How we explain reality to ourselves is a construction with many parts. We gather knowledge and generate meaning through our experiences and traditions; from what we learn in school, at work and at home; from how we witness others explaining reality for themselves (on TV, via social media, etc). This narrative that we tell ourselves everyday throughout our entire lives largely defines who we are and how we approach the world.
The first time I ran (in Mexico) an adaptation of Stanford’s workshop “Makers in Residence” (an intensive 80 hour program for high schoolers on digital fabrication and design thinking which was designed by the Transformative Learning Technology Lab) I was shocked by the comments of participants regarding their place in relation to technology. Most participants were impressed that they were “smarter” than the computers they programmed; when I asked them more about it I started understanding the new narrative that a generation of kids growing up surrounded by digital technology are developing in their heads.
Digital technology can alienate us from our everyday objects and experiences, because we don’t fully understand the technology, yet we are forced to interact with it. And increasingly children are forced to rely on these interactions. If they have a question, they ask Google; if they don’t know how to do something, they ask YouTube; if they need to buy something, they do so online; if they are bored, anxious or sad they take cover in a digital device.
Moreover, technology exerts control of their experiences,determining what advertising messages they’ll see, telling them if they are eligible for a loan, spitting out their SAT score, or telling them not only where to go but how to get there.
MakerSpaces are places where kids, develop personal narratives about their digital surroundings,. In a Maker Space a kid learns how things are made. Besides being a natural incubator for innovation, a MakerSpace shows how things are made and instills an understanding of how things work. Maker Spaces help kids to discover their own misconceptions and test their own ideas through the use of technology. So when they are in at a traffic light, riding the subway or taking a test online they have a deeper understanding of their experiences, and the technology they are interacting with is no longer a black box that guides their behavior. In that moment the relationship with the digital world is altered and they can view the technology around them as an ally and a tool. To see digital technology as not something that we – as humans – need to compete against,is easier for kids to understand once they de-construct, construct, understand and use it to achieve their goals and develop their own talents.
Another reason it’s vital to understand technology is the rapid advances AI (Artificial Intelligence.) Our kids will soon live in a world where AI is everywhere, and where our own narrative about what make us human and our relationship with technology will be even more challenged and relevant than they are today. A few weeks ago AlphaGo (a computer program developed by Google DeepMind that uses artificial neural networks and Monte Carlo tree search to find its moves) won four out of five games against the best Go human player, Korean Lee Sedol. This is a milestone for AI that was previously thought to be 10 years away. Remarkably, AlphaGo displayed moves that were considered creative and innovative by the top human players. A few days later the South Korean Government invested $863M in AI research with participation from Samsung, LG Electronics and Hyundai Motors. Another example of AI is Amelia, a call center program which today can resolve 6 out of 10 cases, understand context, learn through experience and even sense emotions.
Creating an environment where kids view these incredible technologies as tools for them to create worlds, experiment with their ideas and learn about themselves is an imperative for education. I believe in the integration of the Maker Movement in schools, which follows on the work of visionaries like Seymour Papert and Paulo Blikstein. sides being a great environment for learning, developing talent, dealing with frustration, exploring engineering and design, Maker Spaces may be the beginning of a much-needed transformation in learning, mirroring the transformation that is occurring in our global society. That is, all the technology that we – as humans – create represent who we are, and in the right environment they provide the tools for us to understand our own thoughts, limitations, talents, and who we are as a group.