Season 01, Episode 03

S.01 / E.03

Ariam Mogos

Watch the Video Read the Transcript

Ariam Mogos is a futurist fellow in the Stanford K12 Lab, where she designs prototypes with K-12 educators around how to engage, evaluate, and create with emerging technologies, grounded in ethics and digital agency. She is currently working on a set of play-based analog resources focused on machine learning, blockchain, brain computer interface tech and IOT.

A constructivist educator passionate about computing, Ariam has worked at the intersection of education, technology, equity and play in the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe. Prior to the, she was the Learning Lead for UNICEF’s Office of Innovation, designing global learning platforms, programs, and models for UNICEF’s 190 country offices. Ariam has also worked on education technology initiatives with the World Bank, LEGO Foundation, the Kenyan government, the U. S. Department of State and Global Kids. She especially enjoys working with young makers and facilitates creative learning experiences in local libraries and recreation centers.

If not all of us really understand what technology can do because we don't have access to it, that's a problem we need to design around. So that means making sure that concepts are are accessible and understandable for everyone. So I think, again, that means centering people and their understanding. I think that's really really important.
Ariam Mogos : K12 Lab Futurist Fellow / Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford

References & Social


Wilma Lam 18:40

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Optimistic Design, a speaker series where we take a practical positive look at the future of design, ethical innovation, and technology. I'm your host, Wilma Lam, Director of Strategy here at Substantial. Today I'm speaking with Ariam Mogos. Ariam is a futurist Fellow at the Stanford K12 Lab, where she works with K through 12 educators to design emerging technologies, grounded in ethics and digital agency, she's currently working on a set of play based analog resources focused on machine learning, Blockchain brain computer interface technology and IoT. Prior to the D school she was the learning lead for UNICEF, Office of Innovation and has also worked on Education Technology Initiatives with the World Bank, Lego Foundation, the Kenyan government and the US Department of State.

Ariam, welcome and thank you for joining me today.

Ariam Mogos 19:33

Thank you so much, Wilma.

Wilma Lam 19:35

Yeah, we're really excited to be able to talk to you about like all the interesting work that you've been doing, maybe just to get us started. I always like to hear you know what, what got you started with design?

Ariam Mogos 19:49

To be honest, I would say it was completely accidental, I didn't really know that I was doing design work. And it's funny like over the last couple years I've met more people with a similar story who were just sort of trying to solve problems, whether that was like, within personal projects that they had like projects they were passionate about at work issues within their community, who were just trying to solve problems and kind of stumbled upon it really being design work and not knowing that it was design work. And so, my journey really started when I was working in informal learning spaces, and I was creating learning experiences with technology for young people. And at the time I didn't really know that that was that was design work or what we call learning design. And that's kind of how I stumbled into it and then I, I started picking up from colleagues of mine and friends along the way, the design vocabulary and started understanding, oh, this is my designer. I'm doing design work I think before that I had always thought that design was more like, you know, technical design like graphic design or visual design and I didn't, I hadn't really thought about design as a sort of interdisciplinary medium that that anyone could really engage in.

Wilma Lam 21:16

Yeah, so as you kind of evolved into really understanding yourself as a designer and working in this kind of hybrid education design technology space, who is most influenced and inspired the way that you work?

Ariam Mogos 21:33

I saw I'd say a combination of different people, I was really inspired by a lot of the learning designers I've worked with who had who were really methodical and had, like, you know who really recognized the work they were doing as a craft, because I learned a lot from them. So I would work with I've worked with different game designers who were working in the education space. So folks like that coming from different technical spaces, coming from the computer science field working in education. I think I've learned a lot from, from people who were using design in their daily work, but I'd say the most influence the people who have been the most influential for me have really been teachers and facilitators who are constantly doing design work in a really resilient way where like they might not have a lot of time to plan, they might not have all the vocabulary, they might not even be aware that they're doing design work they're doing it all the time, and they're consistently doing it with young people I'd say they've probably influenced me the most. Everywhere that I've been because they're so creative. Yeah, really pivotal moments where they might not have a lot of resources. And I've always sort of been in those moments with them in awe of their creativity and resourcefulness, so I'd say probably teachers and facilitators I've worked with have inspired me the most. Yeah,

Wilma Lam 23:09

Thank you for sharing that. So in your current role, you're a futures Fellow at the Stanford, K12 lab. Could you talk more about the mission of the lab like what it is that the lab does and your specific role there?

