Robots, Learning, and Play

Here’s an imaginative idea: Latitude, an international research consultancy, asked 348 children around the world, “What if robots were a part of your everyday life—at school and beyond?” The kids were to answer in the form of an illustrated short story. Now the results of the Robots @ School study are in, and they reveal what today’s young people think and feel about learning and technology.

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Technology and the Arts: Can They Play Well Together?

The impact of technology on the arts has been a matter of debate at least since we had to be reminded to turn off our cell phones in performance halls.

At Lincoln Center Institute (LCI), we always prided ourselves on espousing the latest technology, but we also insisted on engagements with live performances. This duality was not easy to maintain, especially in a frosty economic climate, and, early on, technology came to the rescue in the form of video. After the students have attended a performance, they need something that will stay with them and be available as long as they study the subject: video allowed us to bring storytellers, chamber ensembles, and Shakespeare to classrooms where being stranded without technology would have meant being stranded without art.

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Stepping Stones

Image by Shimelle Laine*

In “Where We Go From Here – Combine Education and Technology for Creativity,” a guest column for online economic development journal Exchange, Larry Kilham writes about the connection between technology, imagination, and education. He remarks early in the article, “There is a need for a new kind of thinking in the face of the recently available mountains of data.” In other words, now that computers and the Internet have made so much information so easily accessible, what skill set is in demand? That of imagination (as Eric Liu and I state in Imagination First). With this in mind, Kilham points out a problem in education: the most imaginatively inclined students are sometimes the most impatient with structured classroom time, which leads them to disengage from school or even drop out. And the content knowledge that they lose by disengaging, often technical in nature, ends up costing them when they come under the scrutiny of employers—who, ironically, value fresh and unusual ideas. Kilham proposes two responses to this challenge: we must “[g]et children interested in creative accomplishment at an early age and keep them focused on this,” and we must also ensure that students with expansive minds who don’t adapt well to conventional classrooms receive the education they need. The author returns in the end to the big picture, noting that the charged combination of today’s technological resources and the major difficulties currently facing the world means that “creativity has never been more important than it is now.” Indeed—and the stepping-stone to creativity is imagination.

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

Challenge Your Challenges

Scott Noppe-Brandon and I believe fundamentally that imagination can be developed and stimulated. It’s not a “you-got-it-or-you-don’t” thing. And the evidence of this is all around us. Just the other day, for instance, Netflix announced the winners of a $1,000,000 prize for the team that could develop the most effective predictive modeling software (“if you liked Benjamin Button, you’ll also like…”). You can read about it here. By putting forth a bold goal with a big prize, Netflix sparked the imagination of countless programmers and customers around the world. In our book, Imagination First, Practice #25 is called “Challenge Your Challenges,” and it proceeds from just the same instinct that the Netflix folks followed.

One of the best ways to open people’s minds to wider fields of possibility is to examine the big challenges (if any) that currently define the scope of your field—and then to bust those challenges apart for even bigger ones. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for powerful social change ideas are examples of great well-known challenges that prompt a scaled response of “What if?” But our point in the book is that everyone, in every workplace or social setting, can similarly set and define such challenges. Once the big goal is defined, and a comparably big reward is attached to it, it’s then a matter of trusting the ecosystem to generate new ideas and new ways of doing things. Not all the things that get imagined will be practicable; not all the things that are practicable will be genuinely innovative. But it all starts with expanding the pool of what’s possible. And challenging you challenges is a great way to start.