Trip Report: Lifelong Learning @ Design Innovation Workshop, Ahmedabad 2015

by Juliana Nazaré & Srishti Sethi


The Design Innovation Workshop is is run by Media Lab alumni to bring together a community of technologists, artists, designers, and thinkers from India to create a Media-Lab style learning environment over the span of a week, with a vision to foster creative exploration of ideas across wide disciplines.

In the workshop, we facilitated a track on “Lifelong Learning,” with a strong focus on adult learners, including senior citizens and learners that have dropped out of the K-12 systems. In our track, we emphasized leveraging existing technologies and APIs to make learning more accessible, interfaces that could support learners of all ages and backgrounds, and web-based peer learning environments that could allow people to learn beyond the boundaries of a traditional setting. As the track theme was directly related to our research work at the Lab, we thoroughly enjoyed sharing our key learnings and research perspectives with students.

Over the span of seven days, we worked 24/7 with 40 undergraduate students from all over India, who later formed nine project teams and built awesome prototypes.

Day 1 - User Visit

To kick-off our track, we encouraged students to introduce themselves by making portrait-gallery sketches of themselves on sticky notes. We asked them to draw a picture of themselves, and tell us who they are and what they do. It’s a unique style that Philipp Schmidt (our research supervisor) follows while hosting workshops at the Lab, as it’s a more personalized way of getting familiar with people.

To ensure that students gel with both us and with their peers, we asked them to brainstorm in teams about their philosophies on learning and their thoughts on what currently is lacking in the education system in India. We wanted students to experience that learning is something that can even take place outside a traditional classroom and that there is no specific age for learning certain skills. Thus, we took students for a field trip visit to home for senior citizens in rural Gujarat, and encouraged students to learn about their values, observe their day-to-day activities, identify areas of opportunity, and above all soak up all ideas like a sponge. We emphasized that the students should “not write everything down, but instead focus on listening and absorbing. It will allow you to build a more of a rapport with the users and make them more comfortable with you than if you are constantly scribbling down everything they say.”

Students were amazed to observe how senior citizens were interacting with digital devices like smartphones and cameras.

We wanted to highlight some of the Lifelong Kindergarten group’s principles, and convey to students the feeling that it’s not just about taking interest in people’s learning, but also their lives. To express our gratitude to these senior citizens for spending time with us and answering our queries patiently, we enchanted bhajans with them before returning to the workshop venue. They wanted us to stay for more time, and it was an emotional moment for all of us to return back.

Day 2 - Ideation

We were surprised to hear from students that the existing curricula in their schools does not allow for enough creativity and freedom to explore ideas on their own. For them, it was a new approach to thinking about what existing learning-related challenges they care about and want to tackle before diving into development. Although they were gradually assimilating to this workshop style, at this point they still seemed confused about the ideation process, and kept wondering how this rigorous brainstorming will help them to shape their ideas and turn them into prototypes.

On day two, we asked students to share their observations and create a post-it wall of themes that emerged from the field trip visit. It mapped the opportunities, barriers, and challenges for senior citizens. Post lunch, we introduced them our research work (related to adult literacy and peer learning) at the Lab, and to themes we thought might interest them and would act as idea prompts for their project work. Here are the themes:

1. On-the-go learning using pervasive digital tools like mobile phones or tablets. How can we create learning experiences during routine daily activities (while commuting, waiting in line at the grocery store)?

2. Language Learning. How can we give adult learners the agency to create language learning experiences from the content they encounter in daily life?

3. Digital Learning & Making: creating a collaborative, ‘hands-on’ experience online. How can we integrate project-based models to let people collaborate online? Is it even possible to bring a typical project-based experience to an online platform?

4. Peer-to-peer learning networks. Digital technology creates an opportunity to connect with others across age groups to exchange knowledge and collaborate. This is especially important for individuals from less privileged backgrounds or institutions, who have limited access to traditional resources and would benefit from mentors and collaborators.

5. Responsive Digital Communication. As people age and progress in their lives, their communication needs change. How can we design technology-enabled communication experiences and interfaces that respond and adapt to users to make their lives better?

