Playful Learning

Physical collaborative play for teenagers with cognitive disabilities

Bandjes is the result of the Playful Learning project I coached at MediaLAB in the spring semester of 2015. In collaboration with Orion (Amsterdam’s organisation for special needs education) we developed a game for teenagers with cognitive disabilities and varying levels of motor skills. The goal was to improve their communication skills, collaboration skills and the level of intensity of their exercise in the gym classroom. The game offers a playful way to increase the level of self-reliance, by practicing social skills.

The game consists of 4 bluetooth enabled head bands with an RGB LED that can change color. The basic elements of each game is that a player cannot see his own color, only those of the other players. The logic of the game changes with the different variation (eg. “tag” or tikkertje is one of them), but each game requires the players to communicate in order to navigate the playing field and reach the goals of each game variation. Bandjes comes with 7 documented game variations that can be initiated through a desktop application.

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Embodied design

One of the things that was key in the success of this design project was the very regular use of the method of bodystorming. It’s a technique within embodied design techniques that allow designers to bring their body into the mix. The tacit knowledge the body can bring to any complex problem or design question is often undervalued. Rather than paying attention to what the body knows, emphasis is placed on cognitive abilities such as brainstorming, mindmapping, verbal argumentation, and assessments of an idea based on dry design criteria. I’ve used the technique of bodystorming a lot with my teams, especially teams that were designing games or play. This method is often used on location, to really understand context and instill empathy for the user while ‘playing out’ ideas on the spot, ideally with users. But it is also more loosely described as a method to brainstorm with your body. This is one explanation of it, there’s many.

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Bodystorming for empathy

We used the technique of bodystorming a lot. The initial concepts that were created turned out to be too complex to play, hard to explain and eventually impossible to play with the teens. When bodystorming was introduced as primary method for the student team to generate ideas, the game concepts and play ideas became simpler, and more body-fit to play. The student team agreed to spend an hour bodystorming every morning, to generate ideas. They could bring a prop and start playing with that (chalk, a ball, a gun, a bell) and see where the play would lead. Doing this evokes a very immediate response about what the body enjoys to do, not what we imagine people would enjoy. Especially in combination with lots of observations in class, and occasional playtesting, the design team really started to embody their users in their own playtests, getting a really good grip as to what kind of play was appropriate (simple enough to grasp without a lot of explanation), and interesting for their users who all had very different levels of cognitive abilities and motor skills development.

Bandjes: a highly playable flexible game

The result was a game that was very exciting across the strongly varying levels in the classes we worked with at Orion. Because the concept was so simple at its core, it remained a lot of openness, and space to reinterpret the gameplay by adding rules, props or objectives. It turned out it was a game playable across ages and abilities: our partners, friends, parents and kids all played together at the final presentations at MediaLAB.

Publications

Bandjes was presented at Media Art Futures Interactivos? 2015 conference in Murcia, where the first iteration of the prototype was developed as well in co-creation with conference participants and organisers.

Students: Nick Bijl, Dennis Reep, Anne de Bode, Jill de Rooij, Alexander Sommers. Frank Honkoop & Marjolein Duchateau (Orion). Menno Deen (Lectoraat Games & Play)

Fun Facts

koeki

Fun facts is a workshop format for kids where they learn to translate data into imagery. How can you create the most informative, understandable yet fun and compelling image? In stead of using pencils, kids use physical materials and cameras to allow them to work 2D and 3D. I developed this workshop for the Cinekid Mediafestival in Zoetermeer in collaboration with my colleagues Ingrid Rekers and Timothy Kok at CKC Zoetermeer.

The art of enabling open making processes

In 2011, my Patching Zone colleagues Kristina Anderson and Audrey Samson invited me to assist them with in their workshop The Art of Hacking at NIMK the Dutch Institute for Media Art. High school kids from all over Amsterdam were coming to show us what amazing vibrobot designs they have up their sleeves. Kristina and Audrey took the concept of vibrating robots and prompted the highschool kids to really play around with lots of materials and a glue gun to give their little bots character in their looks, sounds and the way they move. Read more on Kristina’s blog TinyThing about that concept. During Museumn8 we ran the workshop for eager grown-ups.

A thing or two on facilitation

My role was to explain the how-to of the technical part of the circuit to the kids: how the battery is connected to the motor and why it works like that. Why you need an eccentric weight on the motor shaft to create a vibrating motion. How to avoid shorts, and how to be clever about putting it all together so it doesn’t fall apart, by making a stable basic body by forming a batterypack, and by mounting the motor on it as a head using electrical tape. This construction of battery-pack-as-body and motor-as-head, using electrical tape and a paperclip, I’d used before in my own Vibrobert vibrating robot.

But the nice thing about the workshop was that the focus was actually a lot more on ‘making it your own’ and really facilitating personal expression doing that. I was asked to interview the kids on video to get an idea of their thinking about the process and it was really great to hear how the process of building had allowed them to get an understanding of the basic concepts. And the fun that was involved in really making it their ‘own’ thing.

Untoolkit

Looking back on this workshop I really appreciate such efforts of maker facilitators like Audrey and Kristina that understand the value of openness in maker education. It’s all too easy to make something and then say to people: hey I made this you can make it too! And then to call that making, or worse: creativity. A truly valuable making process is one in which you are encouraged to unleash creativity through synergising information that you gather yourself in the process. As a teacher or workshop facilitator it can be hard to avoid preloading information and letting go of control in the process. To let the participants take over. But the art of facilitation sits in being able to pull that all together in the moment, while thinking on your feet. The trick is to let go of that urge to establish an all too rigid framework with guaranteed outcomes. The outcomes will be there, but you can’t predict exactly what they will be. Which – to me – makes it ever more interesting.

4-day Digital Dance Theater workshop

The last session of Digitaal Danstheater, a research project on using movement tracking technologies and datavisualization in dance productions, was the Projectweek (also called Ludic Week) at Erasmus College, one of the local high schools. Twelve girls ranging from 12-15 years old chose this workshop to fill their week, that aims to introduce kids to more sports oriented or creative fields, to engage them socially in ways that aren’t traditionally offered in school setting and to stimulate developing personal talents. All girls worked incredibly hard these four days, exploring new dance disciplines (classical, hip hop, salsa, modern), developing their own choreographies and experimenting with interactivity: thinking relationships between the body and the computer.

Two groups each made their own interactive dance piece that they performed at the end of the week. It was a fabulous experiment and a good experience that gave a lot of insight into ways to guide group processes, playing attention spans, and scaleability: the most recent Digital Dance Theater workshop was a 4-hour workshop whereas now participants had 4 x 4 = 16 hours in total to get an introduction to virtual theater and produce their own piece. Having more time is a pure luxury for running this workshop and I liked seeing that kids got the opportunity to get thoroughly engaged working towards their own end project over the course of the week.

In collaboration with: Timothy Kok & Nicolet Sudibyo. Zoetermeer (NL), May 2011