George Lucas Educational Foundation

Kids and Adults Design New Tech Tools

At the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab, Kidsteam pairs students with researchers, who then work together to design new technologies for children.
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Narrator: At the University of Maryland's Human Computer Interaction Lab, design teams meet twice a week at four PM to devise new technologies for young people. And half the designers are kids ages seven through eleven.

Dana: How much do you need?

Child 1: Two popsicle sticks, yeah. That's good.

Child 2: Where there's a clock and it tells you the time of the other place so you--

Mona Leigh Guha: The kids are our design partners. We work with them in an equal partnership where they're helping us to design technology for children.

Child 3: There could be like a place where could like click on that, and then like send them like the money to the website.

Mona Leigh Guha: So we have a give a gift section.

That's cool. I like that.

They absolutely have as many good ideas as the big people do. The children are experts in being children and even though we were all children once, we weren't children in 2009.

The children oftentimes have ideas that surprise us. They'll open up avenues we hadn't thought about.

Man 1: We'll need to make that adjustable so we can see through both of them.

Child 4: Yeah.

Mona Leigh Guha: And it's really a process of idea elaboration, where the kids might come out with an idea, an adult comes out with an idea, and we find that working together, we go back and forth and end up with these great big ideas that are much bigger and better than we could've ever made on our own.

Man 2: What do think about this keyboard? Can you type an actually sentence on it?

Dana: It's way too small.

Man 2: What do you think would be ideal for you?

Dana: Slide it out.

Man 2: All right, try this one.

Narrator: Members of the kids team design group are recruited from local Maryland elementary schools.

Dana: Oh, cool.

Narrator: They help design kid friendly gadgets and websites for clients that include Fortune five hundred companies and nonprofit organizations.

Child 1: We work with mostly is National Park Service a lot. Some of their games on their website are sorta cheesy, so we are the people who like fix it up and stuff.

Narrator: Today's challenge is to evaluate and improve upon the website of a nonprofit organization called People in Need.

Allison Druin: This is a project about connecting people from here that have resources to people in need in Haiti.

How many people know where Haiti is?

Child 1: But why Haiti?

Allison Druin: Why Haiti?

Dana: So these are all different people in need in Haiti. And so you can click on one of these families. It says, "Learn more. Help this family.

Dana's partnership with Judeline." So I can read you her letter. It says, "The pleasure is mine to drop you a line."

Allison Druin: Does she actually speak in English?

Dana: No, she speaks in Creole.

I type them and then people in Haiti translate it into Creole.

Child 1: I thought they didn't have electricity in Haiti.

Child 5: Yeah, they don't have electricity.

Mona Leigh Guha: Corresponding with her how you back and forth like that, that's kinda the way it's set up for you to do it.

Child 5: Yeah.

Narrator: After an initial discussion, the brainstorming begins in earnest as the group breaks into small design teams.

Man 3: All right, go for it.

Woman 1: Nadia and Sasha are right.

Allison Druin: Actually, the favorite of all of our children is what the kids call bags of stuff, but the adults call low tech prototyping.

Mona Leigh Guha: Now what do we need the microphone for?

Child 6: You can also do like a video chat.

Allison Druin: So a kid might have an idea, and then you may say, "Yeah, that's a really great idea, but you know, if we make it green, then we could do this." And then I might say, "Hey, if it's green, polka dotted and furry, can you imagine?" and we go from there. And you're not sure whose idea it was eventually, but it's amazing.

Man 3: So we have to present and show.

Child 7: Oh.

Man 3: Share, 'cause everybody wants to see what everybody else built.

Mona Leigh Guha: There are places where people design partner with children in school. However, we find that in schools, a lot of times, kids are predisposed to be a part of that adult child power dynamic, that kind of always exists in a school in American culture, for good reason. You know, you have one teacher and twenty students. So when you go into schools a lotta times, you find that the power dynamic will carry over and the kids aren't as free with their ideas.

Child 8: And when it goes to her, it would be all translated into whatever language they speak.

Allison Druin: Once each of the groups has their low tech prototypes, we come back together and we take a look at each of the prototypes. Each of the groups presents their ideas.

Child 9: It's like an iPod. You press play. It's supposed to be right there.

Child 10: And this is a map of where your partner lives.

Allison Druin: Wow, so you wanna do it totally on mobile phones?

Child 10: Yeah.

Allison Druin: Okay.

And then the leader will be writing what we call the big ideas, and those big ideas, again, is almost a frequency analysis of the kinds of ideas that are coming out of an existing sessions. And it's very exciting.

-- actually only had--

You come up with some wonderful design directions.

Dana: -- it popped up like that.

Child 11: This is if you wanna make a video to your partner, you can just put the camera on your computer and then you can do the video.

Man 1: So streamlining the video taking process.

Allison Druin: Good work.

All right [applause].

Allison Druin: Okay. Well done, folks. Thank you very much.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer

  • Lauren Rosenfeld


  • Steve Jensen

Camera Crew

  • Brian Buckley
  • Brett Wiley
  • James Pride
  • Ken Ellis

Production Support

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely


  • Michael Pritchard

Senior Video Editor

  • Karen Sutherland

Discussion Questions

1. At Kidsteam, kids and researchers are design partners. How can you apply this idea in your school, home, or community?

2. What do you think kids get out of the Kidsteam project? How do the adults benefit?

3. Kidsteam is a collaboration between higher education, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. What are some examples of similar collaborations in your community?

4. What are some specific ways you could collaborate with partners in the future?

5. Does the power dynamic of the classroom inhibit innovation and free thinking?

Comments (2) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

leticia willcockson's picture

How can your child participate in the partnership between children and Marylands Human Computer Interaction Design team? My child is a high functioning LD student in Honors Algebra, Homors English, Honors Drams and Honors Science. She is a gifted writer from a creative perspective. She has a beautiful, unigue turn of phrase and can see a story from beginning to end. she is a passionate writer but has difficulties because when she hand writes her spelling and sometimes words look messed up. She also is really good with math and loves science but once again can get word problems mixed up. She was found to be gifted and talented in 1st grade but around age 9 started having trouble with hand coordination and spelling in the written form. We were told she had a latent learning disability that sometimes does not surface til ages 9-13. She has tried to learn to compensate but still we have had difficulties finding assistaive technologies. Because she is honor role she does not qualify for learning assistance that you could normally get through an IEP. Yet she really really struglles and her talent is often obscured by the lack of technology that can allow her to communicate well in a written form.

Please contact me and let me know if there is some way we can participate in your prgram. She is very goal oriented and would be a great student for you to work with in a research team setting. I can be reached at 703-302-9637 or by email at My daughter is age 14 and is in middle school.
Thank you,
Leticia Willcockson

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