Kids as Critical Futurists

When given the opportunity, kids can be wonderful futurists, creating artifacts that help us imagine possible futures.

Two summers ago at Kirk Cooper’s fabulous summer camp Sees the Day in Berkeley,

Finnish Field Phone, WWII era.

California, kids 6-9 years old prototyped devices they thought would be important in the future.  Using a forecasting rule of looking back two years for every forecast year, we looked at many historical devices and the kids had to guess their function.  A lantern specifically designed for milking cows in the mid 19th century; a wired, “mobile” field phone from the mid 20th century: a cassette player/boom box and an LP from recent past, etc.  The campers had to guess what the devices were, how and why were were used.

We then talked about what devices might be important for us in the future (time frame is a squishy concept to nail down with 6-9 year olds).  They prototyped and then presented their devices.  We talked about why these devices were important, who might use them, and what kinds of things were happening that would make them important in the future.

Two of my favorites:  spray on network (when signal gets weak) and backyard, garden grown battery packs!

Everyone had fun.  And it was a great way for kids to experience the threads that connect their present with their future.

The Future of Visual Practice

Yesterday I had a great morning at the annual meeting of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners.  These are the amazing practitioners who support our collective thinking, workshop experiences and processes, and pattern recognition through graphic recording, facilitation, process design, hands-on modeling, and other forms of visual practice.

Visual practitioners help make the invisible stuff in our minds visible and sharable in dynamic settings.  As we move into a new sensory world of portable social media, smart objects, and location based information, a literacy of visualizing information, ideas, people and relationships will be increasingly important.

The Center for Graphic Facilitation made a nice summary of my talk and have it on video here.

It was really fun to spend the morning talking about the emerging strategic problem space of our clients and think about the role of visual practice.  I think we will see some interesting stuff emerge at the intersection of  visual practice, new digital publics, and large scale collaborations.

NLab: Amplified Individuals & Business Resilience

Last year I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the Nlab Social Networking Conference at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. The day focused on discussing the implications of Web 2.0 tools and applications and social networking for small business.  It was a great event, in part due to the wonderful hospitality of the folks at the University and the Institute of Creative Technologies, but also because we tried to bridge big ideas and concepts with the practical challenges of managing small business.

This year, my colleague Sue Thomas, Professor at DeMotfort University,  invited me to prepare a short video for their NLab event, Amplified Individuals and Business Resilience.  I was sorry not to be there, but at least I got to share some ideas, via video, of the opportunities for using participatory digital media to infuse communities and business with resilience – the capacity to reorganize and recover from crisis – to meet the challenges of a complex and uncertain world.

Here is a link to a page with the video and other audio clips from participants in the seminar.

What is most inspiring to me about this topic is the opportunity for local organizations to gain a bit more agency,  in the creation of information and the discussion around that information, in the ability to create more transparency in local processes and decisions, and in the ability to create, share, and direct resources.

What if you can’t go to school?

This article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area Schools Reconsider Swine Flu Closures,  is a good example of the importance of developing a resilient public learning system.

“Federal health officials are considering whether to stop recommending closure of schools where students test positive for swine flu, a move that could unburden parents from Brentwood to San Jose who are scrambling to provide last-minute child care.”

The article describes the burden placed on families to provide care for their kids while their parents work and schools remain closed for as much as two weeks.  Some parents think the decision is appropriate, while others think it is an over reaction.  Parents with strong social networks (as the family pictured in the article) were able to develop “cooperative” child care arrangements, a sort of rotating play date to cover the days while school is closed and parents work.  Those parents without such a social network have had to cope themselves (like the single mom described in the article).

As a working mother, I recognize the child care concern expressed in the article, but this is about much more than flexible child care.  What happens if our kids can’t go to their school for long periods at a time?  How do we flexibly provide consistency and quality in kids’ learning experiences as we respond to a variety of system shocks  (pandemics, climate change, extreme weather, energy shortages, etc) that we are likely to face in the future? What happens when we concentrate the learning experience to one mode or format – in this case a bricks and mortar school?

