Beyond Bits & Atoms teaches students to design, build, and critique constructionist educational technologies. BB&A consists of a theory-oriented class (MSTU 5199) and a practice-focused lab (MSTU 5197); students are required to enroll in both. The theory class is focused on answering three questions:
- How does learning work?
- How does schooling work?
- How can technology affect learning and schooling?
Students explore constructivism, constructionism, and critical pedagogy, as well as embodied and situated cognition, the role of media and tools, representations and models in learning, and theories of technology design. These ideas are applied to case studies of schools and educational technologies, and to the design of a new educational technology.
In the lab, students are immersed in a constructionist learning environment where they reflect on their own learning processes as they learn to use technologies for prototyping and digital fabrication. Students use these tools to design and build a constructionist educational technology.
Associate Professor Paulo Blikstein is an international leader in educational makerspaces. He is the director of FabLearn, which supports a network of educational makerspaces, sponsors research and conferences on maker education, and organizes trainings around the world. Paulo also built a water computer.
Yipu Zheng is a doctoral student in the Instructional Technology & Media program at Teachers College (TC), Columbia University. Her research interest focuses on capturing, assessing and facilitating learners’ problem-finding and creative problem-solving processes using multi-modal data analytics methods. Before joining TLTL, she earned her B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and her M.S. degree in Learning Analytics from TC. Aiming to empower young learners in local communities to raise and address novel and personally-meaningful inquiries, she has initiated an annual event, Global Create Summit, and co-founded a makerspace, which has collaborated with more than 15 schools and local groups to deliver creative problem-solving after-school programs, hands-on workshops, and making kits for K-8 students in Shenzhen, China.
Isa is a designer and a doctoral student in Learning Media and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. She studies how creativity and learning unfold when people engage in projects they care about. Her creative work explores the integration of nature with technology, science, art, and design. Her current research The Human Nature Project aims to engage diverse audiences in bio-making and critical design to envision technologies that re-think humans’ relationship with nature. If she is not making something in the lab, you can probably find her at Riverside Park, exploring around with two wild creatures.
Jonathan is the acting lab manager for the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab and a program manager with FabLearn. Apart from extinguishing (and starting) laser cutter fires, he works with K-12 teachers and school administrators as they implement constructionism in their classrooms. After taking BBA during his undergraduate studies, Jonathan made the Stanford TLTL his second home while pursuing his bachelor's and master's in mechanical engineering (and TA'ing BBA a couple times). He's excited to continue supporting BBA and eager to see what you all make in the lab!
The joint project for the two courses is a working prototype of a constructionist educational technology, to be displayed at the BB&A Expo, and an accompanying paper suitable for submission to IDC as a Demo Paper. Projects may be undertaken alone or in groups. In 2017, 6 papers from BB&A students and instructors were accepted to IDC. Final projects have also gone on to become commercial products. More about the final project.
For the lecture, students will turn in each assignments on Canvas as links to Google Docs, and we will add feedback directly on the document. We spend a lot of time giving feedback; it is an important part of the course that gives us a way to address students’ misconceptions, point students in more productive directions, and suggest additional readings. We expect students to read our feedback and to be prepared to discuss it during the lecture.
We will use selections from your assignments in whole-class discussions each week. For each assignment, we have an initial round of in-class feedback on the first class after submission, and a second, more in-depth round of feedback after grading the assignments on the following Thursday.
You will find that motivation in this class comes from your own curiosity and playfulness, augmented by tools, media, and a supportive community of learners. This is a unique opportunity to experience constructionist learning, and motivating students with punitive grades would interfere with the dynamics which are the focus of the class. We have high expectations for students in BBA, and the class requires a lot of work, but if you show up, work hard, and open yourself to new experiences you will end up with a good grade in the class. If you are not meeting our expectations, we will let you know early and often, so that nobody is surprised at the end of the class. Students in prior cohorts have gone on to start companies, pursue new research trajectories, or reshape their own career goals through the class. Make these your goals, rather than an A.
You can expect regular personalized feedback on your work, in person and in writing. Assignments are evaluated using a simple scale:
- ✓ + or Exceeds Expectations: Goes above and beyond the requirements of the assignment. This score recognizes really outstanding work; there is not always a specific formula for how to achieve it.
- ✓ or Meets Expectations: Meets the requirements of the assignment.
- ✓ - or Approaches Expectations: Does not meet all the requirements of the assignment.
- Incomplete: Requires additional support.
If you are regularly getting evaluations of ✓ or above, you are on track for an A.
Charging a lab fee is the typical policy in lab and studio courses. The lab fee ($100) will be used to buy shared materials for use during lab sessions, including basic maintenance. We will have a limited supply of acrylic, wood, 3D printer materials, sensors, motors, and robotics stuff. These materials will be stored in a special area of the lab—the lab fee does not give students the right to use all the materials in the lab. Also, the lab fee is not meant to support final projects, though student are welcome to use leftover materials from the appropriate bins. If students want to use materials that go above and beyond what the lab fee covers, they should be ordered directly, or reimbursed/replaced to the lab.
The College will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities: Students are encouraged to contact the Office of Access and Services for Individuals with Disabilities (OASID) for information about registration. You can reach OASID by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, stop by 163 Thorndike Hall or call 212-678-3689. Services are available only to students who have registered and submit appropriate documentation. The instructors are happy to discuss specific needs with you as well. Please report any access-related concerns about instructional material to OASID and to your instructor.
Sexual harassment and violence reporting
Teachers College is committed to maintaining a safe environment for students. Because of this commitment and because of federal and state regulations, we must advise you that if you tell any of your instructors about sexual harassment or gender-based misconduct involving a member of the campus community, your instructor is required to report this information to the Title IX Coordinator, Janice Robinson. She will treat this information as private but will need to follow up with you and possibly look into the matter. The Ombuds officer for Gender-Based Misconduct is a confidential resource available for students, staff and faculty. Gender-based misconduct includes sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, and gender-based harassment.
This course follows TC policies on incomplete grades, responsibility for monitoring email, religious observance, and academic integrity.
This course is an accretion of many years of work from past and present members of the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab, including:
- Paulo Blikstein
- Marcelo Worsley
- Bertrand Schneider
- Engin Bumbacher
- Claire Rosenbaum
- Richard Davis
- Chris Proctor
- Veronica Lin
- And many others