I am honored to have been appointed in 2018 as the new chair of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development. Although I have been a professor at Eliot-Pearson since 2001, my own doctoral training is not as a developmentalist, but as a designer of technologies for children. My doctoral mentor at the MIT Media Lab, Seymour Papert, was a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence and back in the late 60's developed the first programming language for children, LOGO. He was passionate about making machines to help children think better, as opposed to machines that think on their own. Thus, he spent time in Geneva, working with Jean Piaget. Seymour was adamant about changing the world through his work. He wanted to go beyond observing and describing. He wanted to intervene: to design new learning experiences. And that is what I learned from him.
As a designer, my goal is to lead our department into the 21st century by creating new opportunities for doing research and applied work that is both scholarly and meaningful. We need to ask questions that are relevant for understanding the developing child and adolescent of today's world, given their changing families, neighborhoods, and institutions, as well as the rapidly changing social and cultural contexts driven by new technologies and complex societies. As we start to understand what is needed, we can go on to designing -- from new interventions to new policies that will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of children, adolescents, and families around the world.
Our department, with its interdisciplinary and applied research focus, is well positioned to tackle some of these challenges. With the establishment of the Eliot-Pearson Children's School (EPCS) and the Department of Child Studies, our department grew in the 60's to have one of the nation's first research-based early childhood lab schools. From its beginnings, the department focused on the integration of research and practice and built a national and international reputation around its lab school. The lab school served as a place to experiment, train, and demo best practices associated with educating young children.
Building on this reputation, I am proud to share with you that the department will focus on the core theme of "Child Development in the 21st Century." This involves an expanded vision of the children's school, our lab school, to become a "childhood hub" for interdisciplinary technological innovation around learning and development. The goal is to provide an applied research environment that leverages the historic opportunity for change brought about by new technologies to improve the lives of children around the world. New technologies transform how children live, learn, and play. Research and educational programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, will be unified by a core mission with:
- a developmental approach: to rethink the nature of childhood and adolescence in the 21st century and the roles that children, adolescents, families, and caretakers, as well as the media, play in these complex, multi-cultural digital societies
- a global approach: to meet the needs of all children and adolescents around the world
- a design approach: to conceive new technologies, programs and policies to change children's and adolescents' lives
I know that while we cannot solve the world's major challenges– world peace, healthy lives, economic development, innovative education and global sustainability– we can engage in meaningful research and applied work to provide new opportunities for the children, adolescents, and families of today and tomorrow. I invite you to join me in this new and exciting journey at Eliot-Pearson.
Marina Umaschi Bers
Professor & Chair