Even though “technology” is in our name, we aren’t always on the cutting edge of new tech innovations.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I only recently learned about augmented reality at one of Community Tech Network’s monthly Brag & Borrow networking meetings. Last fall, the San Francisco Public Library organized a tech fair for young people, and one of the tools they showcased was Elements4D. It’s an augmented reality app that allows students to explore chemical elements in a fun way while learning about real-life chemistry.
I was reintroduced to augmented reality last month when Maggie Buxton stopped by our office. An educator, researcher, and consultant, Maggie was visiting from New Zealand on a Fulbright Award to speak at a local conference. She works in South Auckland with the elderly and with Maori and Pacifica youth building digital literacy and fostering place connection. She wanted to share stories and hear about our work helping seniors improve their digital literacy skills.
Her work with seniors is very different from ours. Instead of using the usual tools like Facebook, email, and YouTube to get seniors excited about technology, Maggie showcases new, emerging tech. She brings creativity to the work and involves the seniors as partners.
We see our work with seniors as partnerships — we often try out ideas with them first (with their permission) and then bring this work to other audiences. If it doesn’t pass muster with them, it often won’t get delivered to other groups. Seniors are great people to creatively brainstorm with as they have such a wealth of experience and often an incredibly wide range of skills and backgrounds all gathered in once place. It’s a pity that creative technologists don’t work with the elderly more often.
One of the projects she shared with us is an augmented reality app called AwhiFlora that she and her partner created. The app brings specially designed “markers” inspired by New Zealand native flower seeds, to life. When viewed through the camera of a smartphone or tablet, the flower seeds jump out as a 3D animated flower. The seniors used the seeds in their art projects.
What inspired me most about the work that Maggie and Kim were doing is making the technology fun. Interacting with it in this way is infectious! I hope that we can do something similar with our senior centers this year. You can find out more information about Maggie Buxton at AwhiWorld and her partner Kim Newall at Wired Visual.