Wearable technologies for creating interesting learning experiences

Advances in wearable technology are making possible to use such devices to generate practical learning experiences for classes that are traditionally taught in a theoretical or explicatory manner. Providing enhanced mobility, wearables can turn into mobile laboratories.

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Interview report: Dean Kamen | Inventor, entrepreneur, advocate for science and technology, and founder of FIRST

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation


Dean Kamen, participated as keynote speaker in the 3rd International Congress of Educational Innovation. As an inventor, holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of healthcare worldwide. He is also the founder of FIRST, an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation of young kids to understand, use and enjoy science and technology (FIRST, 2017). 

Observatory: How can we innovate education in science and technology to make these subjects more interesting?

Dean Kamen: If you said to kids, "We're going to play football soccer tomorrow” and they showed up but there's no field, no ball, there's only a 50-page textbook called “The History of Soccer” and then after that, there's a quiz, to see if they know the rules. But if they never played, never kicked the ball, never ran, nobody would like soccer. Well, isn't that how we teach science? We learn this formula, then that formula, and then there’s a quiz on this formula, and then a test on that formula. But, if you said, "We are going to build a robot” and to build a robot, students got to connect this to that, and need to understand voltage and current, and got to understand how to measure things, cut things and assemble things. And then, my robots are going to run around, and if I didn't do it right, it's going to fall apart like the first time you tried to kick a soccer ball and missed. But then you practice, get better and come back, and you see your robot doing more, and that's exciting, and you're proud of it. 

So, when they say they're teaching science in school, they're not teaching science, they're teaching the history of science. They learn Isaac Newton, 1687. They learn Archimedes, 275 BC. They learn facts. They learn names. They learn formulas. To this day, I don't remember which law is which. I don't care what the label is. I know what the laws mean and how to apply them. I believe that we should stop teaching the history of science. Science isn't about studying those guys.

When they say they're teaching science in school, they're not teaching science, they're teaching the history of science. They learn Isaac Newton, 1687. They learn Archimedes, 275 BC. [...] I believe that we should stop teaching the history of science. Science isn't about studying those guys.

Observatory: What is FIRST?

Dean Kamen: FIRST stands for (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). FIRST is an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation of young kids to understand, use and enjoy science and technology. It was founded in 1989 and has served more than 300,000 young people, ages 6 to 18, in more than 60 countries around the globe. My goal in starting FIRST was to create a generation of kids that embrace technology and see it for what it is: a powerful tool to fix the world and give them great careers. Studies have shown that FIRST alumni are highly motivated to pursue careers in science and engineering (FIRST, 2017).

Observatory: What are the competencies that you see in children who have experienced the FIRST program and that differentiate them from other kids?

Dean Kamen: People used to tell me, "Dean, you're not going to teach kids how to be a roboticist in six weeks." And I'd say to them, "You're exactly right." Of course, I don't plan to do that. In fact, FIRST, as I said today, F-I-R-S-T, education isn't even in our name. We are For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. If the kids recognize it, if they are inspired by it, they'll go get an education. It will take them 10 years. We're not going to give them an education. That's what schools are for. To answer your question, they have self-confidence and self-respect. They understand how to work with teammates even when they disagree with them. I think FIRST is a model to show kids what the world could be like if people are open-minded and willing to learn and work hard, and willing to fail and pick themselves up and try again. That's what they learn.

Observatory: What inspires you to work on an invention, and how do you decide what project or idea to work on?

Dean Kamen: It's very hard to explain to somebody why we worked on a specific project. But when you look at all the projects we work on, I think the safest thing I can tell you is, there are so many big problems to work on, we end up sort of stepping onto one if we think our engineers are uniquely qualified to do it better than anybody else, based on their experience. And maybe we believe we need to do this one because nobody else will do it. So, we don't work on any project unless, fundamentally, we believe we're going to make a big difference. If we do this and it happens right, it'll make a big difference to the people that need it.

For example, we worked on a water machine because we can help the largest number of people on this entire planet. It's the biggest problem, there is no water. But, also, we worked on a prosthetic arm for a few hundred soldiers, and we hope they won't need anymore because we hope to stop sending them out into battles to get their arms blown up. So, I guess a long answer to your question is, we finally pick the project to work on mostly if we think we're really going to make a difference. If we had to compete with five other companies for the project it means we don't need to do it, they'll solve this problem and can take care of it. What I’m saying is I'm not in this to compete.

Observatory: What personality trait makes you who you are?

Dean Kamen: I guess curiosity about the world is what's always driven me, believing that if you think about it long enough you'll understand it, you'll have an insight, you'll figure out how to solve a problem if you really understand it. So, curiosity is a driving force in the world of innovation.

