New School News

Child’s Play Goes Digital

Educating children with digital technology is only one of the topics being covered at this year’s IDC conference. Photo by Maybelline McCoy.

In two weeks, participants from more than 25 countries will arrive at The New School for a very different kind of conference. The 12th annual conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC 2013), held from June 23 to 27, is neither focused only on innovative youth education nor solely on interactive media—it’s a bit of both. And unlike many conferences, in which attendees engage with the subject matter by sitting and listening, IDC also uses hands-on activities and workshops to help participants co-design and learn.

IDC brings together leading scholars, researchers, educators and designers to explore how to help young people from kindergarten through high school engage, learn and construct their own experiences in an evolving digital realm. Co-organized with Sesame Workshop (the organization behind Sesame Street), the conference was brought to The New School by Nitin Sawhney, an Assistant Professor of media studies at The New School for Public Engagement and conference co-chair. The program consists of research presentations, discussions on technological innovation, and interactive exhibits. Sessions explore designing for children with special needs, making playful learning experiences, and tools that allow children to make their own media, program and collaborate.

To prepare for the IDC, Sawhney enlisted the help of many New School faculty and students, including media studies graduate student Thelma Young, who explains “this conference is focused not only on the tech aspect, but also on children being makers themselves.” Young’s comment is in accordance with IDC’s major goal of developing ways to encourage children to use play and creative activities for learning. “Kids shouldn’t be passive learners,” says Young, “They should have a tinkering mindset to make them more innovative thinkers.” This year’s program places special emphasis on that concept, focusing on the emerging “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) culture now in evidence in early childhood education. The two days leading up to the conference are dedicated to hands-on activities and workshops in which designers, educators and youth themselves will prototype and devise interactive learning experiences.

This is the first time the conference is being held in New York City (having previously been hosted in places like Spain, Germany and Italy), paving the way for involvement from wider communities of interest. This year IDC includes a diverse range of participants from the fields of computer science, communications, child development, engineering, digital media, game design, educational psychology, and the learning sciences. Additionally, the city has allowed a network of partners to join the conference, including Google, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, The New York Hall of Science, and the Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network. Hosting a cutting-edge conference comes naturally to the university, as Young explains: “The New School has a long history of creating new modes of learning. IDC fits right into that.”

Read more about the IDC 2013 conference program or register to participate.

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