The focus of my project has changed a bit in the last several months. I’m now working on a physical computing kit specifically for senior citizens. Although I’ll probably write a separate post about why I made this change, I will say that there are some really interesting studies on technology and participatory design with older adults, but nearly all of them express the need for more studies and research done with this community.
So far, I haven’t found a single paper on introducing older folks to basic physical computing as a form of lifelong learning. I’m venturing into new territory!
The basic idea is that people who are used to, literally, doing things “by hand” (especially hand crafts or hobby projects) will be better able to understand computing basics through making physical programmable objects, as opposed to interactions that are only screen-and-software-based. Physical computing is a really great blend of creative expression and ingenuity and problem solving and practical application. It might make more sense to people than Facebook does. While I wouldn’t expect every senior to start building robots, I do believe that a construction kit would appeal to people who like making things, but simply aren’t interested in using only a screen and a mouse.
I’m making a kit that can be used in a group setting or by an individual. The goal is to produce a self-monitoring system to use with a potted plant, using a moisture sensor as an input and an LED as an output. From there, the project can get more complex, with materials and ideas for expansion.
Why gardening? There are already many well-documented Arduino-gardening projects, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. I just need to simplify a project to its basic elements. Working with plants scales well. You can use a single potted plant, or adapt a design to multiple plants or a garden. Plants and pots are relatively inexpensive and even people who aren’t avid gardeners can participate. Essentially, the simple gardening device is a platform for exploratory learning. I think this setup is flexible enough to incorporate some soft circuits if necessary.
I’m testing out some soil moisture sensors now and working on the modifications that should make the kit user-friendly for folks who might struggle with the tiny components in most Arduino kits.
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