What is exciting is that we have an emerging set of digital media tools & applications (from mobile phones to Twitter to wikis) and new collaborative and cooperative social forms (like smart mobs, swarms, MeetUps, avatars and gaming guilds) that can help us create flexible ways to organize and coordinate learning experiences. How can these tools and social forms help us reconfigure and reorganize learning in response to big disruptions?  How can parents and educators develop and leverage a “smart education grid” comprised of distributed resources (digital, human, curricular) and diverse modes of learning?

What if instead of the progressive childcare described in the article:

“Today, Jack Macy has to go back to his job coordinating recycling programs for the city of San Francisco, so the girls are headed for classmate Kiki Valenzuela’s house. A babysitter has been hired for the Wednesday shift, then it’s on to Caroline’s house, and, on Friday, Rachel Aronson’s house.”

the giggly second graders got to continue with their reading and writing through a neighbor to neighbor literacy volunteer program that got alerted through Twitter when the school closures were decided, or worked on their math puzzles posted their work on the math class wiki for their teacher to review and comment on, and then discussed it on the phone, or a webconference, (like Elluminate).  There are many options to think about for reorgnizing learning in a more bottom up way, and I think we will see it coming from creative parents, classrooms, and educators who want more than a “school is open or closed” world.

We need to move from thinking about email and cell phones as a way to arrange on the fly play dates and coordinate summer camp schedules, to thinking about how we can use the full range of mobile, participatory, and collaborative media to create a new resilient public learning infrastructure.

Altered Bodies

Rob Mitchum has a nice article in, “This is your brain on Facebook”,  that puts recent concerns (doomsaying) about the relationship between the Internet and our brains into a more informed context.  He points to the latest research from UCLA and University of Rochester that focuses on the links between digital media and brain plasticity and the implications for therapeutic and educational applications. He suggests that research reveals “more benefits than ill consequences” but acknolwedges that this is an open research question.

As Gary Small of UCLA states:

“We tend to oversimplify when we argue whether technology is making us smart or making us stupid,” Small says. “The brain is complex and technology is complex; it’s the content, timing, and balance of what we’re doing that’s important. We can argue whatever we want with so little data. It’s not settled; we need to study it. These are the technologies that are part of our lives, so we need to be scientific about it and not conclude from the outset whether it’s all good or all bad. We need to understand it and use it in a way to enhance our lives.”

The complex challenge of understanding the relationship between the environment — technological, urban, ecological — and our human performance is an important driver of change when thinking about communities, schools, and learning envronments.  As our knowledge in this area grows, hopefully we can begin to design and implement interventions to mediate damaging effects and design more brain and body healthy environments for teachers, learners, and families.

How we alter our bodies and brains and the implications for how we think about performance is one of the drivers of change in KnowledgeWorks’ 2020Forecast.

“Advances in neuroscience are revealing new understanding of the brain, its plasticity, and its responsiveness to the environment. Emerging notions of neuro-diversity and physical “disability” will challenge standards of what is “normal” and will spark innovations that help mainstream populations. At the same time, greater threats to human and environmental health from climate change, pollution, war, extreme urbanization, and other natural and human-made disasters will in the next decade create new stresses on minds and bodies. These stresses will converge in schools, some of which will seek to instill a sense of stewardship for self and environment in their students. With their mission to educate all students, these schools will become key sites for interventions to overcome the various challenges of disability and bio-distress and their impacts on learning.”

See Altered Bodies for more.

Welcome to Andrea Saveri’s blog

I’ll be sharing research, ideas, and projects related to amplification, cooperation, and resilience here. Specifically, I am interested in how we can amplify ourselves — as individuals, as members of communities, as decision-makers in institutions, and as a society — to become more resilient in an uncertain future.

New technologies and digital media can amplify our individual and collective human capacities to sense our world, create new insights, and build platforms that enable us to cooperate to regenerate our civic, economic, and political life. Cooperative strategies inform us about ways to interact to avoid social dilemmas that result in unsustainable and inequitable outcomes. Together, strategies for amplification and cooperation can help create systems that are more resilient — ones that adapt to crisis by absorbing shocks and learning, reorganizing, and generating new patterns for renewal and growth. I’ll be using this blog to explore what amplification, resilience, cooperation, and digital media hold for community life and civic discourse, alternative systems of education, innovation, local economies and micro production, and youth.