Joyful Research ✸

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This 2020, Session 09

During my initial research of phatic technologies I began to notice a renewed and increasing interest in the improvement of remote communication due to the current pandemic. Of course the pandemic is not the sole contributing factor, but it has amplified the need for improved remote communication on a global scale. People need to be able to exchange information effectively and efficiently, as well as maintain social connections across geographical distances and multiple time zones.

At the same time there seems to be a tendency to enhance for the majority, instead of considering the needs of certain marginalized groups. One example I provided in my research was Seam — a project from a group of Masters students from the Interaction Design programme at the Umeå Institute of Design who focused on improving remote communication for individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s during the pandemic. By making technology more accessible, the students helped to support remote connectedness and togetherness for these individuals and their families.

I discussed my research and these initial findings with my mother-in-law, as she is the Principal of the Rietberg Montessori Schule in Zürich, and has firsthand experience with the recent transition to remote communication and learning during the pandemic. Of course I expected her to speak of the difficulties for teaching virtually, and maybe mention the importance of social interaction for students, but she actually brought something else important to my attention. Young children transitioning from Kindergarten to primary school, as well as those who are in the first few years of Primary school, have been placed in a situation where they need to be able to interact with computers in order to participate in class and learn in a lockdown situation. This becomes an issue for several reasons:

  • The children have little to no experience learning in a physical classroom
  • They also lack experience working with computers
  • Parents working from home will not necessarily be able to support their kids, and may also face a language barrier
  • Kids at this young of an age still understand the world in a more physical way, rather than abstract

The challenge would therefore be to support children in this transition, by introducing and familiarizing them with this technology. Sure, they may know how to use a tablet to watch online videos, but it’s a much more complicated sequence of tasks for a young child to utilize computers to participate in remote learning. For instance, we underestimate how difficult it might be for a child to properly type out their login credentials to access their online learning platform (e.g. Google Classroom).

For my observation I actually conducted a small experiment, similar to bodystorming, where I attempted to replicate the steps a child would take when trying to access an online learning platform, such as Google Classroom. I tried to see through the eyes of a child and consider what would be completely foreign to them.

  • How do you turn on a computer or tablet?
  • A button? A switch? Is it like a light switch? (metaphor)
  • How do I know the device is turning on?
  • What is an account? What is a password?
  • How do I enter my password correctly? How do I type the @ symbol?
  • How to troubleshoot when my password doesn’t work e.g. Cap Lock
  • What is a web browser?
  • What symbol do I click on?
  • Do I know how to use a mouse/trackpad and click?
  • Is it touchscreen?
  • How do I get to my classroom from here?
  • Is there a “shortcut” I click?
  • Do I have to spell out/type what I want?
  • What is a link? How do I interact with it?
  • Again the challenge of logging in with a username and password
  • It’s challenging to type what symbols you want e.g. @
  • It’s not just a matter of getting to the online learning platform, but also knowing how to use it

What I learned from this bodystorming is that we might underestimate how abstract a computer and the Internet is for a child, and how they might struggle to use such technology when they are suddenly forced into a situation such as lockdown. How do you explain to a child what an account or a link is? Do they know how to type letters and symbols on a keyboard? Do they know how to navigate with a trackpad or mouse? This might be a unique opportunity to introduce children to technology and form their first relationship with it as a tool of learning, not just to consume videos, etc.

I was very intrigued by the readings for this week, specifically William Gaver’s paper Making Spaces: How Design Workbooks Work. As a design student I have definitely experienced the difficulty of getting ideas out on paper, as well as generating ideas to work with in the first place. The workbook method Gaver describes appeals as a method to me, because it could help both in the ideation phase, and in communicating ideas to others.

For methods I also enjoy looking through the reference section of papers I have already accrued. This helps me to see what already exists in these fields, as well as find new and interesting perspectives I maybe hadn’t previously considered.

ZHdK interaction design student 2021