Square1: Participatory design with girls in Oakland

Video documentation of the presentation of one group (turn up your volume to listen to the comments of the girls).

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With the help of Jana, the techGyrls program coordinator of the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland, and four creative mentors, Becca, Melissa, Lily and Malia, I facilitated a PD workshop with 26 girls (4th and 5th grade) at the ACRON Woodland public School in Oakland, California.

In a big circle, I first presented the Square1 concept using the cardboard prototypes. The girls were excited in participating in a professional design process and the further design of the concept. The girls asked questions about the prototype, including how the devices would connect and how to share text and images between the devices. Answers to these questions were be further explored in small group work. We worked in four small groups of 6-7 girls and one mentor. Jana documented the workshop by floating from group to group. As more girls than initially expected participated in the session, and I only prepared cardboard prototypes for two smaller groups, we improvised and created rapid paper prototypes for the additional two groups.

workingThe task of the girls was to imaging that the prototype devices would be working computers, and to explore how they would use the devices to create a presentation about animals in parks together. In their exploration, they were asked to focus on externalizing their ideas on how the devices would interact, what they would sounds, look and feel like. They were provided with sticky-notes, pens, scissors and felt-fabric to express and document their ideas, and to change the appearance of the devices. The session was intended to provide software as well as audio/tactile design ideas, and to give the girls a feeling for what it would be like to participate in a design session in a professional design studio. All four groups actively engaged in the design process. General comments included that the devices should be more colorful, but the main ideas that emerged from the PD workshops are summarized here.

Re-considering the separation of search and presentation creation on two screens – Although an iPad with a working internet connection was included in the cardboard prototype of the central device, the girls were so focused on the design task, that they never used the iPad. The lack of engagement with the working technology might also point at considering that the double screen of the central device might need to be further considered. Can the internet search also happen on the screen for presentation composition? How would switching between both functions work?

Creating a presentation experience through folding and unfolding

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Communicating the idea of zooming in and out of the canvas, e.g. of the central device, to create more screen space was surprisingly difficult for the girls to grasp. For them, the presentation of their created presentations would happen through the use of several devices, e.i. the group would step in front of class, each group member holding a device and present their work using a mix of devices. The illustrations above and the  video in the beginning of the post illustrate aspects of this idea. In their presentation, the opening and closing of the set of devices they used to create their presentation played a strong role. The girls ideated a function for audio-recording a title of their presentation, for example the sound of an owl, which they could play as an introduction to the presentation. Recording spoken word titles can be connected to our work on using audio-visual recordings for reflection in learning (see under 2 minute video). After listening to the title recording, the girls suggested that they would carefully unfold the devices to start their presentations. Another aspect of this idea was for people to explore their presentations without the group members being present. This perhaps suggests that learning material could be created and shared for through workstations.

Gestures of audio/visual feedback

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Through gestures and performance the girls expressed the importance of seamless and intuitive interactions with the devices. As expected, audio-visual feedback for sharing paragraphs of text and illustrations to the central device needs to be carefully coordinated with motions and gestures. In particular one of the girls expressed her ideas through gestures in the air and by moving the devices (see pictures above). I noticed that it is very difficult for children to express ideas for touch-screens through paper-based media, e.g. drawings. My observations suggest that ways for children to express their design ideas for touchscreen technology in participatory design need to be explored. Deliberately shooting video to document micro-performances and motions is an starting point for this. The captured video-sketches could then be used to inform the interaction design of the devices.

sharing-notsharingCareful balance between the notion of personal devices and shared devices in learning needs to be further considered in the design. I observed that some students felt comfortable sharing and switching devices, while others preferred to hold onto the one cardboard prototype that was given to them in the beginning of the workshop. This might have to do with the established cultural practices around learning and/or the use of technology and digital tools in general. To support teachers and students to be more confident and comfortable with sharing, Square1 should clearly communicate aspects of sharing and collaborating throughout the design, from instructions for assembling devices, to project suggestions and interaction design.

Appreciation-smallAppreciation button – In the end of the session, all four groups presented and shared their ideas. This was followed by an appreciation circle, a regular practice of the techGyrls sessions. In this activity, the girls are asked to tell what they appreciated most throughout the session and/or their day. Several of them mentioned, that they were surprised that technology design can start by using simply pen and paper. One girl mentioned that she would love to become a designer. The appreciation circle practice is interesting in relation to the ideas that emerged from an interdisciplinary discussion that was facilitated in relation to the Square1 concept previously. In this discussion, the idea of an appreciation button was generated, which children using the devices could press to express their appreciation of the work of their group or other groups.

Based on the comments of the techGyrls, we are currently designing interface prototypes. These prototypes will be discussed with the same girls in another PD session in late April.

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