This is a summary of a workshop arranged to better understand and explore new ‘digital literacies for an Age Friendly Smart City’.
“What does that even mean?” we imagine people are thinking; so an explanation was one of the intended outcomes of the workshop and of this post.
We are increasingly surrounded by connected and responsive objects from Internet of Things (IoT) ready fridges and televisions to healthcare apps and fitness devices.
The workshop wanted to explore the reaction of people attending in understanding the underlying principles of such devices and give them enough information to make informed choices and a hands-on experience of playing with new technology.
This is how the opportunity was promoted.
Build your own wearable device.
This workshop will demystify wearable devices and help you understand how they operate.
Artist Sarah Gillett (Royal College of Art) has collaborated with game designers Wetgenes to create a remarkable workshop where participants will make a wearable device from scratch. Working in groups, you will build a terrarium with a unique micro-environment. Each terrarium will be fitted with a RaspberryPi and a grid of LED lights. The Pi and LEDs form a wearable that will be programmed to control ambient light and influence the environment inside the terrarium.
From the minute the session was titled and promoted we had a dilemma about whether a terrarium is actually a wearable and whether anyone would understand the language and come to the session. Rather than build wearables to measure or monitor aspects of the attendees themselves, we wanted to create an something which would make the exercise potentially less threatening. Fair enough, the invite explanation could have been simpler, more plain English perhaps, but it was also aimed at getting people talking, thinking and acting. And they did. And the more we use and explain these terms, the more they will be understood.
‘Exploring in a playful and enjoyable way so I’m finding technology not so frightening.’
One of our hunches proved right – we can introduce new and cutting-edge technologies to older people without having to dumb down our explanations too much. We gave participants many of the constituent parts of wearables so they could understand the logic of how such devices worked. This ranged from capacitors to simple circuits and LEDs. This also created a link between their personal experiences and the present state and interestingly, some were able to link this activity to using computers like the BBC Micro. Others started by saying they were terrified of technology, but handling these different parts, they asked lots of questions, which quelled some of their fears.
‘The use of art materials was conducive to being sociable and also helped us think differently.’
The above comment relates to our use of terrariums in the workshop to make the concept of wearables less threatening. Building a terrarium was also an excellent technique for the participants to externalise what they considered to be an environment suited to their well-being. So they first built a terrarium and then fitted it with a RaspberryPi and Unicorn Hat (which is a strip of 64 LED lights). The lights were responsive to external sound. Please see this video clip
‘Explanation of Internet of Things switch was so simple but very memorable’
We used some rather unique learning aides – RaspberryPi with Unicorn Hats as well as IoT circuits. This meant all participants could understand the cause-and-effect relationship between sensors and algorithms, which is the basis of any connected device and wearable. Now they understand what it means to be ‘IoT ready’. Someone did comment they were sold an IoT television set but at the time had no idea what it was.
‘It was great to be hands on and DO something. Made it seem like something anybody could do.’
Digital really is for everybody. We need to create new, relatable metaphors of what all the new buzzwords – sharing economy, wearables, IoT are about. This will help people to make better, informed choices. It is a new kind of digital literacy that is more than just operational understanding of how to operate tablets, laptops and the like.
A big thank you to all the participants. They were all open-minded, friendly and supportive, which was very helpful as this was the first time this workshop was run. Thanks to their involvement and feedback, we will now run another session in the new year.
We will be adding this and more events to the programme hosted by other community organisations and at different venues across Leeds looking to explore what an age friendly, smart city might be like. Booking information will be available soon. If you have any questions please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @AgeFriendlyLDS