EPIC is a set of educational tools for Children that focuses on their overall development related to three different spaces. It is a prototype of an envisioned tomorrow where technology acts as an enabling tool (and does not just rest behind screens) for children. It is a part of a bigger system of future.
A scenario where the technology augments the growth and development of our children relating to three different spaces - home, school, and library.
The everyday products of technology today are smarter than ever and have been designed to make us function efficiently and conveniently. While they continue to grow smarter taking various shapes and sizes, they do not entirely contribute to the positive growth of our children. Though the consumption of digital media marginally increases children’s intellectual development, it often comes at the cost of their social and emotional development.
EPIC is developed as a result of a residency at Dynamicland - a Y Combinator Research lab based in Oakland, California. It leverages the new computational medium at Dynamicland where people work together with real objects in the real world, not with virtual objects.
It was clear from our desk research that developments through the Age of Information are adversely impacting the behaviors of our children. As we continued reading about the different processes of learning for a growing child, we moved forward to interview parents, educators, and experts for our primary research.
In our interviews with parents, not only we learned from their stories at home, but also it became interesting how parents compared the time today with their own childhood time. The contrast helped us to understand the change so far, and further design for the change that needs to be here. Talking with parents and educators informed us about all things from the way children behave around the technology at home to the changes they are trying to bring as adults.
While talking with parents and educators enriched us with insights, our synthesis would be incomplete without actually observing children and interacting with them. To do so we visited The Berkeley Middle School and a maker faire at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Orinda. Being with children emphasized a few principles they follow such as breaking things apart, and thinking and participating with their whole body.
Children learn differently in different environments.
And the learning is dependent on the relationship they have with each environment. Emotional and social development is common at Home and third spaces such as a library, parks, etc. On the other hand, school is majorly responsible for intellectual development.
Physical and digital mediums need to complement each other to create a holistic learning environment.
Learning is dependent upon the relationships and environments a child interacts with.
Children think and learn with their whole body.
How might we design learning tools that bridge the gap between the physical and digital world to bring about holistic cognitive development in children.
Ideation + Prototyping
Learning by making. Leading by prototyping.
It became essential to teach ourselves about the communal computer that runs the whole space at Dynamicland. In order to ideate, we needed to understand the possibilities and limitations of the operating system, Realtalk OS. We started by playtesting the system and building the initial prototypes. Making use of open days at Dynamicland, we tested the prototypes with children that visited to further iterate on them. Learning by making, our progress with prototypes guided our approach to converge towards a prototype for each space.
Three prototypes for three spaces
For our final prototypes, we drafted key attributes for each space - Home, School and Library as our third space. The attributes informed our process about the kind of learning style and the relationship with the space a child would need.
To see how EPIC intervenes in daily lives for a positive impact, we'll follow Bella as she progress through her day.
In maths class, Bella learns about different complex shapes and how they differ from each other. She and her classmate manually place multiple dots that form shapes and thereby learns about it. With the flexibility and tangible nature to play around with the shapes, she feels much more immersed and involved with mathematics. A better prototype would grow along with Bella and challenge her learnings to get better.
Bella loves going to the library, where she finds her next interesting book about the ecological food chain. She rotates the disc in it and the book shows her the relationship between the two consumers in the food chain. The intuitive nature of the interaction promotes her to discover many things on her own.
Bella comes back home where she plays Frog Talk with her mother. Both of them play the game of catching the fly. Catching the fly allows the winner to ask or answer the prompt based on the card picked. The prototype acts as a conversation facilitator between the two to talk about the events of the day. Moreover, parents can also utilize the game to guide the conversation on their own.
The three prototypes are just a snippet of the endless possibilities of EPIC. Moreover, EPIC itself is only a part of a bigger and evolving system of ubiquitous computing. Aligning with Dynamicland's vision of a dynamic medium everywhere just like electricity in every household, EPIC envisions to support the growth our children need in every space (even outdoors).
The bridge between Designers and Programmers - In our collaboration with researchers and programmers at Dynamicland, one of my roles was to bring them and my team of Interaction Designer on a synchronized channel of understanding. It is essential to translate the essence of the terms we use a designer to someone from a different background and vice-versa.
Working under constraints - I learned about the Realtalk OS (and the underlying computer language Lua) that runs the whole communal computer embedded in the ceilings of Dynamicland. The OS goes under-development every day and being in its nascent stage it challenged me to work by keeping in mind the constraints. Sometimes designers may overlook those constraints while conceptualizing or handing over the project to the next stage.
Futurecasting - Through this project, I was able to do more than just envision a future. Prototyping and testing the initial steps towards the long change gave me a much better experience of tackling the growing shadow of the technology of future.