneself not only from the future, but the present as well. If one is able to temporarily escape the present and enter a new present that is that individual’s version of utopia, then the perceived perfection of the present eradicates a need for an alternative, an improved future. This state of blissful ignorance is achieved entirely through experience, with form acting as an auxiliary facilitator of meaning. The demoralization of the American people during the Great Depression cultivated a similar version of escapism in society through various forms of entertainment, despite the economic climate. Virtual reality is the contemporary equivalent

to the free radio broadcasts of the Great Depression that indulged the public’s desire to escape from the problems of the present. In addition to the return of fantastical escapist desire demonstrated in virtual reality, the rationality of the industrial design profession as described by Andrews is also reappearing throughout the emerging user experience field of today. Corporate giants and smaller businesses thrive on the kind of consumption predictability that quantitative, data-centric methods of design development yield. This kind of empirical approach deeply inspired by the scientific method is even more achievable in the realm of digits and pixels, as user’s clicks, scrolls, and amount of time spent on a page can be tracked in a way that’s reminiscent of George Orwell’s Big Brother of “1984”. The “attention economy” of today equates financial success of a technological product like Facebook or Twitter with an ample amount of time spent by a consumer using that site or experience. If companies in power default to focusing solely on the amount of time a human spends using a product, the actual value and overall impact of that

Backlash Culture Stills from The Future Laboratory’s Spring/ Summer 2016 Trend Briefing “Backlash Culture”



Mark Zuckerberg at Samsung’s MWC conference in Barcelona, 2016

experience on that individual and society is deeply forgotten. This reduction of human experience to digits and data points may lead to some level of financial predictability, yet breeds potential for unethical effects on individuals and their relationships with other individuals, their communities, and society as a whole. The combination of an attentionbased economy fostered by completely rational methods and the complacent escapist technologies emerging in today’s society cultivates an opportunity for a newly defined unsustainable future. Andrews addresses the present-day environmental crisis brought on by over-consumption, yet there’s potential for an unsustainable social and economic future brought on by the current digital experiential consumer utopia. In “Design for the Real World”, Victor Papanek pleads with industrial designers to consider the societal impacts that their products have on humans; he reminds us about the human behind the consumer, imploring designers to deeply understand the social, economic, and political background of the profession. Industrial designers often design

for archetypes of consumers, but one must greatly consider the larger systematic impact of our designs on cultures, communities, and histories. Although Papanek was writing before the rise of the experiential utopia of the 21st century, this call for a more ethnographic approach to design can be easily applied to the Digital Age. As affluent society begins to shift towards a consumerism of content, media, and experience, the unsustainable future that Andrews and Papanek discussed in relation to traditional consumerism is still possible. The unsustainable digital utopia might not result in a Land of Misfit Toys but rather communities of humans socially and economically affected by unethically designed experiences and systems. Andrews questions the role of designers in creating a sustainable future: “[Industrial designers’ impact on “overconsumption”] questions the role industrial design might play in a sustainable future, not just because it is historically complicit in consumerism, but because the methods that were developed by the early industrial

Writing | Industrial Design as Futuring


designers, which remain little changed in today’s practice, were furthering economic aims that are the antithesis to contemporary sustainability imperatives. How can design methods that were developed directly to counter under-consumption be redeployed to counter the contemporary crisis of overconsumption?�

Char Davies Tree Pond, Osmose (1995). Digital still captured in realtime through HMD (headmounted display) during live performance of the immersive virtual environment Osmose.

It must be our goal as designers, whether form or experience is our vehicle for meaning, to use our logical or subjective methodologies to understand the multifaceted context within which we’re designing and frequently introspect on the impact we have on building a sustainable digital and material consumerist utopia. As consumerism gets redefined to include the consumption of media, content, and experience, patterns of rational methodologies touted by early industrial designers and reappear in the field of user experience. Consumption of goods or experiences as a practice of escape from present day quandaries persists throughout the 20th and early 21st century. Dystopian consumer futures can manifest in not only environmental, but also social and economic crises as the experiential consumer utopia emerges.

