Interview with Justin Sabo, co-founder of Digital Dream Labs

Interview with Justin Sabo, co-founder of Digital Dream Labs

Because many of my students are highly motivated by technology, I am alway seeking meaningful ways to integrate it into my teaching. But meaningful interactions with technology can sometimes be difficult to find. This is why I was especially excited to discover cloudBoard. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak with Justin Sabo, who co-founded Digital Dream Labs with Matt Stewart and Peter Kinney. Sabo says, “The question at Digital Dream Labs we often ponder is this: isn’t hands-on learning more human?”

To start, can you just briefly describe what cloudBoard is?  cloudboard3

cloudBoard is hardware that allows anyone to play videogames using toy tiles.  The positions of the tiles relative to one another has a direct impact on the gameplay, which is the key ingredient in the cloudBoard experience.

The aspect of cloudBoard that I am most excited about in terms of using it with learners with autism is that it opens up social opportunities that are frequently unavailable through games on devices. Can you tell me what the social aspect looks like when you’re testing the game with children? 

When testing with multiple children at once, we have noticed that there are a few play patterns that emerge. The optimal is two children playing at once–one child on the cloudBoard and the other on the tablet/computer. This works very well because both children are cooperating face-to-face (often hard to find in iPad games) and they each play asymmetrically, meaning their individual experience could be more about dexterity (tapping through the videogame) or more hands-on (ordering the puzzle blocks) but either way, both players must communicate and work together to get a working solution. Of course, we could add more pairs of players on more cloudBoards and connect them to all play on the same tablet, but I’ve said too much…

cloudboard1When we spoke previously you mentioned that a benefit of using cloudBoard is that it has a lower barrier of entry than many other apps. What impact does this have on allowing parents and other adults to engage in the game with the child?

We’ve had grandmothers and their grandchildren come up to test cloudBoard and be playing within 1 minute. We’ve also spent a lot of time on the tutorial, which gives parents and children a good understanding of the gameplay and general interactions–both with toy tiles and within the videogame itself. Technology can be intimidating , especially with a new type of interaction, so we tried making this as easy to interact with as possible. And toy tiles (puzzle pieces) are something everyone understands from a very early age, so this helps gives everyone a familiarity with the interaction before they pick up the first tile.

Many parents are concerned about the amount of hours spent on screen-time. How have you worked to change to the experience of using technology to address those concerns?

Parents have often told us about their concern and desire to reduce screen time. Cork The Volcano was made very deliberately to be a 50/50 experience–half of the time the player is building a solution in the real world with the tiles and the other half testing that solution in the videogame. cloudBoard is completely integrated into the game, so it breaks gameplay out of the screen and into the real world. We wanted to use technology to slow down the thinking process and really make each puzzle a thoughtful experience.

Can you talk a little about the design of the cloudBoard itself? 

cloudBoard was designed to look like a cross-section of someone’s thinking, which is often shown as a white cloud in cartoons or advertisements. We wanted to carry that metaphor with the design. You’ll also notice that the tiles are white too, with colorful stickers on them. This was to keep focus solely on the actions of the tiles, which an aid in concentration. Players will be looking at the tiles a lot during gameplay, so it’s important that they always know exactly what to focus on, especially with so many pieces!

Tell me about your experience testing cloudBoard in a special education classroom.AutisticStudentUsingCloudBoard-1 copy

We were given a great opportunity to test cloudBoard with a student with autism. He was immediately drawn to the interaction and commented that he was playing a “regular videogame.” He actually went through the tutorial and some levels thereafter with absolutely no intervention from the teacher or from us (DDL). He was focused on the experience and building solutions with the tiles was second nature to him. We were shocked by all of this, mostly because we were not sure how the cloudBoard experience would be received.

Finally, I’m also excited that this is designed as an open platform. What opportunities does that offer for learners?

It really gives the power to anyone who has a cloudBoard. We love the maker movement because it’s bringing hands-on experiences back in a powerful way–the cost of tinkering has dropped dramatically with equipment like the Maker Bot 3D printer. Every cloudBoard is a development unit too, so savvy players could code their own games and connect cloudBoard with our API. This offers quick testing and iteration. We would love to foster a passionate community of game makers who could help one other craft all sorts of experiences. And going back to 3D printing, creators could also print their own tiles to use in custom games–we can’ wait to see what everyone starts making!

cloudBoard was created by the following people with Digital Dream Labs:

Justin Sabo, co-founder, Masters of Entertainment Technology ’12 from CMU

Matt Stewart, co-founder, Masters of Entertainment Technology ’12 from CMU

Peter Kinney, co-founder, Masters of Entertainment Technology ’13 from CMU

Aaron Clark, artist, Art Institute of Pittsburgh ’13

Corinne Charlton, intern

Pei Hong Tan, early concept art, Masters of Entertainment Technology ’12 from CMU

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