edith (at) media.mit.edu


Edith K. Ackermann is a Honorary Professor of Developmental Psychology, at the University of Aix-Marseille 1, France. Currently a Visiting Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Siena, Department of Communication, she teaches graduate students, conducts research, and consults for companies, institutions, and organizations interested in the intersections between learning, teaching, design, and digital technologies. Previously, Ackermann was a Senior Research Scientist at MERL - Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratory, Cambridge, MA; an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media laboratory, in Cambridge, MA; and a Scientific Collaborator at the Centre International d'Epistémologie Génétique, under the direction of Jean Piaget, Geneva. She started her career as a Junior Faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.



Edith K. Ackermann received a Doctor of Developmental Psychology [Com Laude] (1981); two Master's degrees in Developmental Psychology and Clinical Psychology (1970); and a Bachelor of Experimental Psychology degree (1969), all from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. She completed her Post-Graduate/Graduate Studies in the Department of Psychology and Sciences of Education, University of Geneva, Switzerland (1996-70). Title of Doctoral Thesis: "Statut Fonctionnel de la Représentation dans les Conduites Finalisées chez l'Enfant" (Thesis in Psychology. N.107, 1981). Doctoral Thesis Jury: Barbel Inhelder (advisor), Seymour Papert. Pierre Greco, François Bresson.


Interests and expertise

I am interested in the transactions between people, places, and things, and how these transactions evolve over time—as people grow, transit, or settle, and as technologies themselves are changing. Areas of research include: human uses of cultural artifacts as self-orienting devices; lived-in spaces as transitional zones; the “relational” qualities of man-made artifacts, i.e., their abilities to occasion enchanting, amusing, or challenging encounters. Of particular interest in this context are the evocative, transformative, and “holding” powers of artifacts, respectively their potential to bring about meaningful associations, to “let people in”, and to sustain engagement and capture human imagination over time. I pursue these interests in the context of trans-disciplinary research efforts involving human learning in a broad sense: from children’s play to organizational change, from personal growth to group innovation. I explore how digital technologies can support human learning. I study how people themselves shape their world to better their lives. My overall purpose: Help innovative teams of researchers and practitioners bring strategic research to design, and user-centered design to product development; Imagine and design activities, artifacts, and spaces that bring about delight and foster personal and societal growth; Bring users back into the design process.


Recurring research questions

What means do children—and adults—invent for themselves to optimize their transactions with, and understandings of, other people, things, themselves? Under which circumstances are individuals more likely to hold onto their current views, or let go of them? What does it mean to let go of what one knows, or believes? What does it take to change mindsets? What are the differences between knowing and believing, showing and telling, convincing and explaining, inspiring and proving? How do creative individuals balance tradition and innovation, stability and change, safety and risk? In Piaget’s words, how do they "conserve the maximum of what’s acquired, while discovering the maximum of novelty”? What distinguishes creative from inquisitive minds, poetic from scientific quests? In what ways (if any) are today’s children different from the children we were? Do so-called “digital natives” think, learn, and play differently? What’s with their creative knack, literacy skills, and mingling styles? Is there anything to be learned from them? Anything they can get from us? How different are direct and mediated experience? Internalized versus externalized thoughts? How does meaning emerge from, become embodied in, and negotiated through form? Do people engage differently in virtual and physical places? How do they navigate between the two? What are some of the trade-offs between digital, virtual, or physical?


Recent work engagements

Strategic researcher and interaction designer at INVIVIA, Inc.; Content provider and concept designer at LEGO s/a [LEGO Learning Institute, CED, Educational, Concept lab]; User appropriation and trend / lifestyle analysis for various clients, including INVIVIA, LEGO s/a, and Design Continuum, Cambridge, MA.. Ackermann regularly serves as a guest teacher, expert advisor, and reviewer in interactive art and design projects at Harvard Graduate School of Design, MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, and MIT School of Architecture. She acts on the boards of directors of the Altran Foundation for Innovation, France, and Child research Net, Japan, and she participates in different research and educational initiatives, including: Ro-Ballet (MIT Media Lab); E-Wall (MIT); La Piazza / PUENTE (EU-funded projects on intergenerational learning); PIE Institute Workshops (Exploratorium). She recently became a member of Kaleidoscope, a Network of Excellence that brings together European teams in the field of technology-enhanced learning. Most recent work engagements include an “ongoing” advisory role for the Exploratorium Learning Studio’s science, art, and technology program, and participation in PIE worskshops as well as BAI Institute on informal learning.


