Thoughts on Open Hardware Education

I really like my outside of work projects. Since I've started trying to always have an outside of work tech project, it's mostly been data or data visualization based projects, but recently I've been into open hardware. It's been incredibly rewarding - the field has enough people in it to be interesting, but there's a lot of room where you're sort of on your own, trying to figure out what will work and what won't. As I've been learning and speaking about open hardware, I've been wondering what are some ideas to help make open hardware more approachable.

My main thought is this: Wearable technology will help Arduino-based education more than people think.

In any kind of craft you try to learn, you need to have moments where you have something you can take pride in very early, and those moments should keep coming. I still remember my first lopsided rectangle that was the indication I was on the right path to learning how to knit. I remember my first Arduino-driven blinking LED, too. But with Arduino education, there's this big skill jump between your introductory projects to get you used to LEDs and different sensors, to a finished project you can really show off and take pride in.

Wearable tech tutorials are bridging this gap, but I don't think enough people are paying attention, and I don't think that there's something that can help someone who really wants to tinker. There are so many great tutorials that incorporate arduinos into an object that people could have in their houses or wear on themselves and show off - give the learner the moment that I have with knitting when someone was like "I like your scarf" and I could reply "thanks, I made it."

The best example I can think of a technology doing this is Minecraft. From your first hollowed out hillside to your grand palace to this secret, beautiful place that you discover - you find things to be excited about accomplishing as you learn more about the game.

Things like littleBits help. I think the MaKey MaKey does the best job of capturing that independent expirmentation. There are also robotics groups in schools like FIRST robotics and groups using LEGO Mindstorms. But capturing the sense of expirmentation implicit in just playing with something - there's more that we can be doing here. (The best video talking about this is Bret Victor's talk Inventing on Principle)

The big thing with all of this stuff is price. Wearable technology can be affordably priced if you don't mind buying from China. (My advice for this when people ask me - buy one official piece and the rest from China. Don't let the worry about ruining something expensive stop you from experimenting)

Right now I'm kind of feeling both like I'm burnt out on hardware and want to do a programming project again and thinking about what I would design for this need. It's a good problem to have :)