Observatory: Do you think higher education is efficiently delivered? 

Dean Kamen: I think it could be made more effective. It could be made lower cost, and therefore it could be delivered to millions more people that desperately need it. I believe there are many things we could do to make it different. For example, I would make sure kids use the education piece for the education. In other words, I think people confuse education and training, and we use schools to do the training, and we should use schools to do the education. And for the training, schools should say to students, "If you want to be able to do this, here's this program." It's Word, or it's Inventor, or it's some software program. "Go study this and learn how to use it." You don't need a professor to train you to use this program; you just need to practice it. That's training. And then come to class and use the classroom for the education of taking your training and doing something valuable with it.

Observatory:  What's your opinion about this 3rd International Congress of Educational Innovation?

Dean Kamen: I see a lot of people from Tec de Monterrey and its 26 campuses and 37 high schools, and others that came from other institutions in Mexico and other institutions around the world, including South America. It seems like there's a lot of energized people, energized universities, energized companies, energized parents, energized professors, and energized government people that really get it. They realize that if they want the future to be really successful and exciting for these kids and for their country, they've got to double down on tech, and they've got to give kids the inspiration and the tools to make tech part of their future. And, so far, that seems to be the mission of this convention, and that's pretty exciting.

FIRST (2017). Founder, FIRST President, DEKA Research & Development Corporation. http://www.firstinspires.org/about/leadership/dean-kamen

Images: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciietec2016/albums/72157677668877466                                                             

Interview report: Thomas Frey | Executive Director and Senior Futurist at DaVinci Institute

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation


Thomas Frey is the Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute and Google's top rated Futurist Speaker. He participated in the Second International Congress of Innovation in Education (2015). Thomas Frey raised a number of predictions for 2030. He estimates that the average person will be able to: print their own clothes, live in a printed house, receive packages delivered by a drone, have more than one robot, use a self-driving car, among others predictions.  

Observatory: What are the skills students will need to tackle challenges in the future?

Thomas Frey: The skill set that we're going to need in the future is going to shift into different areas. Some of them will be about being able to work with virtual reality, augmented reality, and big data and also thinking three-dimensionally is I think an important skill for the future. All of these new industries that are being developed are going to shift, morph and change over time and so we have to continually expand our thinking learning techniques and tools that didn't existed five years ago.

So as a technology evolves let's just take 3-D printing as an example, 3-D printing is still very crude right now, It's very slow, very methodical and the number of materials that we're able to use with 3-D printing is starting to expand very significantly.

Thomas Frey at  CIIE 2015 . 

Thomas Frey at CIIE 2015

And so as this expands, then we're going to have people that have to become very good at understanding what's the right material to use for this particular application, I want to create this one part specifically, maybe it's a part for a jet engine and a jet engine has lots of forces on it that has heat issues, it has pressure issues, it has vibration issues.

And so you're going to need just the right composite material for that particular application. Having people that know the right material to use at the right time, that's an interesting skill set that probably nobody has right at the moment. And so as our options increase, then it's going to be more complicated over time. So, somebody that gets into this field, which is kind of metallurgy field, a new product material, new material development field as that expands over time, the possibilities are many in different directions.

The biggest challenge that educators will face in the future is staying up to date constantly. Every morning I wake up and say, "Okay, what has changed today?", If I don't spend at least two hours every day doing research, I'm going to get le behind.

Observatory: What is the biggest challenge that educators will face in the future?

Thomas Frey: One challenge I have is staying up to date constantly. Every morning I wake up and say, "Okay, what has changed today?", If I don't spend at least two hours every day doing research, I'm going to get le behind. And that's the same with the professors, whatever they're teaching. There are new tool sets, new techniques and there are new challenges in every profession. They need to be on top of all that. And so, we have all the tools for doing all this research. You can do it right at home, you could just work late at night and do that research. But you need to be committed to doing that. So, if you created a curriculum ten years ago and it hasn't changed, you really shouldn't be teaching anymore.

Observatory: How can we develop the spirit of innovation in future generations?

Thomas Frey: I think challenges need to be more relevant. I think you need to actually put some real world problems in there that they're solving. And actually, I love the idea of having prizes that whoever does the best job, they get to claim the victory. I don't believe in everybody getting the participation ribbon. I think everybody needs to be recognized for what they accomplish. By putting these challenges together, I think that stimulates a lot of interesting thinking. And it creates natural alliances between the students, it tells you how to work on teams, and that sort of things. It ends up being lots of communication issues that you're dealing with, lots of project management issues, and all of this gets tied in with a challenge like that.  