6. Responsive Productivity Enhancers. How can we design technology-enabled experiences and interfaces for productivity that respond and adapt to users, enabling them to effectively live in the digital world?

7. Responsive Infotainment. With progressive life stages people’s needs, and their modes of creating and consuming information and entertainment evolve. How can we design technology-enabled experiences and interfaces that respond and enable better engagement for the users ?

Day 3 - Paper Prototyping and Documentation

At the beginning of day three, we introduced basic paper prototyping techniques and walked participants through an example of a paper prototype. We introduced them to different materials that they could use to build their prototypes and demonstrated an example “user test” with a paper prototype and how we would synthesize feedback from the test to improve the design.

We felt that paper prototyping would be a good first exercise for them to do with their groups, as it helps cement their ideas in a physical form. Once their initial paper prototypes were created, they were paired with another team to conduct user tests. Then they had time to revise their prototypes. At the end of the day, each group presented for five minutes on how their prototype evolved.

We also introduced the importance of process documentation and set up a collection on Build In Progress for them to use. We used Build In Progress to get a gauge on where students were by the end of every day, and to provide feedback in person accordingly. It was also great that Tiff was commenting on the projects from back in Cambridge :)

Day 4 to 6 - Rapid prototyping

The next three days were a blur of development and lack of development due to a very bad wifi situation. We set up a communication channel on slack before the workshop and we used it for sharing resources, links and project work with students.

We did not have stable wifi for students on Day 4, but students were resilient and tethered to their mobile phones to access the web. By Day 5, students were given access to the internet, but SSH protocols, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and more were blocked, and the wifi was not strong enough to support video connection. Again, the students did not give up and tethered to their phone connections when needed to install via the command line. By Day 6, the university unblocked the wifi, but it was still not strong enough to support video connection. We found that we received the strongest connection in the hallway, so we relocated the classroom outside.

We say all of this to highlight how incredibly passionate the students were about their work and ideas, and how resourceful and resilient they were when things did not go as planned. We heard the quote “wifi is like air” thrown about, and we indeed think about it this way in our daily lives at MIT. So we were extremely impressed by the students’ ability to shrug off problems like this and build impressive prototypes despite these issues.

Day 6 - How to Pitch Ideas

Earlier on day 6, we invited Rajesh Nair to present on “How to Pitch”. During this session, he emphasized thinking about the following four terms: hook, constraint, solution, and impact, while conveying the central message of a project / product. Throughout this day, we helped students with last-minute debugging, gave design feedback, and emphasized final project documentation and making videos and posters for the demo day. We ensured that all the projects were pushed to Github and documented on Build In Progress.

Day 7 - Demo Day

Day 7 was demo day. Students showcased their projects, all but one of which had working application. Really exciting stuff! Check out the projects below:

  • Comingle (Team: Aseem, Vivek, Siddharth, Saurabh, Niharika and Hrim)
  • Smart Physio (Team: Ankit, Agrima, Sartaj, Vibhor, Vinayak)
  • Tardis (Team: Vaibhav, Chinmay, Tuhin, Shekhar)
  • Hakuna Matata (Team: Shubham M, Shubham S, Prakhar)
  • Lazy Learning (Team: Kishan, Ankit, Pankaj)
  • Just Go (Team: Kavi, Mainak, Priyank, Siddhant)
  • Handy (Team: Bharat, Kavya, Pooja, Sanskriti, Ramana, Arunav)
  • Life Story (Team: Jitesh, Prakhar, Shubham)
  • Micro Learning (Team: Samyak, Medha, Gagana)

Learning from students from all over India about the education systems they encounter, we learned about tons of different philosophies. One of our favorite quotes from the workshop, “I’ve never ever brainstormed this hard before.” Some snapshot memories that we will remember as part of this experience going forward are: students thanking us for making the seven days of workshop experience memorable for them, Facebook groups being formed post workshop, and students still in touch with us through emails explaining about the progress of their prototypes. With all these awesome memories, we are back in Cambridge starting to dive back to our research and we hope the students are off to a great start with their spring semesters. Browse for photos below:

Please let us know if you have any questions :) If you got to the bottom of this trip report, we will give you another homemade chocolate chip cookie.

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