Video interviews with the presenters can be found here.
This was the disciplinary bubble where we wanted to explore how different academic disciplines have approached the challenge of designing technologies both for, and with, people with autism, but also the diversity of needs of people more generally.
This was another fascinating day with a range of views from the speakers and the audience, joining together to stimulate very interesting discussion.
There was general agreement that inter-disciplinary work is difficult to do but that there were also many benefits to trying. Yvonne Rogers reminded us to ‘stop thinking about what you are and more about what you can do!’ This was an important message that resonated throughout the day as we started to think about the range of perspectives that need to be considered and how people can contribute different skills and expertise.
Yvonne provided examples from some of her work that encourages children to explore and experiment with different technologies; specifically, to encourage children to ‘look up and outwards’. She suggested reframing interdisciplinarity as collaborative research, enabling us to think about things in different ways and discover new ideas. This also raised a question from the audience about who is involved in collaboration and
who determines the agenda / asks questions?
A great point was made by one of the teachers in the audience who noted that we also need to
value the interdisciplinary nature of the class – each child has their own strengths & skills.
Indeed, the very individual nature of experiences, and the tremendous diversity of needs in the population more widely, was emphasised by Ian Hosking, who discussed inclusive design approaches from an Engineering perspective. Ian talked about the need for empathic engineering which places user experiences and needs at the heart of the design. He presented an inclusive design ‘toolkit’ which encourages designers to consider three main questions:
- What is the need [that needs to be met]?
- How can the needs be met?
- How well are the needs met?
Ian suggested that starting with the needs of the ‘users’ is a way to make sure that designers are tackling authentic problems. This raised questions from the audience about who defines the ‘problem’ and who is involved in ‘solving’ it:
- ‘we need to avoid simplistic interpretation of what the ‘difficulties’ or ‘problems’ are – this is where interdisciplinary is so important’
- ‘we should include insights from the autistic community when designing in order to make design more inclusive’
Ian drew upon his work on simulating different problems to encourage children to be creative and empathic when coming up with design suggestions. The question was asked whether it was possible to design an ‘autism’ simulation so that people without autism could understand more about what it was like to have autism. This created a great deal of discussion and questioning, for example:
- how to design for a different mind?
- is it possible to simulate the autistic experience? Would we be better asking autistic people about their experiences?
- what is autism like? Avoiding the stereotypical things. Avoiding tokenism. Variety of autistic opinion [is important].
- strengths based approach to (dis)ability to change outlook to design and simulation.
- individual nature of autism – how can we use technology to meet the individual needs of every child with autism in practice? From parents and teachers perspectives.
Of course, one way of helping us to understand more about the use of technology in practice and how it can be tailored to meet individual needs, is to involve more children and teachers in research. Karen Guldberg emphasised the tendency for autism research to focus on a ‘knowledge transfer’ model from researchers to practice, without necessarily involving schools or teachers in the development of technology-enhanced learning. This approach makes assumptions about where expertise lies (with the researchers rather than with others within the autism community).
Karen provided an example of her research from the Shape project, which involved working with teachers, and children with autism, to provide a much more contextualised understanding of using technologies in the classroom. This project showed that technology-enhanced learning is
as much about how we can use technology to help us evidence and support practice as it is about looking at what children actually do with the technologies.
Moreover, one of the main concluding messages was that
teachers need to be designing new technology-enhanced pedagogies.
The final talk was from Rachel Thomson who showcased children’s everyday experiences and perspectives about digital technology use from a more sociological point of view. She drew upon the Curating Childhoods project which uses a range of interesting methodologies to provide rich insights into children’s lives. Rachel emphasised that children are doing their own research, via digital technologies and social media, a lot of the time and pursue their own interests and obsessions in this way. She commented that there is an
incitement to research built into digital tools.
This can be very motivating for children and young people as a way of finding out about topics of interest but also in terms of building valued identities and social networks. Rachel’s work encouraged young people to collate information relating to their topics of interest, which she likened to a
stealth show and tell, providing insights into identity and interests via personal (online) research.
What was clear was the power of this kind of approach for gaining insights into children’s relationships with digital technologies and with each other. It was also clear that there is a very noticeable lack of insights like this within autism and technology research that really seeks to understand the lived experiences of children and young people through their digital lenses.
Thanks to everyone for a very thought-provoking and enjoyable day!
All photos by Dipo Oke