Festival of Learning 2022 at the MIT Media Lab

Avery Normandin

Festival of Learning is always a time of meeting new people while reconnecting with friends I haven't seen in a while, which has been especially important after the long remote period"

- FoL22 attendee 

On March 18, 2022, the Festival of Learning (FoL) returned in-person to the Media Lab!

Run by a collaborative team of graduate students and staff–and supported by the Digital Learning + Collaboration Studio–the Festival of Learning is an annual celebration that aims to promote an internal culture of creative and playful learning, which has a rich history at the Media Lab. FoL invites all members of the ML community to share their passions, interests, and talents with one another through peer-learning, tinkering, and exploration. 

Last year, we explored ways to recreate the magic of FoL in a distributed manner, creating an online event where community members participated remotely from their homes. This year, though, we were able to meet in-person again! For many at the Media Lab, this was their first time connecting with members of the community in over two years. We were delighted that these reconnections could take place in a playful, joyous context that was a break away from the routine of a regular work day. 

Throughout the day, FoL featured 18 sessions hosted by Media Lab staff, faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. Topics ranged from bicycle maintenance, karaoke, generative design, punching defense, green smoothies, and upcycling trash into beautiful sculptures! 

At lunch, Professor Pattie Maes hosted Crazy and Cool, a series of presentations where Labbers pitched “out-there” ideas on topics of their choosing. Manaswi Mishra (Opera of the Future) pondered a future where our music and out instruments cared about us, as listeners; Alex Berke (City Science) proposed a sustainable future for the Media Lab, where we co-design new “food futures”; Pat Pataranutaporn (Fluid Interfaces) brainstormed a new cyborg assistant for ML in the form of a dinosaur! Newly-admitted Media Lab graduate students were able to join this session remotely, giving them a glimpse of the kinds of ideas and thinking that they might encounter if they join the Lab. 

As is tradition, we ended the day with a communal pasta dinner, with attendees donning their official FoL22 cap! Over dinner, Labbers were able to share and reflect on the day’s experiences; show off something they learned or made; or connect with new members of the ML community. As much as we tried to explore this spontaneity and joy that comes with sharing tangible space experiences in last year’s virtual event, reconnecting with our community back in the Lab reminded us of how special in-person gatherings can be. 

We can’t wait to see you next year! 

~* the FoL team *~

Avery, Caitlin, Devora, Erin, Hope, Matt, Philipp, & Yun

Shout-outs! The Festival of Learning is a collaborative effort across the Lab, and we have thanks for so many community members: all of the Labbers that helped to run 18 sessions; Erin Sandy for overseeing all materials ordering; MAS for sponsoring lunch; Prof. Pattie Maes for hosting and creating the Crazy and Cool presentation session; Jimmy Day and Will Glesnes for technical support; Dava Newman and the general Lab budget for support of the festivities; ML facilities for coordinating event set-up; and, finally, Helen Gao and Agnes Cameron for their remarkable and welcoming design expertise! 

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