Rachel Rossin Still of a VR work by Rachel Rossin



“What we’re witnessing in today’s society is a shift in value away from consumption of goods towards consumption of media, content, and experience. Physicality is less intrinsically linked to meaning and value for consumers, as the awareness of the dangers of traditional consumerism escalates among consumers themselves.”

Writing | Industrial Design as Futuring


Internet as Digital Montessori Classroom: Learning through Tactile or Digital Discovery Tuesday | 3.1. 2016



Cards and Counters Cards and Counters is a material that consists of 10 number cards, 1-10, and 55 round, red counters, each approximately the size of a nickel. This work is typically organized on a floor mat in the Montessori classroom, as it requires a bit of space.


t the turn of the 20th century, Maria Montessori began developing an educational method that deviated from existing precedents of formal education models. Montessori studied as a physician, but found herself working with children with atypical learning abilities in large psychological institutions. Although she was not a practicing physician, she was able to translate empirical principles of the scientific method to her research with the children in the institution. Through this work, Montessori examined how abstract systems and concepts found in language, math, etc. could be translated into concrete, physical representations, an experimental and empirical process that mimics that of an experience or product designer. Through insights gathered from observation and interaction with patients, Montessori aimed to construct meaning through experiences enabled by physical objects. Traditional models of learning based on instruction or absorption through text only engages visual, aural, and symbolic modes of understanding. However, Montessori recognized the full spectrum of human capacities for learning– her methods unearth spatial, tactile, kinesthetic, and enactive ways of grasping meaning. Through sensory objects and prepared learning environments, Montessori’s methods allowed children to extract meaning from experiences in new ways. Also, because typically developing children are born with that same range in modes of understanding, Montessori’s methods were valuable to children of many kinds of abilities. Her distinct educational system is based on the principles of learning through self-directed discovery, freedom of movement within an orderly physical environment, continuity and cumulation

Writing | Learning through Discovery

Spindle Boxes The Spindle Boxes are a Montessori math material that introduce counting with tangible wooden spindles.


of learning experiences, and unstructured exploration of physical, sensory materials. These foundational principles inherently allow children to identify or develop deep interest in specific subject matters, processes, etc. This experiential method of learning dramatically contrasted with the existing paradigms of learning that restrict humans to only our visual and language-based models of learning. If we extract the physical and sensorial elements from Montessori’s principles and focus on the emphasis on agency of the individual child, learning through discovery, and cumulation of experiences in the methodology, we can find an intrinsic parallel in some digital experiences. The Montessori archetype for nontraditional methods of learning and understanding can be found in the basic interaction model of the Internet. When children or adults alike enter the virtual “classroom” of the Internet, they are presented with a virtual space in which they are invited to navigate and explore through an unstructured and non-predetermined route. The Internet provides humans with more autonomy, control, and mediums of interaction than many previous tools for communication and representation– we are invited to not only consume content, but create or curate content both as individuals and with other “authors” through interaction. This kind of experience gives anyone with access to the web freedom to choose their own course of experience by interpreting and selecting different pages, links, and sources– the directionality and linearity of printed text disappears in web interactions. Participants of web-based experiences are invited to dynamically manipulate information in order to extract personal meaning from it. In Montessori, that information is made tactile through abstract forms, yet the

Intro Tray: Decimal System The Intro Tray is an elegant, beautiful, and enticing introduction to the decimal system. The golden beads, perfectly strung onto the gleaming metal rods, invite the child to learn the foundations of math. The same foundations that will carry them through every other math material in the classroom and beyond.



Thermic Tablets The Thermic Tablets are a fascinating material from the Sensorial area of the classroom that are designed to help a child refine their haptic or thermal sense.

