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Children, Creativity and Computers

Alison Druin

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Recently I had the pleasure of being introduced to a fourth grade class in a local elementary school. My introduction was by a fourth-grade student that I had worked with in the past. She said, "This is Allison. She likes computers a lot. She mostly uses them with kids like us. She asks a lot of questions, but she has fun stuff for us to try."

Today Steven Pemberton asked me to introduce myself and the column I will be starting for the SIGCHI Bulletin. Since the words of my fourth-grade friend were as good an introduction as I've had in a long time, I'll move on to introducing the column.

Beginning with this issue of the SIGCHI Bulletin, there will be a column called Computers and Kids. Each issue will focus on a topic of interest in this area of children and technology. Such questions as the following will be discussed:

Why should people want to design new technologies for kids?

As HCI designers, are there compelling reasons to focus our energies on designing interfaces for new children's technologies? Can what we design for children support new creative ways of thinking about adult interfaces? Is this an area of design that will help us better understand the needs of technology users in the future?

What research is going on in this area of kids and HCI?

Are there exciting new research projects that can change the way we think about kids and computers? Where do HCI researchers focused on kids and computers come from (geographically, educationally, intellectually)?

What do kids think about in terms of the technology they use today?

What do kids particularly like about what they use? What bothers or frustrates them about the technologies they use? What kinds of activities do kids want to do with the technologies they have access to today?

What would kids like to see in future technologies?

How do kids want to change what they are currently using in terms of technology? What possibilities to they see in the future? What limitations do they want to overcome?

What are some innovative ways technology is being used with kids in classrooms and in homes around the world?

Given the numerous technological options available today, how are they changing how children learn? How are they changing how children play at home? How are they changing the way children see themselves in their world?

How is it different to design technologies for kids than adults?

What design methodologies are different when creating interfaces for children? What does usability testing mean for children's interfaces? What HCI skills may be needed that are different when designing for children?

How can we bring kids into the design process?

How and where can children contribute their ideas, thoughts, and experiences in the design of new interfaces for children? Are there collaboration techniques that can be used to support intergenerational communication?

From time to time, I will be asking kids themselves to help me write this column. I've found over the years that kids have a great deal to say about the world in which they live. It is wonderful to listen to them, because I believe that they are not just another voice with another idea. I believe we are listening to our next generation of technology users; and these users will be supported by technology even more in the future to learn, to work, and to play. We really need to hear what they are telling us. I believe if we listen hard, we might understand a little bit more about the future. It may not always be what we expect. And it may not always be what we understand. But our kids offer us a challenge; one that may be no greater or rewarding to us as HCI designers of the future.

As new technologies become more common in our everyday lives, a greater number of us in the HCI community will be called upon to design new technologies for kids. In addition, a greater number of us may be called upon to use these technologies with kids in our homes or in our schools. With this in mind, it is my hope that this column will serve as a place to question, consider, and introduce new ideas and approaches to designing new technologies for kids. If you or your kids have any suggestions for future areas of discussion, please feel free to email me. Also please feel free to share this column with your kids when you find it appropriate to do so. They too may be interested in what computers and kids may be all about.

Allison Druin
allisond@unm.edu
http://www.cs.unm.edu/~allisond/

Allison Druin is the founder of the CHIkids Program, and CHIkids Chair for CHI 97. She is co-author of the recent John Wiley book, Designing Multimedia Environments for Children and a researcher at the University of New Mexico. She has been developing educational technology environments for children for over 10 years.

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