On Saturday, at Cooper-Hewitt, we had a focus group with about 20 teenagers to learn how they prefer to capture and create media. The focus group was held jointly by Cooper-Hewitt and the American Museum of Natural History. Our two museums are connected by MacArthur’s HIVE Learning Network, which aims to create and connect informal and formal learning opportunities for youth in virtual and physical spaces.
Both museums had experienced some digital follies over the last few years in our efforts to incorporate new digital tools into youth programs. From 3G connectivity woes to buggy beta software, these issues are an educator’s nightmare. Any one who has some experience teaching or running programs for kids can tell you that there’s no time for glitches when you’ve got a room full of students and a short amount of time. Stuff has to work, and you want the focus to be on content, not on tools.
We wanted the students to get educational value out of their day with us, so we designed the focus group as a typical DesignPrep program, but with some added surveys and discussions about technology. Here was the structure of the day:
1. Pre-Survey for students
2. Cooper-Hewitt educators’ excellent “What is Design” and “Learning to See” presentations.
3. Ready, Set, Design— a hands-on activity to get the group “thinking like designers.” The activity challenges were tailored to the context of Central Park (“I need to find my way around the park efficiently,” “I want my walk around the reservoir to be more fun and interesting,” etc)
4. Announced the students’ challenge– to collect a diverse array data from a given zone in Central Park, identify something in that zone that could benefit from a design solution, and finally present their ideas to the group.
5. “Hardware Buffet”– we put out Android phones, iPads, still cameras, video cameras, notebooks and pens. We observed carefully while the students chose their tools.
6. We split into 4 groups and headed to the park. The students lead their own processes of data collection while Museum staff observed. Staff also carried bags of “buffet leftovers” to allow any hardware swaps along the way.
7. We returned to Cooper-Hewitt, where the students synthesized their media and created presentations.
8. Presentations, group discussion about technology, followed by an exit survey for students.
9. After the students left, Museum staff completed a survey to record fresh thoughts on the day.
What did we learn? Here are some excerpts from Museum staff’s surveys: