Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Prepping Students for a Digital Future

This morning I caught a workshop at RIT with CMU artist & technologist Golan Levin. The workshop was centered on an open source tool called "Processing" that lets you create and manipulate objects. You can use it for creating and manipulating anything from simple shapes on a digital screen to tangible objects in the physical world. It's powerful stuff and pretty easy to learn the basics (it didn’t hurt that GL is a great teacher). I was attending this workshop along side an entire class of fashion photo students and like me, they had little to no programming experience. Some of them could see right away how Processing was relevant to their work. Others did not. And it occurred to me, right there, that these kids have to learn the basics of programming while in school. If they don't, then they will die out there in a media environment that is rapidly moving to tablets and apps. I had already known this in my mind -- that these kids have to learn this stuff. But today I felt it. Profoundly. I thought back to last June when WIRED magazine's Chris Anderson spoke at RIT's "Future of Reading" symposium. Anderson told us all about WIRED's failed web experiments and how important these failures were to shaping their approach to the iPad app. Apps aren’t tracking clicks, they are tracking our thumbs. Therefore, the content has to be dynamic. It follows that students in design, photo, marketing, and journalism need to know enough about programming to, at the very least, engage programmers in creative conversations and collaborations. And if an old broad like me can learn the basics in two hours, then there's no excuse for these kids not to. On a similar strain of thought, I've been having a conversation on Quora about the absence of 3D printing in design and business education. In this discussion the experts assure me that our students will be working in firms and businesses that look similar to the ones we're seeing today. But wow, really? I'm not so sure. As gas prices go up so do all of the costs related to our traditional methods for production and distribution. All of this change points to a significant rise in 3D printing as a method for producing and distributing goods. So it would be nice if the kids coming out of school today knew how to work with some of these technologies as these technologies are bound to be a part of their career. Of course, most professors aren't comfortable exploring budding technologies in class because they feel pressured to be the all-knowing expert at the front of the room. Perhaps what we need are more profs who are comfortable being curious and enthusiastic explorers working along side their students. But that's another post. Check out some Processing projects here Golan Levin’s work here And 3D printing explained by a ten year old here

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