For this second to last blog in the Discovery Lab series, I’d like to talk about where the Labs are now, and their future for Explora

Currently all of our ExploraConnect Discovery Labs are still in the field, and are still collecting data. This speaks to the sustainability of this type of project, that it can remain in the hands of the communities it was meant to serve even after the life of the project is over. Unfortunately we did have to collect one piece: The Hotspots.

This was bitter-sweet but after some time in the field it seems like the Hotspots were not very useful. Our lab administrators experimented with taking these hotspots with them to other locations to provide internet for their organizations to put on programming (which is a very good use of the Hotspot) only to have the signal be either completely unreliable in areas where it should have been strong (frequent in the hilly terrain of New Mexico) or to have it be absent altogether.

I do want to talk about what use I found with the labs, and how the administrators have been using them up until this last week of the pilot. After dropping the devices off in Shiprock we committed to remaining in contact with the Lab Administrators there, Nia Allen and Samanthi Hewakaupge. This included frequent emails, reviewing the lending form, troubleshooting phone calls (during the winter break no less) but also most importantly a lab check in every two weeks. For a more long term sustainable lab this frequency could be toned down quite a bit but for this pilot I felt it absolutely necessary to check in as often as possible.

These check in’s allowed me to talk face to face with both the borrowers and the lenders of the kits and get valuable insight as to how they were being used but much more importantly it allowed me the opportunity to play with Makey Makey’s with Girl Scouts! Each visit had a rhythm: first I would talk with the Library Staff and provide any troubleshooting or support I could. Often I would pull up a desk and complete my tasks right then and there. Then I would rent any spare computers that the library had for the upcoming Girl Scout event. Once Nia Allen arrived with her computers and Makey Makey’s I would complete the setup and we would have some fun learning about digital literacy, online safety or writing simple code on Scratch to power a Makey Makey wind chime or our own custom instruments.

Having a Discovery Lab in the field made outreaches to Shiprock scary easy. They provided three things all at once: Available material preloaded with educational scaffolding, up to date and engaged community partners willing and able to help put on programming, and a ready made audience for us to target specific lessons. This is a dream combination! Not to mention when I left, I didn’t’ have to take the devices with me, no no, I gave them to the same people we had just trained to use them.  

For my last blog I’ll be building on these ideas and talking about some ideas we have to keep using this model in the future.