Inventor Leah Buechley talks equity in education | The Triangle

Inventor Leah Buechley talks equity in education

Photograph courtesy of the ExCITe Center
Photograph courtesy of the ExCITe Center

Leah Buechley,the third speaker in the ExCITe Center’s Learning Innovation Conversation series, spoke about equity, engagement and technology in education at the Bossone Research Center May 23.

Buechley is a designer, engineer, educator and the inventor of the LilyPad Arduino toolkit. This kit allows people to create wearable technology. She was also an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

“I worked in the space just as a designer, kind of playing around with what was possible and I found it a really compelling, exciting, interesting space,” Buechley said. “And my next impulse was that I wanted more people to have the creative, expressive engineering experiences that I was having so I thought that I should design a toolkit.”

Since the release of the LilyPad Arduino toolkit in 2007, Buechley has worked with students ranging from middle schoolers to college students. She helps them create projects using her invention. During the presentation, she even showed a video of the projects.

In addition to the toolkit, Buechley discussed the topic of equity in education. She explained the pros and cons of public versus private schooling. The audience was shown three options: a public school, a private school and a charter school.

She made a reference to an article in the New York Times written by Nikole Hannah-Jones called “Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City.” She used the piece to draw a comparison between this New York school system and the school system in Texas, where she lives.

“Nikole Hannah-Jones closed her piece by just reflecting on the structure of the educational system in New York City, which certainly mirrors my experience with the structure of the public education system in my city. We have a system where these spectacular disparities exist, and the existence of these spectacular disparities makes doing the right thing feel like the hardest thing to do,” Buechley said.

After the LilyPad Arduino toolkit had been out for a few years, Buechley researched the intersection of fashion and engineering. She shared the results of her study with the audience.

“We found that in the traditional electronics community, about 2 percent of products in general were done by women and in the LilyPad Arduino community a majority of the products, about 65 percent more, were done by women,” Buechley said.

Learning Innovation’s conversation with Leah Buechley concluded with a moderated conversation with the Youngmoo Kim, director of the ExCITe Center. Although Buechley was the final speaker in the conversation series for this term, the conversation series will continue in the fall.