Cool stuff for an "Innovation Starter Kit"
September 25, 2013 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for interesting things to add to what will amount to an Innovation Starter Kit for a small group of faculty who I'm trying to encourage to think a little differently about education. So far I'm thinking about things like Sugru, Chromecast, a Leap Motion Controller, maybe some light-sensitive paper... What else can I add?

This group will be going through a number of exercises meant to help them approach education, especially online education, in a new light. I want a handful of things that can function as a springboard for conversation, exercises, and generally inspires them to use new technology or to combine old technologies with the new.

What other ideas for cool stuff can you give me? I'd like to have 5-10 <$100 things in the Kit and the objects don't have to be electronic, but they should provide a function of some sort.
posted by madred to Technology (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Raspberry Pi
posted by fix at 12:07 PM on September 25, 2013

Best answer: ferromagnetic fluid and a couple of rare-earth magnets.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:15 PM on September 25, 2013

For electronics, pretty much anything from either LadyAda, who provides both plans and parts to make the items, and Sparkfun, which is one of the goto store for the Make Magazine community. Solar racer kits are pretty neat little projects too, and available from a bunch of stores.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on September 25, 2013

Consider the time required to use some items: EL wire, for example, is very cool -- but it takes an hour or so to build something out of the stuff. LEGO or Tinker Toys, OTOH, can be assembled into something concrete quite quickly.

Sugru sets pretty quickly, but photosensitive paper has to sit for a while.

How about Scupley? Or art supplies like markers, pre-form paper masks, and pipe cleaners?
posted by wenestvedt at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2013

I don't see how a box of shit that geeks on the internet think is cool can reasonably be expected to inspire educators to be more innovative, but maybe I'm just not getting it.

So, perhaps you can answer a few questions to help me wrap my head around this: How do you plan to use these props? How do you think innovation happens?

My suggestion is that most of the examples you give, and some of the examples that other people are giving are most interesting not as artifacts, but for the process that first brought them into being, and which is now carrying them into the world.

I may be taking the wrong impression away from your question, but I get the feeling you want to ask these people to think about how they can use Sugru, or leap motion to engage students in new and interesting ways. My suggestion is that a better question is to ask them to look at how Sugru and Leap Motion are developing the market for their product, in particular, how they are educating users about their product, how they are enabling users to educate one-another about their product, and how they themselves are learning from their community about how best to shape their product offerings and their outreach/education/marketing efforts.

To give one simple example, Sparkfun, mentioned above, has an education initiative.

I'll go further and suggest that it could be incredibly productive for these educators to think about how to engage students in considering these same questions. Doing so will help develop the observational and thinking skills and attitudes that underly a lifetime of learning, and can help make better citizens, employees, consumers, and business people.
posted by Good Brain at 2:04 PM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Good Brain's quip aside, the questions "How do you plan to use these props? How do you think innovation happens?" are great ones, and the idea to ask students that too is awesome.
I am as equally skeptical that consumerist-oriented trinkets that solve unasked questions will revolutionize education or the innovation process.

But are you asking:
A: "How do I engage educators in thinking about how they approach [online] education?"
B: "What are some cool toys to stimulate discussion about how educators approach [online] education?"
C: "What are some cool toys that you MeFites think will be fun for people to play with?"

What are you hoping to accomplish?
posted by MonsieurBon at 2:28 PM on September 25, 2013

I'm also unclear if you're just trying to stimulate "out-of-the-box" thinking with cool stuff, or what. Sugru is really cool, but it's not clear what it has to do with my trying to develop a better online-delivered version of precalculus or whatever.

Here's what I want to know to think creatively about online education, as someone in a department which needs to fully deal with better implementing our online courses...

(1) What are good ways to communicate asynchronously, and what technology exists to facilitate such communication?

--LiveScribe pens make it possible to transcribe a written lecture along with synchronised audio. But their interface sucks. Is there a better way? E.g., is there an iPad app where I can talk and write at the same time, and then students can see/hear what I'm doing?

--what technology exists to really facilitate online-mediated office hours/one-on-one questions? Skype and holding up pieces of paper really doesn't do it for me. Virtual whiteboards? What do these even look like? Can we both write?

--Basically, I'm willing to develop online courses, but as a random faculty member, I have *no idea* what technology is out there. I'd really like to know! That's what I'd like to see.

(2) What are best-practices in online education? What works, what doesn't, and what might work if approached in a different way?

