In a few seconds, on a multitude of devices, students can access everything from virtual museums to lectures from professors at MIT. However, technology alone is not the panacea to prepare students for the increasing complexity of future careers and life. That’s why a group of designers, educators, makers, and industry professionals recently banded together in Boston to form Digital Ready.
“We focus on developing creative problem solving mindsets in addition to the technical skills,” says Digital Ready founder Dr. Sarah Cherry Rice.
For Digital Learning Day today, we are celebrating educators like Sarah who spread innovative practices and ensure that all young people have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities no matter where they live.
Since the inception of Digital Learning Day in 2012, states, districts, schools, and classrooms across the United States and around the world have held thousands of events to show how they are using technology to transform learning. Check out more awesome stories here!
Digital Ready… set, go!
According to Dr. Rice, “Being ‘digital ready’ means being ready for the complexity of a constantly evolving economy and society, and it requires students to have the social capital, agency, and skills to build their own pathways to career and life success.”
By 2030, automation and AI will increase workplace demand for skills in technology by 60%, creativity by 40%, social and emotional competence by 26%, and critical thinking by 17%.
So what does this mean for education? Expectations for the “jobs of the future” students will someday need to meet are evolving at a rate that schools are struggling to keep pace with on their own. Through Digital Ready, Cherry Rice is developing a model for how schools can be redesigned to help bridge this gap.
In January, Digital Ready launched its first Digital Design Studio for Boston Public Schools high school juniors and seniors. This off-campus, work-based learning experience seeks to ignite students’ passions, equip them with the skills and competencies necessary to navigate a complex, technology-driven world, and increase equity and access to careers in Boston’s innovation economy.
In the studio, students work on a four-person team on projects that allow them to hone their creative problem solving and technical skills in digital fabrication, virtual reality, robotics, CAD, and engineering to produce tangible and digital prototypes that they can present to industry and community experts for feedback and refinement. Each student will emerge from the 18-week learning experience with a digital portfolio to showcase their developing technical and leadership skills to future employers and colleges.
The program is currently based at MassRobotics in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood — which is called the Innovation District. Dr. Rice designed the model for the studio in collaboration with MassRobotics, Autodesk, the Fab Foundation, and feedback from current students.
Making spaces for youth voice
Digital Ready designers are currently engaged in a hands-on project to bring an immersive popup experience to the streets of Boston that will express the young designers’ points of view around the Future of Work and how schools could better align with it.
Inspired by the work of Culture House, which aims to improve livability in the Boston area by facilitating the creation of indoor public space and designing vibrant cultural spaces, the students conducted a survey of spaces throughout the city to assess them using criteria such as accessibility, connectedness, function, and “stickiness” — which means the space “creates reasons to come and reasons to stay in the space.” This exploration was grounded in the question: What makes a space work?
Digital Ready student designers explored interesting spaces in the city such as @ICAinBoston to take in an exhibit on art made from recyclables, and @hiveandcolony to see how they are using 3D scanning technology to create customized suits.
Students take time each week with their Design Managers to reflect on what they are building within their studios as they aspire to achieve a culture of experimentation and innovation. Wild and crazy ideas are encouraged, and students are taught to perform rapid prototyping in order to become comfortable with giving and receiving feedback, and engaging others in their creative inner- and outer- journeys.
This culture was seeded during the first session when students were challenged to identify their super powers and then find others with complementary skills. Because the students come together each week from five different schools across the city, it was important to lay the groundwork for the road ahead by learning from each other’s stories. They did this through quickly composing pecha kucha-style presentations about themselves and what brought them to join Digital Ready. Throughout the program, the young designers will be expected to use digital storytelling to inspire positive change in their communities.
A student presents his pecha kucha on Day 1. Digital storytelling is taught through the framework of exploring identity and community activism.
Kenneth, a junior at Excel High School in South Boston, said he was drawn to this way of learning because he is “analytical.” Says Kenneth, “I like learning stuff that changes how I see things. I have a computational brain.”
The Digital Ready model asks: Can you take risks in the studio? Can you bring your full self to the studio? Are there moments of joy and spontaneity?
Digital Fabrication is a foundational literacy
The young designers’ mantra in the studio is “learn by doing.” This is reinforced through their Design Managers by giving explicit permission to take risks to learn and experiment with innovative practices, whether their ideas ultimately succeed or fail.
One of the first digital badges all students must earn is in “digital fabrication.” Through the use of software such as Tinkercad, students pair the design thinking process with cycles of rapid prototyping, where students learn project development and management, version control protocols, modeling in 2D and 3D, digital cutting (laser and vinyl), 3D printing and scanning, and website development — ultimately integrating these techniques into a final collaborative project.
Because this is also “version 1.0” for the use of the digital badging system, some students are also working as interns in piloting other badges in a more self-directed way. Their job is to provide feedback to the badge designers on the user experience, so that these learning paths can be better articulated before they are made a requirement for all students.
Two interns jamming in Autodesk Revit to create renderings for the pop-up experience they are launching later this spring with Culture House.
Choosing pathways to innovation
When students “graduate,” they can use their digital portfolios to apply for a paid Tech Apprenticeship with the Boston Private Industry Council in the summer of 2020. The Digital Ready team also has a “Year 13” concept in the works that will provide a structured year of career exploration and skills-building before high school graduates enter college, formal vocational training, or the workforce.
Says Cherry Rice, “We are committed to activate the creative potential of high school students, especially underrepresented young people — first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students of color — with the agency, social capital, and skills to build their own pathways to economic mobility and success in Boston’s innovation economy.”
You can continue to follow Digital Ready’s story on their Instagram channel.
Feeling FOMO? If you are interested in launching your own design challenge with your students, so that you can join in on the Digital Learning Day festivities, check out these resources.