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researcher / master's student
Civic Data Design Lab, MIT
"Designing and researching media for education and social impact"
I'm a S.M. candidate in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, where I study and design media for education and social impact. My research focuses on using digital media in K-12 public education to support technological literacies and promote civic engagement. As a Research Assistant at the Civic Data Design Lab, I co-lead the City Digits project, developing classroom curricula and building geo-spatial tools to help high school students conduct data-driven urban investigations. Previously I was a senior designer at 2x4 in New York City, where I designed and managed interactive projects for cultural sector clients.
This is an exciting concept. I have also been working on a project to connect mentors or teachers who have a particular expertise with learners who need guidance, as part of a Media Lab design course on new learning platforms (http://labx.media.mit.edu/), so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic. I have a few questions for you, some based on issues I’ve also been grappling with.
I do think you’ll need some kind of vetting process for mentors if you’re hoping to make one-on-one connections between youth and adults. That’s tricky territory, even if the interaction is online. To build successful relationships, you’ll need to ensure the safety of the youth and set some expectations about the quality of the mentorship. James Sowden’s suggestion to partner with universities — you could also consider partnering with companies and community organizations — might be one way to ease the vetting process.
I also wonder to what extent you’re thinking about structuring the interaction between the mentor and the mentee once the connection is made. What tools will be available in the interaction — will there be private messages? live chat? I wonder if images and comments alone will be enough to foster a meaningful interaction. If the main mentorship function is commenting, why limit input to a single mentor instead of opening it to the entire community?
How will you encourage people to participate, both youth and mentors? Does this platform respond to an existing need? Assuming you can recruit enough mentors to volunteer their time to support the system, I wonder if youth will feel comfortable sharing their projects online. It would be great if you could speak to youth to find out if they would use such a tool and see what kind of support they need before designing the mechanics of the platform.
It’s energizing getting to be creative in a way that feels forbidden. When I was a kid, my parents let me draw on the walls of my bedroom, and the experience was incredibly creatively empowering. Once the wall became activated by the first drawing, it no longer felt like a forbidden space, but demanded to be filled.
I wonder how you see this project developing in terms of setting and tools in order to encourage creative risk-taking. If this is a public space, I can imagine kids passing through and making some small contribution without spending a lot of time developing an idea or experimenting. Could you add some level of structure to the experience to encourage more sustained, thoughtful creative output? Could you encourage kids to take on more ambitious collaborative projects in the space?
A few possible ideas around this: 1. pre-populate the space with a few visual cues to respond to and build on 2. give the kids challenges or prompts to respond to 3. implementing this idea within spaces that kids already spend time in, so that they can work on a longer term project
Finally, I wonder if you could do more to encourage a greater range of creative expression. You could consider providing materials to allow kids to make sculptural contributions as well as flat drawings, and providing ways to access high walls and the ceiling.