--I can give a lecture. I'm good at giving lectures. But usually, lectures are supplemented by asking students questions and students asking questions back. Is there a synchronous online version of this dynamic? What would it look like? how hard is it to implement?
posted by leahwrenn at 2:56 PM on September 25, 2013

Response by poster: Good Brain, reasonable question but you didn't really need to be a dick about it. I'm starting an 18 month comprehensive program for these faculty so this is part of a much larger initiative. The "box of shit" as you put it is a very small piece of a pretty large picture, and I suppose I didn't really explain myself very clearly. I'm more interested in exposing this cohort to interesting objects/things/items that inspire a sense of play, exploration, possibility... To be honest, I'm not sure that this box of shit will even make it off the drawing board... I'm just looking for *ideas*. I don't even want to focus initially on the education piece, but rather on the creative/innovative process (which is infinitely variable, I admit). Sugru's story on their website, the developer experience we had with the Leap prior to the market release, and the low-cost but useful aspect of the Chromecast are all examples of the forms innovation can take. One of my colleagues is a Glass Explorer, but I can't exactly get one for everybody! Our faculty are currently under the impression that innovation in education looks like "Cool Stuff with Clickers" or "Let's do a MOOC!" neither of which are very innovative, so I need to help them push the envelope. This is a relatively advanced group of faculty who are already teaching good online classes.

and MonsieurBon I think things that answer A, B, or C are fine with me. The initial activities we'll be doing with them will hopefully both educate them as to where innovation has already gone and inspire them to think differently about what education is currently going (DIY, IMO).

I already work quite a bit with faculty in a damn good program that uses everything from Legos to Hangouts, to duct tape to get them thinking differently and understanding more about online learning. I guess I was just looking for more ideas for interesting but relatively inexpensive items that would be surprising and demonstrative of innovation. They can take things home to play with them, and some of the items might be used during some of our workshops.

I appreciate the advice on how to teach people to be better teachers online, but that's not really what I'm looking for here since that's what I do for a living already.
posted by madred at 3:08 PM on September 25, 2013

Response by poster: leahwrenn, if you really do want answers to those questions, feel free to MeMail me. I can't tell if those are rhetorical questions or not!
posted by madred at 3:10 PM on September 25, 2013

I just backed this guy's project, it hands down is the most cost efficient introduction to hardware computing that I've seen well, ever.

I just got mine in the mail and it includes:

6 x LEDs (2 x red 2 x yellow 2 x green)
6 x resistors for the LEDs
3 x momentary switch buttons
1 x photoresistor and pairing resistor
1 x buzzer
1 x set of jumper wire (10pcs)
1 x mini solderless breadboard
1 x mini usb cable
1 x 9v barrel power connector

Essentially anything & everything you would need to make sound/light/interactive gadgets.
posted by anthroprose at 5:25 PM on September 25, 2013

Goodbrain provided a useful, thought out answer, which presented some of the confusion many users would have faced with your question, and ways you could clarify it, and then suggested solutions.

Calling them a dick, in response to their constructive feedback, is a really counterproductive response - especially because you are trying to get people to brainstorm not only for you here, but in your work environment.

So, rolling back, to foster a creative environment, maybe look at the difference between constructive feedback and criticism, and insults. Constructive feedback and critique is absolutely useful and necessary, and having an environment where people feel safe enough that they can receive that, leads to process improvements. Often people can't feel safe to give or receive feedback until they know it won't contain insults, and it won't receive insulting backlash.
posted by Elysum at 6:13 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, dramz aside, when you mentioned combining old and new, I immediately thought of As far as I can tell, it's the internet's true purpose. It takes something distinctly steeped in history, culture, and personal experience and allows people to share any aspect of their experience with these crafts with other people. One thing that's interesting perhaps for you is their yarns section, where people who spin and create fibers as well as people who hoard them can discuss and display and organize and also suggest and search for uses for that specific fiber in all manner of ways. You could include in your box some different types of yarn and fiber craft tools and see how people interact with the site, exchange ideas, learn about older craft styles, join communities, as well as how they might use the yarn itself in combination with other objects you've provided.
posted by Mizu at 6:43 PM on September 25, 2013

Best answer: Do you want cool stuff to play with, or cool stuff with cool backstories? 'Cause cool stuff to play with:

--GeoFix/GeoShapes: make all sorts of nifty polyhedra [bonus: I have some you can look at/borrow]
--Magz/GeoMag: Make cool polyhedra out of magnet stuff

(To think: what are the restrictions imposed by the limits of the designs? How many things can you attach where?)

--Ferromagnetic silly putty would be awesome.

--Actually, maybe even just several sizes/strengths of magnets (some big and weak, some small and weak, some small and strong (but not too strong so people don't get hurt...))


--Something with wearable LEDs? There seem to be a fair amount of options. This one looks nice

--shiny reflective stuff? e.g., patches made out of that 3m reflective stuff whose name I'm forgetting? Stuff that integrates shiny reflective stuff into fun/interesting stuff? It's getting dark, after all...

(OK, I'm clearly not getting what you're looking for in the innovation kit. Something with LEDs seems right, though.)
posted by leahwrenn at 8:54 PM on September 25, 2013

Best answer: No box of shit should be without a Makey makey
posted by HappyHippo at 8:57 PM on September 25, 2013

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