Consulting Experience

2000-present LEGO, s/a. Learning Institute / CED / Educational / Concept Lab. Billund, DK.

2000-present MIT, Media Laboratory. Future of Learning Goup, Cambridge, MA (contractor).

2004-present INVIVIA. Inc. [cf. www.invivia.com]

2000-2007 MIT, Design technologies: E-Wall. W. Porter, P. Winston, P. Keel

2003-2005 Design Continuum, Boston MA, USA

2003-2004 Create: TV and Film, London, UK 2000 The Learning Co., Fremont, CA.

1999-2000 Technical Educational Research Centers (TERC), Cambridge, MA. Project N. 2470.3. Children and graphs. (P.I.: R. Nemirowsky).

1998-2000 Esprit LTR I3 Experimental School Environments: Project Children inChoros and Chronos: (financing granted for 1,5 years). LCI Consutlant

1995 Broderbund, Novato, California. Design and Evaluation of Interactive Learning Environments, and Electronic Games/Books.

1993-94 Computer Museum, Boston, MA. Project on "Virtual Reality : A Tool for Informal Science Education." Concept Design, Tool-Testing, Visitors Study.

1992-94 Technical Educational Research Centers (TERC), Cambridge, MA. Research Project on Body Motion and graphs. Principal Investigator, R. Nemirowski.

1991-94 LEGO Dacta Co., Billund, DK. Research Collaboration (kids and Lego/logo)

1993 Métamorphoses Claude Benoît, Montréal,CA. . Projet de Muséologie Scientifique pour le Centre d'Accueil du Jardin Botanique, Montréal, CA.

1992 P.R.O.E.M., Ministery of Education, Brazil. Technologies in Special Education (Street Children). with N.I.E.D, Unicamp, Jose Valente, UFRGS,Lea Fagundes.

1989 Fundacion Omar Dengo, San Jose, Costa Rica. Formative Evaluation (IBM) Nationwide Project on Uses of Computers in Elementary Schools (IBM).

1988 Michael Sand, Inc. & Stephen Feber (Museum Director). Concept design for EUREKA! Informal Learning Center for Children. Opened in Halifax, UK 91.

1988 Theta Resources, Inc. (Industrial Design) . Los Gatos, CA.

1987-88 Apple Computer Co., Cupertino, CA. Project ACOT (Apple Classroom of Tomorrow). Formative Evaluation. E & L Group. M.I.T. Media Laboratory.

1986-87 Formative Evaluation, Lego/Logo in Elementary Schools. Contracted by Microwords, Inc. & LEGO Co.


Awards, Honors

2008-2009 Osher Fellow, Explorium Science Museum, San Francisco, California.

2006 Honorary Professor, Université de Provence (Aix-Marseille 1) France.

1987-1994 First Recipient of Fukutake Career Development Chair as Professor of Research in Education. Chair Established by Fukutake Publishing Co., Ltd. of Japan.

1989-1990 Sigma Xi National Lecturer, 1989-90.


Patents, Inventions

2006-2007 De los Reyes, S. Chandley, A. Henderson, P, Sayegh, A., Ackermann, E. Techniques for use with a clendar and messaging component. MS Dicket 318008.01. December 2006 / January 2007.

2006 De los Reyes, A. Henderson, P, McGrath, S. Chandley, A, Sayegh, A., Ackermann, E. Application switching via touch screen interface. Patent application. MS docket: 316100.01. July 2006.

2000-2002 Ackermann, E., Strohecker, C., and Agarwala, A. Systems and methods for constructive-dialogic learning. Filed 23 December 1997; issued 22 August 2000 [MERL #1133, US #6,106,299]; Continuation filed 8 February 1999; issued 15 October 2002 [MERL #1203, US #6,464,501]

2001 Bromley, D., Strohecker, C., Ackermann, E., Marks, J., Gibson, S., and Shen, C. Computerized Experience Journal for sharing personal stories about an illness. Filed 22 June 1998; issued 3 April 2001 [Children's Hospital, Boston / MERL #1180, US #6,211,876]