2do. Congreso Internacional de Innovación Educativa (2015). Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ciietec /page12 2do. Congreso Internacional de Innovación Educativa (2015). Retrieved from: http://ciie.itesm.mx/es/revolutionizingthinking- about-the-future-of-education/

Interview report: Shane Nestle | General Manager of TechShop Austin-Round Rock

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation

TechShop is a platform focused on democratizing access to the tools, information, resources and community needed to design and innovate. TechShop Austin-Round Rock is a 17,000-square-foot facility packed with cutting edge tools, equipment and computer software. It offers classes, workshops and meet-ups for people of all ages and skill levels, that are interested in creating new things for themselves (TechShop, 2016).  

Observatory: What are the different areas inside the TechShop?

Shane N.: We have a woodworking shop, a textiles area, the metalworking which includes welding, thin gauge metals, rolling, shaping, and bending for tanks or enclosures. Also there is a water jet which cut through about six inches of anything, the paint coding areas with sand blasting, and the plastics area where you can bend, fold, shape, injection molding, and vacuum forming.

On the other hand there is also the hub, which is the center of all activity. It’s really the point where all the intellectual exchange typically occurs, we get to talk to people, see the other people’s projects and where everything comes off of. We also have the conference areas for private meetings, or for large gatherings. We have the computer work stations spread out through the hub, and some in groups as well. The electronics lab and a machine shop.

Observatory: Are there other configurations of tech shops in different places that have other kind of machinery?

Shane N.: For the most part, they’re the same. We try to keep everything very close to being the same type of offerings, because as a member at one store, you’re a member at all of the stores. And that means also the training part of each piece of the equipment, in order for you to use it.

Observatory: Are you planning to incorporate new areas that you have seen, that there’s interest for your membership?

Shane N.: Yes. We’re always open to that, so we evaluate each piece of new technology as it’s coming out to see if it makes sense to put into the stores. A lot of times, one store will test it and see how it works, before we decide to roll it out to other stores.

Observatory: What would you say has been the impact that this TechShop has generated in the two years that it is has been in Austin?

Shane N.: That’s a good question. Really, we’re giving a lot of people the ability to start their own businesses. There’s a lot of people who are coming in here who were either laid off, or just got out the military. We do have a large veteran’s membership package.

Just for example, for them, they come in after being in the military, they’re looking for a job or an opportunity to do something. And so, there’s actually a lot of veterans who’ve come in, and they’re starting to build their own businesses using the tools and resources here. That’s actually a common thing with a lot of people outside of VA as well. They come in and start their businesses or their ideas, or they just come in here with an interest, and they find that what they’re doing is part of a lot of other people’s questions and curiosity, or they want to buy it or deal with it. And then, they start thinking, “Well, I can build a business.” And so they start experimenting with that. And, we greatly reduce the cost for these people, in order for them to start their businesses. They don’t have to have that capital investment that is often necessary.

Observatory: How fast would you say people that comes here with no previous experience, can start to do stuff or prototype?

Shane N.: It’s going to greatly vary from person to person. What we’re primarily set up to do is, first teach you to use the tools safely, just so you can then experiment. And then we do have classes beyond the first use of the tool, to try to help you start learning the next step how welding for example the first class is basically the basics of getting the machine running, what you’re trying to do, and just get you safely starting your first steps. Then we have a series, a ladder of classes. So the next classes come in and learn how proper weld looks, how to set the machine, and you start going up into different materials. You go into aluminums. You go to different steps that take a little bit of time. But the advantage too is that, we provide all of the tools and equipment that you need. So that you can literally just come in, sit down, and experiment on your own time, and put the time in without even investing another dime into any of the equipment and materials to learn kind of rapidly increases your learning capability.

Back to saying it depends on each individual, how much they’re willing to do the research, and how fast they learn, how quickly they learn and how inquisitive they are. That’s the big factor too. A lot of people who are inquisitive are willing to make mistakes. I think that’s a big thing in the United States, is that we’ve taught, “Don’t make mistakes. You need to be perfect.”, and so people are afraid to try. But successful people overcome this obstacle. They understand that they’re going to make mistakes. And so, they’re willing to go and make the mistakes. And there’s a saying here basically that says, “Fail often, fail fast. So that you can get to the solution” so, depending if you’re already somewhat technically knowledgeable in the software, you can rapidly prototype virtually with the software’s. We’re partnered with Autodesk, and they have software inventor which you can actually build a machine, you can put it into motion, you can check the stresses, you can check the heat and so on. You can see if things are going to collide. You can build your machine virtually first, and then start building the parts. So that part alone just being able to see what it’s going to do and tweak you parts, or say, “What if I change this part to this?”, is really where the rapid advancement comes.

