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Elementary students take part in “participatory design” of digital learning activities. (UW iSchool Image)

The Seattle Public Library and University of Washington Information School will work together to teach other libraries how to create kid-friendly digital learning projects — in which the kids are part of the activity design process.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which provides federal support for libraries and museums, has awarded a $353,071 grant that will allow SPL and the UW iSchool to pursue inter-generational “participatory design.” It’s the kind of design, SPL says, that earlier led kids to help its staff develop a program in which BB-8 robots compete in a sumo wrestling-style tournament.

Over the next three years, the grant will support creating digital learning activities with children ages 7-11 in three SPL locations, growing to rural libraries in Washington, and finally increasing to a national scope by partnering with libraries in the San Diego area.

It’s not that UW and SPL staff will be permanently assisting other libraries. The grant proposal cites the importance of training teen volunteers, “to ensure that our framework can also work in public libraries that may not have direct access to university resources and students.”

How the UW iSchool and SPL envision the growth of the co-design work. (IMLS Proposal)

Ultimately, the intent is to have a participatory design approach for new kids’ digital learning programs that works for libraries across the U.S. using materials, workshops and seminars that come out of the grant, and to have digital learning programs designed by one library’s team of kids available to all related libraries taking part.

The IMLS-funded work builds on the existing activities of KidsTeam UW, an initiative at the UW that comes up with new technologies for children, with children, and which inspired a KidsTeam SPL.

“Kids really benefit from participating in this program — they get to design their own learning, and see their ideas come to life,” said Juan Rubio, SPL’s digital media and learning program manager in the grant announcement. “Not only does this build social confidence and communication skills, but it’s a rare opportunity for kids to have their voices heard while they work side-by-side as equals with adults.”

The UW iSchool and SPL will work with the San Diego Public Library and the School of Education at California State University, San Marcos, as part of the grant project.

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