In Introduction to Physical Computing students have to re-think what a computer is from the ground up. They start with a $3 computer the size of a postage stamp, and get it to sense light, sound, and movement, or to turn on motors and lights. This unlocks all sorts of thinking about what computing is and where is can be applied. All areas of our curriculum benefit as students look past the standard view of a computer as a monitor, keyboard and mouse and learn to think about computer interaction as something that begins with human action.
The curriculum of physical computing has now spread around the world. Tom Igoe is currently working with researchers in Italy and Sweden to put together a set of tools to make the pedagogical benefits of physical available to educators with fewer resources than NYU. The goal of this project is to make good software tools for physical computing free, and the hardware tools as cheaply reproducible as possible.
Tools are only part of the equation. There are many excellent teachers around the world teaching physical computing now. Many methods for teaching physical computing don’t get shared because teachers aren’t aware of each other’s work, or haven’t got time to document their own work in such a way that others can borrow from it. with a long track record in this field, ITP can serve as a crossroads for others teaching this way, helping to gather and document best practices. Through joint projects like this, and though informal workshops with other teachers, schools, and companies, we hope to help this method of teaching technology and interaction design mature and spread.