As a renowned educational researcher and developmental psychologist Edith Ackermann has spent decades chipping away at timeless questions about how people learn: How do we process information? How do we channel creativity? How do young children construct their realities? The big questions embodied in her work are doubly relevant today as emerging technologies take learners of all ages deeper into the digital realm.
For her enduring contributions -- and her own intense curiosity about all aspects of learning -- Ackermann is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award given at the recent FabLearn Conference at Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Conference co-chair and FabLearn program founder Paulo Blikstein, a Stanford assistant professor, called Ackermann "an intellectual giant at the intersection of developmental psychology, play, learning and digital technologies" whose research in the field of education has had immeasurable influence on her peers. Blikstein, announcing the inaugural award to the conference, said:
"We initiated this award to recognize one person in the community who has made outstanding contributions in research and design. We convened and discussed who that first recipient should be. Someone with unparalleled intellectual gravitas who at the same time embodies our most precious ideals. It wasn't really a hard choice. "
Ackermann's work has spanned all aspects of education, from children's play to group innovation. Along with other visionaries of the constructivist school such as Seymour Papert, she recognized early on the potential of digital technologies to help educators build better learning spaces in which learners construct their own inventions and creative products—a precursor of what would much later become one of the cornerstones of the maker movement.
Ackermann, who received her doctorate in developmental psychology from University of Geneva, began her career in that institution's department of psychology. Early in her career she conducted research at the Centre International d'Epistémologie Génétique in Geneva, where she worked with the renowned Jean Piaget.
She was a longtime associate professor of media arts and sciences in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her current academic affiliations include visiting scientist at the MIT School of Architecture and visiting professor at the University of Siena, Italy.
Her philosophy toward building the next generation of environments and tools for play and learning may best be summed up in a passage from her MIT web site: "Two lessons I have learned: When it comes to learning and creative uses of technologies, children have more to teach adults than adults to children! When it comes to innovating for others, don’t guess what they want or do what they say: co-create what they -- and you -- will love once it is there!"
FabLearn international conferences bring together leaders in the fields of education, public policy, academia, design and research to discuss the latest developments in hands-on learning. Archived sessions of the Stanford conference from October, including Ackermann's keynote address, can be viewed at http://fablearn.org/conferences/stanford2016.