Ariam Mogos 23:24

Sure, so the K12 lab is really set up to obliterate or dismantle opportunity gaps in K12 education by designing more equitable learning opportunities and models for education and really supporting teachers and students build up their creative confidence and that manifests in many different forms, everything from like workshops and events to designing and experimenting with new educational models to doing teacher professional development at the D school. So it really ranges in terms of what the lab does but the real focus is addressing inequity in K 12 education, and my, my role as a futures fellow is to help the lab really think about the intersection of emerging tech and equity in K 12 education, and I joined the lab in 2019 to help them develop a set of resources around how to support K 12 educators and students to think about the inequities in emerging technologies and yet how students and teachers could participate could participate more in the development of these technologies and what some of the obstacles or roadblocks are in terms of participation.

Wilma Lam 24:44

So, based on what you've shared so far I'm gathering that a lot of your work lies at this intersection of, you know, education design, equity and technology. What do you think is most important to consider when you're designing in a space which has to consider, you know, all four of those things?

Ariam Mogos 25:03

Yeah, that's a really good question, I think, um, there's a couple of things that I think are really important when we're sort of designing that nexus, I think the first thing is really to always prioritize human capacity and to always support people, I think like we tend to humans across every sort of space whether we're working in tech not Ed tech or whether working in education. There is this tendency to glorify the technology or overemphasize the role of the technology and really the technology is just a medium that we can work with, and it really comes down to, if we have the confidence, the experience, the access to be able to build with that medium. And so if we don't support educators, administrators, students to work with that medium to work with the technology. Technology is not going to be impactful, and actually can really exacerbate inequities. So I think the first thing is really actually centering people, not the technology. I think that's really, really critical and it's a, it's, it's a pattern that I see in every environment I've worked domestically in United States, different in different countries have seen the same thing. So I think it's something that I think we really need a cultural shift around how we think about people and how we think about technology and technology really being secondary. I think the other piece of that is, if we want to really prioritize people and build their capacity, then we really have to make new and emerging technologies accessible to them and to everyone. And that can look in many different ways. You know, whether that's exposure through digital fabrication and, you know, sitting in a self-driving car, or maybe that's just learning about the concepts that underpin, you know, an emerging technology through paper and pen. So I think like, again, I guess this really does come down to how we shift in culture around technology is less about what the tech can just do or what it's about and what are the concepts that underpin that tech Why is it powerful. So I think making sure that those concepts are accessible to everyone, so that everyone can participate is really important because the thing is, we're not all going to have access to these technologies in our immediate environment. That's just the reality right we have so many inequities. But that doesn't mean we can have access to the concepts understand what are these technologies are capable of doing and do we feel that that these technologies have an appropriate place in our technology right like thinking about our ethics thinking about our morals, thinking about implications and harm, it's really important that everyone is able to participate in those conversations, but if we, if not all of us really understand what the technology can do because we don't have access to it. That's a problem we need to design around. So that means making sure that concepts are are accessible and understandable for everyone. So I think, again, that means centering people and their understanding. I think that's really really important.

Wilma Lam 28:34

So building on this theme of centering on people I know you've also talked about the importance of designing technology that is truly representative of everyone. Can you talk about how you approach really integrating that into your design practice.