“Curated” Search Results Gender-biased search results appeared when researching “labor” in the context of manual labor, social labor, etc.

participant is still learning through an active discovery-based experience. Although Montessori and web experiences can seem unstructured, there are invisible layers of structure and guidance embedded within the experiences. For example, Montessori materials are “selfcorrecting”– rather having an adult or software tell the child whether he or she is right or wrong, the objects are designed in a way that they provide clear, sensory feedback to the child. The “control of error” built into the design of the objects makes it clear to the child whether he or she completed the action correctly, which allows them to build self-evaluation and self-correction skills they will use for the rest of their lives. This perceptual framework utilizes a child’s growing intuition about what’s correct or not, and removes the stigma around failing. When the child “fails” throughout the process, he or she simply keeps trying or experimenting until the outcome “feels right”. Children learn to view failure as a conduit for opportunity and additional attempts, rather than unacceptable incompetence.

Although web experiences aren’t inherently self-correcting, there are invisible algorithms and machine learning technology in search engines and social platforms that control what particular content readers are given and in what order. Algorithms “learn” about you as an individual consumer and curate the experience to what the machine believes you would want or need. The assumptions made by invisible algorithms can both improve and hinder our experiences. For example, although we may have hundreds of Facebook friends, Facebook is able to learn through our engagements on the platform to learn who our closest friends may be and make sure that those people’s posts appear on our newsfeeds. On the other hand, Google knows I’m a young American female, and might curate search results in a specific way based on that information. By creating “filter bubbles” that keep us within the same general geographic and demographic communities that we exist in in the real world, this kind of invisible structure of web experiences can actually hinder our understanding of different cultures, significant events, and many other kinds of content that can be distorted through bias. The invisible structures embedded in Montessori and web experiences may have different effects on our understanding of concepts, yet there’s a parallel between the overall interaction paradigms of the two models of absorbing information. When reading a physical book, the reader’s content is restrained to the physical confines of the hard or soft cover. The reader is inherently immersed in that single piece of content, invited to dive deep into a narrative or topic.

Writing | Learning through Discovery


On the web, the reader engages with relationships between content and sources by clicking on multiple links to compare sources, pulling up multiple tabs for various tasks, or sifting through references listed at the bottom of an article or webpage. The interaction model of the web is centered around the interaction between simultaneous experiences or virtual objects. The reader is presented with concurrent options of virtual pathways, and each decision made leads to a new experience or outcome. In this way, the “learning through discovery” principle of Montessori learning translates seamlessly into the interaction model of the web. It could be argued that the emergence of authoritative sources like Wikipedia could threaten this discovery-based model of learning, yet the reader is still given the freedom to craft their own virtual path and discover alternative methods of obtaining information on a topic. Ultimately, both Montessori pedagogy and the interaction model of the Internet gives agency back to the individual in their own personal learning journeys. Invisible infrastructures of guidance are designed into the physical objects or digital platforms, often silently leading learners towards their final objective. The “one-size-fits-all” model is abandoned in the process of comprehending concepts, as learners navigate the physical or virtual space however they choose– this resurgence of autonomy in learning ultimately fosters personal motivation and interest in learning, leading to a more sustainable approach to education.

Abstract Browsing Tapestry 15 05 10 (IMDb), Rafaël Rozendaal 266 x 144 cm. Fascinated and inspired by the back-end of our online world, Rafaël uses a plugin of his own creation to view the wireframe of any website he chooses. Searching for unexpected compositions and the discovery of “weird hybrids of human design and machine optimising,” he considers pixels on a screen akin to stitches on a tapestry and proceeds to create his own vibrant Jacquard woven artworks of his most intriguing finds.



“Participants of web-based experiences are invited to dynamically manipulate information in order to extract personal meaning from it. In Montessori, that information is made tactile through abstract forms, yet the participant is still learning through an active discovery-based experience.�

Writing | Learning through Discovery





Literature Review


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Literature Review

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Literature Review


Dynamic Learning Futures Ingrid Lange A proposal for future learning experiences in early education.

Providence, Rhode Island RISD Industrial Design Senior Degree Project Spring 2016

Profile for Ingrid_Lange

Dynamic Learning Futures  

RISD Industrial Design Degree Project | 2016

Dynamic Learning Futures  

RISD Industrial Design Degree Project | 2016