Home to more than 27 museums and cultural institutions, San Diego's Balboa Park is an exciting place for learning. Visitors of all ages can gain first-hand knowledge about everything from world styles of dance, to fossils and skulls, to a wide array of artistic mediums and movements. Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC), founded to provide affordable technology services and innovation to non-profits in Balboa Park and beyond, had already been thinking of playlists as a way to connect Balboa Park’s seemingly separate content areas in unexpected and serendipitous ways. Seeing an opportunity to pilot the playlist idea, BPOC partnered with three Balboa Park museums: the Fleet Science Center, the Museum of Photographic Arts, and the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Fleet Science Center uses interactive exhibits to convey scientific concepts to audiences. Museum of Photographic Arts works to "inspire, educate, and engage" audiences through film, and video. San Diego Air and Space Museum strives to energize learners through the rich history of aviation and spaceflight. Though, on the surface these institutions may not seem to have much in common, the project team saw value in being able to view a subject from each of their unique approaches.
Together, educators from each museum discussed areas of intersection, and derived the idea for a playlist that focused on exploring optics: The Art and Science of Vision. Educators brainstormed about how to produce an interactive playlist, drawing on the museums' expertise in photography, aerospace, and science. Learners could create personal learning pathways toward the discovery of how humans perceive and interact with the world around them. Learning XPs would include the exploration of light, motion, navigation, and optical illusions; building and sharing of homemade periscopes and camera obscuras; and much more. Learners could unlock opportunities as they completed sections of content, with the chance to earn a culminating "Maker" digital badge that would unlock opportunities to showcase work online or interview for an internship.
While educators had with a clear idea of what the playlists could look like, the team wanted to hear from the audience, the teens who would be exploring these playlists, before implementing anything. The project team turned to its partners in local schools and designed a series of focus groups for teens in grades nine through twelve, intended to answer a few big questions: What sort of games and activities hold teen interest? What types of show-and-prove activities would they have the resources to complete? What type of reward or credentialing would motivate them to complete a playlist?
Each session began with BPOC explaining the session would be modeled upon the design-thinking process used by tech companies like Facebook and Google. BPOC asked the teens to introduce themselves, getting the creativity flowing by asking them to share their favorite non-traditional pizza topping (answers included potatoes and pineapple). BPOC asked teens what devices and games they already use, then had them brainstorm how these activities could be used to create learning experiences and what kind of rewards they'd want for completing activities. The teens wrote out their ideas on post-it notes and then brought them up to the board. With the teens’ help, BPOC identified major themes in the post-its, and moved them around into groupings to help get a sense of relative frequency and relatedness of ideas.
Idea mapping revealed that the teens wanted learning experiences like the games and apps they already use, including Pokemon Go, YouTube, and Snapchat. Not all the teens used games and social apps however; a few relied on technology only to get school work done and prepare for college. One wanted to write essays as part of the XPs. Another mentioned sketching, mapping, and planning as activities that he found both fun and educational. Many participants mentioned a strong preference for video and photographic content over audio or text-based content. Many wanted to watch videos to learn and prove learning by producing photography. Another large theme that surfaced was the need for social interaction. Teens wanted ways to engage and compete with peers who were also using the platform. Though preferences and technology use differed, overall themes of wanting to learn through games, media, and social experiences emerged.
The teens' ideas for rewards generally fit into two main categories: product-based and future-based. Product-based rewards they expressed interest in included t-shirts, stickers, buttons, coupons for food, and free admission to Balboa Park’s museums. One teen said they'd like to unlock a voucher for Lyft or Uber, providing them with transportation to get to in-person XPs. The second category of rewards that emerged had participants thinking about their continuing education and future careers; teens mentioned opportunities for extra credit, job shadowing, internships, and recommendations for colleges and scholarships. Multiple teens brought up the idea of a tiered reward system, where game-like experiences could lead to some of the simpler, product-based rewards, and more involved tasks such as essays could lead to more complex, career-related rewards. It came across that the ideal incentives to keep teens learning include a healthy range and variety.
Lessons from the focus groups will help the project team as it continues designing, organizing, and implementing The Art and Science of Vision playlist in the new year. While the teens confirmed much of what the project team was thinking, they also challenged assumptions and made the team think about the project in new ways. While the team was initially concerned about implementing show and prove experiences that required a pricey smartphone, teens in the focus groups not only had devices, but the experiences they said work best for them relied on them. Teens' appreciation of multimedia and social learning experiences has the project team focused on ensuring the designed XPs include these things. The project team had thought of many of the same rewards as the teens, but are so far removed from day-to-day school realities like extra credit, that they had missed adding items like this to the reward list. The project team is confident that the conversations with the teens will help BPOC and its partner museums build better, more relevant learning experiences.
Balboa Park Online Collaborative is a DML6 Playlist grant recipient.