Observatory: You have to pay for a course or the courses are part of the membership that you pay?

Shane N.: You pay for each course as you like it or need it.

Observatory: What’s the average cost of a course, and how long it last? Shane N.: Generally, like 30 to $40 USD an hour.

Observatory: Do I have to pay a fee to be a member of TechShop?

Shane N.: Yes. Membership is fee-based, and it’s daily, monthly, yearly. We give you different options. Pricing is on the web as well.

Observatory: What do you think about that TechShop can contribute to educational sector?

Shane N.: There are people who already have the knowledge base and the knowledge set, who are willing to talk to their fellow members and share that knowledge. The instructors are also typically from the membership. Almost every instructor is a member as well. We get our instructors based on the fact that they already typically have a very deep knowledge set in that specific area. And that they’re willing to come in and share that information with others, just because like to do that. We also compensate them. We’re looking for people who do have the depth of knowledge in the area, not just to try to read a piece of paper and lead a class.

Observatory: How do you find your trainers, or how do you select them?





Shane N.: It’s generally kind of the word of mouth within the shops. For new stores I have to go out and advertise looking for people who have that expertise.

Observatory: Do you have an idea of how much does it cost to open a TechShop?

Shane N.: Generally, I mean these shops are about $2 million dollars including building, materials and equipment.

Observatory: How do you decide the location of a new TechShop?

Shane N.: Typically through partner with a major investor, like this location is partnered with Lowe’s. It’s an experiment for the nation, for Lowe’s, to see if there is a good symbiotic relationship. Some of the other stores we have a store on the campus in Arizona ASU. We’ve got this partnership with Ford. We have a partnership with DARPA. Basically, if somebody is interested in TechShop, there is a fee that they are going to pay to do an experiment, or an analysis of the location and the area, and see if it’s feasible to open up a TechShop. And then from there, we need to have the partnership funding that goes into building that location. Right now, all of the stores are basically partnership base. That’s also part of the investor analysis when they’re opening up a store, is to determine what the risk and reward is on that market share.

Observatory: Do you know how this partnership with ASU has worked?

Shane N.: Very well. It’s been very successful for them, and they’re actually looking for continually expanding the integration of TechShop into the university.

Observatory: What’s the time when the TechShop is busier?

Shane N.: We got the business people and they’re going to tend to use it more in the daytime. And then we got the person who works all day. And then in the evening, he’s ready to come in and take classes, or work on their projects. The overlap tends to happen in the late afternoons of 5 o’clock to 7:30 or 8:00, is when we also offer most of the classes. We survey our people every day as to when the best time is for them to class, when they’d like to see classes, when aspect, we find out what works in the classroom, the class aspect. That’s when a lot of the people are coming in to do the work. Otherwise, you just-- we see fluctuations depending on which day it is. What has the average-- how busy it is, just kind of varies from day to day, like Saturday typically is a lot busier than a Sunday. Most of these stores are located in downtown areas, where people don’t have access to space to work on their projects, or necessarily to have tools.

Observatory: Do you have TechShops in other countries besides the United States?

Shane N.: Not yet.

Observatory: Will you be interested on doing something in Mexico, in a Mexican university?

Shane N.: Always. Anywhere, yes. TechShop is open to partnering with anybody who’s like-minded. And we feel we can provide a service to, and who wants to work on expanding the Maker Movement as well. Absolutely.

Observatory: Do you organize some events for networking, and making more makers know what all the people are doing? Where do you organize them?

Shane N.: We have events all the time with anybody who is interested in using the space for public meet up. If they want to have a meeting that’s open to the general public on topics, then we offer our space for those types of events. Because it brings in new people. It informs our membership as well as to what’s occurring. It creates dialogue. We do activities open to the public at different times as well. We promote the shop every quarter, so we have an open house to invite all the public in, and see what we’re doing. Like I said, anybody who wants to host an event that’s maker related. If they’re doing it to make money, then we will rent out areas for them to do that as well. But we have meet ups, public meetups multiple times every week through the shop.  

TechShop web site: http://www.techshop.ws Imagery: Kane, E. (2015, february 27).

Inventors Club every Friday morning at TechShop Chandler. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ eileenmkane/16497601148/ Krejci, K. (2013, junuary 21).

TechShop. Retrieved from: https://goo.gl/9TAUgu Techshop (2016). About TechShop, Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.techshop. ws/TheMakerMovementManifesto.html Vacher, S. (2011, june 11).