Calm Technology in the Classroom

Old tech meets new in a Rotary Phone that is powered by IBM’s Watson & the Internet of Things. An enchanted storytelling object that is designed to augment a creative process.

Calm Technology in the Class Room

I’m fascinated by the notion of experiential learning. Much of my work over the last 5 years since I’ve been teaching at Columbia University has been focused on mixing theory and practice. Once a year I teach a class entitled “Building Storyworlds: the art, craft & biz of storytelling in 21c.” The graduate level course is open to students across the University and a select number of auditors. Each semester I’m joined by a wide array of writing, producing, directing, theater, visual arts, journalism, computer science, urban design, business and narrative medicine students.

The course is part lecture and practice as myself and a steady stream of guest speakers pull back the curtain on the challenges of telling and selling stories in an ever-shifting digital landscape. As the course progresses students interact with myself and various industry experts to craft a presentation and prototype for an immersive storytelling project. At the close of the semester students pitch and present a prototype to a panel of experts.

The value of unlearning

At the start of each semester there is a bit of a challenge as I work to help the students embrace a non-linear approach to learning which taps divergent thinking while encouraging the class to embrace and become comfortable with an iterative process. Often my students are very solution oriented and have difficulty living within a space of uncertainty. This is true of many Universities as well as a struggle that many companies face. In my time as a steering committee member for the World Economic Forum I’ve seen directly the challenges that adoption of emerging technology can have on various industries. As AI (artificial intelligence), Robotics and IoT (internet of things) touch into our everyday lives the notion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is rapidly becoming a reality. The automation and augmentation of humanity thanks to emergent technologies will disrupt how we work, learn and live which in turn will require that we become adaptive and comfortable with uncertainty.

Ubiquitous, mobile supercomputing. Artificially-intelligent robots. Self-driving cars. Neuro-technological brain enhancements. Genetic editing. The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed.

Story, Design & Future Thinking

Within the course students are introduced to a number of methods and frameworks that are designed to teach collaborative practice. The foundation of the class is focused on human-centered design, story architecture and future scenario reasoning.

Course Learning Objectives include

  • Learn how to embrace uncertainty
  • Develop adaptive problem solving skills
  • Become fluent in methods of collaborative practice
  • Learn prototyping and feedback methods
  • An introduction to Conditional Statements

Calm Technology Enters the Class Room

I recently received a grant to develop an IoT kit that will help to introduce an understanding of conditional statements. The hope is that by the end of the course my students will be able to communicate with creative technologists in a meaningful way that can help move ideas into reality. As we work to develop the kit we’re thinking that it will start with a intro to IoT that is plug and play. Over the course of the semester the students will be introduced to a physical computing hardware such as micro controls (Ardunio, Raspberry Pi) as well an opportunity to interface with IBM Watson APIs via their Bluemix platform.

Students utilize a wide range of technology within the course from simple plug & play IoT with SAM Labs Kits to an intro to Watson APIs, Ardunios and Raspberry Pi

We’re currently working on an assessment model so that we can track learning retention and transference. Our goal is to share our findings and release them and other materials from the course under a creative commons license so others can remix them. We’ll be posting on medium and also on the class’ tumblr.

The Evolution of an Industry

Last week the Hollywood Reporter ran a story entitled “Megan Ellison’s Executive Poaching Spree Sparks Talk of Big Plans.” The article talks about Ellison’s ambitions to embrace digital storytelling and evolve her company beyond features and into VR, games and other emergent opportunities. No stranger to the software industry there is speculation that like her father who made his fortune on being forward thinking that Megan herself is well positioned to disrupt Hollywood.

Meanwhile even traditional tech companies like IBM are taking steps to bring screenwriters in house. As storytelling enters big blue there is a desire to mix machine insight with that of its human counterparts. That is something we’ve been experimenting with at the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab within our Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things prototype that explores AI augmented of creativity.

Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things participants step into a massive connected crime scene at Lincoln Center during the New York Film Festival

The School of the Arts has a rich history of cultivating amazing storytellers working in various forms and I’m excited to be part of the program’s evolution. This fall marks the third year anniversary of the Digital Storytelling Lab. Within a short period of time the lab has grown by leaps and bounds. Through its prototypes, programs, workshops and recent MOOC the lab is exploring the current and future landscape of digital storytelling.

Our newest addition to the lab is a set of three courses that are currently being offered in the School of the Arts. In addition to the Building Storyworlds course that I teach we’ve added an introduction to the theory and practice of interactivity which is taught by Nick Fortugno (co-founder Playmatics and renowned game designer) as well as a studio course that will launch in the Fall of 2017.

A Living Breathing Syllabus

As I prepare for next semester the goal is to continue the experimentation I started last Spring when myself and the class created a living breathing version of the Building Storyworlds’ syllabus which is designed to evolve over the course of the semester. To follow along please visit the class’ tumblr. On final note I make room for a few auditors within the class if you’re interested please let me know.