Coding New Tools for Care, Inclusion and Expression

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Course Description

In this class we will explore opportunities for tailoring new technologies to accommodate the wide diversity of human ways of being in the world. We will explore simple strategies for enhancing human capacities for movement, perception, communication, creative expression, and resilient responses to challenging environments. This course will focus on learning to program easy-to-use, accessible, and wearable electronics -- with simple visual/light, sound, and motor input and output. Students will form small teams in order to quickly test new ideas, share them, and provide classmates with encouragement and collaborative feedback.

In this course, we will work in teams to design tools that provide people with new ‘superpowers’ -- enhanced abilities for perception, expression, and movement. Our ideation space will be broad and wide-ranging, but our specific toolkit will be focused on the subset of challenges and enhancements that require some coding and electronics: a core goal of the course is for students to learn basic programming and robotics by collaboratively building simple devices that help people to thrive.

Each student team will complete a full ‘user-centered’ design cycle: interviewing people in order to assess their needs and capturing their ideas; building a series of prototype designs in an iterative co-design process; and producing a narrative reflection on what was learned, what was surprising, key design decisions they made, and possible next steps. Reflections will be recorded via a variety of media (sketches, images, video, audio), and electronics designs and code will be documented well enough that it can easily be reproduced by other class participants, modeling a ‘create / share / modify / share back’ process of open, collaborative, peer design.

The coding for the course will be done in Python -- a programming language with a relatively short learning curve, and is very widely used in science, data analysis, language parsing, industry, and artistic production. In addition to any other materials they find interesting or useful, students will be asked to incorporate a microcontroller (a simple, inexpensive computer, provided by the instructor) into their final design. This microcontroller -- introduced at the beginning of the course -- provides access to wide range of features that may be useful: multiple, multi-color LEDs; sound input; sound output; motion tracking; switches and buttons; proximity sensors; infrared communication; datalogging; capacitive touch sensors; and the ability to be connected to conductive thread to create ‘wearable computing’ solutions.

The technological skills and design processes learned by students in this course are intended to be useful for a broad range of career paths, including industrial design, computer science, environmental research, biomedical research, as well as developing new tools for psychology research, or artistic expression.

The instructor for the course is a former Research Affiliate at the MIT Media Lab, has a background in physics, robotics, and environmental science, and has recently been working to develop accessible electronic tools for small-holding farmers.

This class is intended to impart, in a team-learning context, a collection of entry-level coding skills; a basic understanding of various types of electronics (sensors, actuators, microcontrollers); and a guided practice of user-centered co-design. The technologies used, and the iterative prototyping process followed in class, might find application in a wide array of contexts -- including industrial design; the creation of novel research equipment in the life sciences; the development of assistive technologies for the elderly; or novel means of artistic expression. Some of these potential applications may be discussed in the course.

Prerequisites: No prior experience in coding or electronics is assumed. Note that in order to accomplish the course goals within the allotted schedule, the pace of learning will be somewhat accelerated. The team-based learning process followed in the course is designed to provide all students with ample, collaborative assistance (from the instructor, and from peers) in learning coding and electronics.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CECS0913
  • Length: 2 weeks
  • Supplemental Fee: $50

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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