Some challenges for 2+ years of collaborative research...

  • Posted on: 22 April 2015
  • By: lmari

Around the table of our multidisciplinary research group we are convinced that Digital Do It Yourself (we call it “DiDIY” for short, and this is also the name of our Project) is not only an interesting phenomenon to study but also a social opportunity to reshape ways to active citizenship.

In a sense, DIY, with or without digital tools, is just a back-to-the-roots phenomenon: children spontaneously play by manipulating things, and this spontaneity – both in playing and in doing – is a plausible mark of an evolutionary strategy of effective learning. Each of us is a Homo Sapiens, hence hopefully a knowledgeable person, because she/he is also a Homo Ludens (a “player”), as Johan Huizinga argued, and a Homo Faber (a “maker”), as Hannah Arendt argued.



Isn’t it amazing then that formal learning processes are sometimes, implicitly but cogently, based on “don’t play! (this is a serious thing)” and “don’t make! (just repeat, this is what is expected from you)” principles? And should we be then surprised of the relative poor effectiveness of such processes?

The target of functional literacy is socially significant, because far from being widely reached, and the more specific one of scientific literacy might be even be considered a backgrounder for our Project. According to the PISA 2015 terminology, scientific knowledge, the object of scientific literacy, is a combination of content knowledge, procedural knowledge, and epistemic knowledge: and while the knowledge of contents might be even derived by passive learning (but is it really plausible? would it be knowledge or just more or less transient information?), procedures and methods are knowable by experimentation. Exactly what DiDIYers are expert of.

In synthesis, DiDIY, in its complementary perspectives of a subjective mindset and an objective activity, is much more than an individual hobby: it may be intended as a potentially powerful enabler of human-centric learning systems, in which value of self-actualization (à la Maslow) through the solution of concrete problems, individual motivations and responsibility, creativity, reputation and social relationships, sustainability, ethical fairness, ... are pivotal.

But can our society (including its economy, its school system, etc) afford such a breakthrough scenario? Isn’t it still too tied to the “principles of scientific management” which shaped decades of mass production, and in which reliability is more valuable than creativity, production costs are more important than environmental costs, and craftsmanship is only for niche, luxury markets?

The one triggered by the widespread availability of digital fabrication tools, such as 3D printers and Arduino boards, has been called a new industrial revolution. We do not know, of course, whether this is going to be a revolution, an evolution, or whatever else. But we believe that DiDIYers are witnesses of new paradigms. The ambition of our Project is to better understand them and, hopefully, from this understanding to provide useful perspectives to social and political decision makers. By quoting the proposal we submitted, “the Project has the twofold objective:

  • to establish a conceptual framework that will enable the analysis, exploration and understanding of the impact of DIY in a human-centric digital age;
  • to produce well-founded transferable information, models and guidelines to support both education and policy making on DiDIY as it is forming, intended as an ongoing phenomenon that, while enabled by technology, should be driven and shaped by social and cultural strategies, not technology.”

The next 2+ years of collaborative research promise to be challenging...