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Automate for Whom?

Automate for Whom?

I have been working at a large public R1 university long enough – 4 years – to witness steady changes with technology installed in public restrooms.

Below is a newly installed automatic paper towel dispenser in our office building. As someone who tends to use 1 paper towel, I was very frustrated by the design that doesn’t keep me – a user – in the loop and forces me to use that much paper.

Below is a picture of a fancy hand wash station I saw during last week’s conference travel. It neatly integrates a soap dispenser, a water tap, and a hand dryer together. There are at least three sensors built in this integrated system. It’s probably based on a zero-paper consumption philosophy, and has fundamentally transformed one’s hand-washing process.

I started to wonder: Whom does automation – and an integrated automation system – serve? Whom did the designers have in mind when designing these products? And finally, what lessons we can learn as designers of learning systems (or using a new fancy title, as learning engineers)?

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Bodong Chen
Associate Professor of Learning Technologies

Associate Professor in learning technologies at the University of Minnesota.