— S e b l o g g i n g

Tinkering with a Makey Makey kit

Sebastian H.D. Fiedler A week ago I finally got a chance to start fooling around and tinkering with a Makey Makey kit which its makers describe with the following words:

“Makey Makey is an invention kit for the 21st century. Turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the internet. It’s a simple Invention Kit for Beginners and Experts doing art, engineering, and everything inbetween”.

[MakeyMakey.com Website]

To get started we hooked up the Makey Makey with a bunch of different objects, ranging from bananas, various kitchen tools, and water filled cups, pieces of tinfoil, coins, etc. and used these as input devices to play with a number of Web apps that can be found on the Makey Makey Website.

Here is an example how my 10-year old co-creator plays a kitchen tool piano setup that we had thrown together:

And while I was starting to gather more information on the overall topic, I began to realise more and more of the (initially hidden) connections in my personal network of interests, knowledge, and previous studies. It turns out that the inventors of the Makey Makey – Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum – are both related to the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT, and thus intimately linked to the work of Mitchel Resnick and Seymour Papert whose work I studied in the late 90s while being a student of the “MEd in Instructional Technology” programme at the University of Georgia, USA. In fact, “Constructionism in practice” with its bright, yellow cover was easy to find on my book shelf… and immediately reminded my of Papert’s opening chapter “A word for learning” which I had wanted to revisit for quite some time for its explicit references to “mathetics”.

While I was pondering all these unfolding connections a blogpost titled “Personal Learning, Technology and the end of the Curriculum” of Mark W. Johnson from the University of Liverpool popped up in my Twitter stream. Mark revisits the concept of the Personal Learning Environment and offers some deliberations of his recent experiences with using digital tools and objects in the context of language learning. He concludes…

Objects as technologies should be the organising focus of education, not curriculum. We should create ways in which objects can be manipulated so as to create a natural flow of inquiry between teachers and learners and between learners and each other. The ridiculous thing is that I don’t think this is hard to do. But to achieve it we have to deal with that other pernicious object in education: the assessment. Assessments are where everybody hides their lack of understanding! In an authentic world of object-human relations, there may in fact be no need for assessment. But that’s an unthinkable thought in the education system of today.

The Makey Makey seemingly offers an intriguingly low barrier for turning a wide range of objects into input-devices for computational explorations and inquiry. It sure looks like a fun way to prototype new types of interfaces and interaction patterns. I think this is an important field for tinkering with new, emancipatory forms of expression and knowledge creation that can go beyond the forms and cultural “programmes” that dominate the “book and industrial culture” as
the media historian Michael Giesecke has so aptly analysed and described over the years. In fact, Giesecke already reminded us in 1995 that electronic media offer a chance to go beyond our cultural bias on particular forms of visual and acoustic forms of input. Giesecke wrote (in German):

Die neuen elektronischen Medien bieten nun die Chance, die einseitige Orientierung auf bestimmte Formen der visuellen und akkustischen Informationsgewinnung und -darstellung aufzubrechen. Im Gegensatz zur noch oft geäußerten Meinung liegt ihre Stärke keineswegs in der Automatisierung der bislang mechanisch betriebenen Textverarbeitung. Die Entwicklung der Robotonik und der vielen elektronischen Sensoren zeigt, daß die Computertechnologie nicht notwendig am Sehen und/oder an standardsprachlichen Inputs anzuknüpfen braucht.
(Giesecke, 1995. Von den Mythen der Buchkultur über die Versprechungen der Neuen Medien in das Jahrtausend des Gesprächs. Rundfunkbeitrag.)

Well, I am really curious to see now if I can turn the Makey Makey into a generative object of inquiry and a mediating instrument within my personal learning environment. The start sure looks somewhat promising and I can already see multiple trajectories for expansive development and further connections down the line… Scratch, the wider Maker movement, revisiting the PLE concept,… and my ongoing interest in “mathetic” principles in an increasingly networked lifeworld.