On February 29th, The New America Foundation, Slate and Arizona State University hosted Tinkering with the Future:Will the DIY Movement Craft the Future?. I hate to be a spoiler, but the answer is pretty much YES, makers, tinkerers (tinkers?), crafters and the like will play a huge role in our future economy and culture creation–if we do it right.Tinkering

There is no point in my going into a protracted summary of the afternoon’s events. You can watch a webcast of the symposium here.

Some highlights to look for:

  • Tim Wu, Professor at Columbia Law School and author of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires explains how tinkerers created the twentieth century as we know it. He talks about how the technological innovations we all know, love and need (or at least wouldn’t know how to do without) were, for the most part, created by amateurs working away in their garages (both literally and figuratively).
  • Dale Dougherty, Founder and Publisher of Make magazine, and Tom Kalil, Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy answer questions about the maker philosophy, who makers are, governments role in harnessing the innovations of makers and promoting the maker ethic and the economics of the maker movement. In this conversation, moderated by David Plotz, Editor at Slate, Dougherty and Kalil discuss the fundamental contributions makers will have on the economy and on society as a whole. They also get into some discussion about how our educational institutions need to learn from and emulate the maker ethic. It’s interesting to hear Dougherty, the maker and Kalil the wonk compare notes.
  • Annie Lowrey’s conversation with Mitzi Montoya, Dean of the College of Technology & Innovation at Arizona State University, and Jim Newton, Chairman and Founder of TechShop is incredibly interesting for it’s educational implications. My favorite part of this conversation is the answer each gives to my question about what kind’s of technologies we should have in our schools. Again, I hate to be a spoiler, but Newton responds that we should put all shop classes back into schools, while Montoya lists three things that she thinks every student should study: Art, Shop and Programming. Who would have thought someone named Mitzi would be so smart.
  • Journalist and Author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business, Jeff Howe explains briefly how he coined the term “crowdsourcing”, and gives an enlightening talk about how opening up problems to a wide undefined audience can reap huge results. He sites as his example InnoCentive. The website set up to crowdsource answers to important (and profitable) scientific questions. Howe does a much better job than I can at explaining exactly how this works. But he sites three remarkable findings that I’ll mention here: 1) 1/3 of the problems posted on InnoCentive are solved. A remarkable ration when you consider that these are problems that the brightest minds in their respective fields have worked on, sometimes for years. 2) There is a pronounced positive correlation between the the researchers who solve a particular problem and how far outside their area of expertise the problem is. Basically (but not exactly), the less they know about a field, the more likely they are to solve a problem in that field. 3) For the problems that are solved most of the people solving them knew within twenty minutes that they could solve the problem–remember these are problems that the best minds in the field have often spent years on.
  • The final two discussions, Crafting the Do-It-Yourself Economy and Can Our Patent System Support (or Survive) the DIY Movement? are both fascinating conversations. The first focuses on the future of employment–the future nature of work, actually. A topic that is important to educators and policy types because it should be informing how we build our current systems and educate young people. The second looks at how a broken patent system (or at least a system that has not kept up with modern technology) could either stand in the way of the DIY ethic, stifling innovation and the economy as a whole; or could encourage open platforms, tinkering at the edges and real innovative potential. Both are definitely worth watching.

Do-It-Yourself Drones on the Kojo Show

Do-It-Yourself Drones: New Civilian Uses for Unmanned Aircraft.

Once a useful technology is developed, people will find all sorts of new and interesting uses for it. Unmanned drones have changed the nature of the battlefield. Now new civilian uses are being found for drone technology. From crowd surveillance and land surveying to ecosystem monitoring and investigative journalism. Do-it-yourselfers and commercial interests are taking drones to new heights.

This afternoon’s discussion on The Kojo Nnambi Show explored the new eyes in the sky, and the legislation that’s making it possible.

Tinkering with Tomorrow: DIY in the Future Tense

Well here you have it: the wonks at the New America Foundation have officially caught the do-it-yourself (DIY) bug. Thanks to publications and websites like MAKE magazine and Instructables.com the DIY ethic is increasingly attracting mainstream attention. Across the country, and around the world, groups of really smart people are forming to think about and make really cool stuff–like the Capitol Region’s own HacDC. And now the Beltway intelligentsia are starting to take note of the profound social and economic effect the DIY movement will have on the future. I also happen to believe that the DIY movement holds incredible potential for informing educational reform–but that is a discussion for another time.

On February 29th the New America Foundation, Slate and Arizona State University are  sponsoring Tinkering With Tomorrow: Will the DIY Movement Craft the Future?

From the website:

New technologies are making it easier than ever to turn an idea into a reality. 3D printers, open-source software, hackable products, and collaborative communities have turned traditional tinkering into a full-scale “maker movement” that allows – and encourages – everyone to tap into their inner entrepreneur. Can this movement usher in a new age of innovation? Will hackers have a profound impact on the economy? And if so, are we prepared for it?

The agenda is packed with more really smart people talking about really interesting things. I’ll be attending, and if you’re anywhere near Washington, DC on the 29th you should check it out, too.

Ecology, Technology and Design: Part I, How students’ interests are being used as a launch pad for ecology investigations

At the beginning of the year SFT waded even more deeply into our exploration of experiential education by formally instituting “workshop” periods. During the first semester workshops consist of relatively short periods during the week where students can work on hands on independent or team projects–like the composting tumbler I talked about in previous posts.
Of course, as a teacher, I have my own interests: ecology, DIY projects, design, found and repurposed materials, and–although I am nothing close to a techie–communications and physical computing technology. These are the things that I brought to students, they constituted my personal addition to the workshop experience.

Some students gravitated to the things I offered and others dove into projects that were more in line with their interests and talents. Two projects (or at this point activities) captured the attention of many of the students. Max, Blake, Shannon and Eva have taken the lead on projects that involve drawing, and eventually building, scaled model dwellings.

Arduino in handNoah, Jason, Dave, Alex, Kai, Mike, and to a lesser extent Jeremy are developing a deeper interest in the Arduino, open source electronics prototyping platform we purchased from the MAKE magazine online store.

Little by little our hope is to foster a collaboration. As one group of students becomes more familiar with the electronics and programming aspects of Arduino, and the other begins to turn their ideas and drawings into scale 3-D models of actual dwellings we will bring them together, under the overarching ecology theme, to creates model eco-dwellings.

Stay tuned…..