Ariam Mogos 28:48

Yeah, I think, like so. It definitely sounds easier in theory, and it can sometimes be more difficult in practice, but we can do it and we I think we all have to aspire to continuously do that, I think, to be honest, it really just starts with a looking inside. So when I say that it's really about me as a designer, thinking about my own positionality within society. So, I'm a black suit straight woman and daughter of immigrants, and I carry certain biases and lived lived experience. And I hold multiple identities but I don't hold everyone's experience or identity, and starting with that understanding of many experiences and identities that I don't hold, And that when I'm designing I'm designing primarily from my own experience, that leaves out the experiences of others. I have to start, it's important to start a project or anything I create or design from that perspective, and being very conscious of that so that I'm ensuring from the beginning of any, any work that I do, I'm thinking about all of those perspectives that I don't understand or represent. And how am I being sure that those perspectives are. And those voices are present from the beginning of the project that I work on. So I mean like being reflective and really starting with my, with myself, the biases that I hold my position in society and the perspectives, and identities that I don't I might not understand or carries as the first place that I try to start making sure that I'm, I'm incorporating including being inclusive of other voices and perspectives and identities. And that also includes the fact that like I also don't that doesn't mean that I can speak on behalf of everyone who holds a similar identity. So, and within that, making sure that there's that there's a representation of diversity of voices. I think the other thing is, you know it practically just, if I'm brainstorming and prototyping. Doing that with a diverse group of people. So people, you know, across race, gender, cultural identity, sexual orientation, ability, making sure that there are so many different types of people involved in the process so that those, those perspectives and lived experiences, and concerns are represented in whatever it's being created. I think sometimes that can be a really a challenge, right. If you're an environment where like you don't, you're not might be able, you might not be able to gather all those folks in one room right. You're on a time crunch sometimes that happens. Okay, well if you're brainstorming and prototyping something that I think, you know, testing early and often with those groups and getting feedback as much as possible and iterating on your work with those with a diverse group of people is really important so I think there's really no reason that our technologies for example can't be representative, I think it's just thinking about all the different ways in which you can do that. And then, you know what are the conditions or constraints within your within which you're working in, but really I think the most important thing is starting with yourself and what you don't. What you might not understand about others, or know about others, it's really important.

Wilma Lam 32:30

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, and I know in addition to a lot of the project work that you just talked about in your approach and projects you're also currently working on rep magazine at the; can you talk about what the mission of rep magazine is and kind of where it came from?

Ariam Mogos 32:47

Yeah, so rep is rep is actually a reflection of many of the things that we've just sort of discussed, it's, it's a learner student centric magazine for k 12 that supports young people learn about the different concepts that underpin various emerging technologies everything from like voice. Voice bots voice assistants to the Internet of Things and blockchain and synthetic biology, Every issue of the magazine helps young people understand this technology helps them work with it as a creative medium, and so they're always learning by doing, making, and then helps them really think about the implications of that technology within society. making sure it's, we really take an interdisciplinary approach in the magazine. And then really thinking about the implications of what they're creating before they put it into the world. So, it's, it's a hands-on magazine, it's, it's paper based but it's it'll be available digitally as well, and the core goal of the magazine is to help young people really embrace their identities as creators as technologists and to really participate in the design and creation of technology, and it started a couple of years ago, with our teaching and learning studio at the D school. That just was really interested in this question around how do we get more people to participate in design and creation of emerging technologies, especially with all the algorithmic bias we're seeing in the news, and how alarming it is around predictive policing and sentencing software and facial recognition software. How do we make sure that especially groups are groups who are our most effective non dominant groups are participating in the start in the design of these technologies and making sure that their voices are heard. And so our teaching and learnings to a few years ago, started experimenting with sort of hands on ways of learning about the concepts around these technologies like AI and blockchain, and then that rep magazine came about as a collaboration between the K 12 lab and teaching and learning as a way to create these hands on experiences for young people and educators.

Wilma Lam 35:21

Yeah. And so could you speak a little bit also about like your hope for the future of rep magazine, and where you think it's headed?

Ariam Mogos 35:29

Yeah, I think, I mean my, my hope, I have a couple of different hopes around. I think what I think is unique about the project or what excites so much is there are a lot of, so it is about supporting young people to learn about technology. And I think there are a lot of different platforms to learn about tech, but not through this lens of identity and bias and values. I think that's like what's really missing in computer science education and technology and education around technology in general. And I think that's really important with what's happening around how our technologies today especially the emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, are, are, are just recreating structural inequities in our society. When they don't have to. So that's what's so exciting about rep magazine, it's, it's a way where we can start bringing surfacing. Some of these dynamics and making young people aware of it that they actually have a way to participate. I think another, another piece of rock that really excites me is the way in which people think of themselves as technologists, or ways in which they can participate, the D school we have this framework called map the problem space. And essentially that you can address any type of problem across many different fields whether that's data or across systems or across products. And one way that I would love to see young people emerge, or what I would love to see them take away from this experience with a rep is, you don't have to be you don't have to know the code to understand what it can do. You don't have to actually be a computer scientist or develop them, maybe your, your way of participating, is through systems and being becoming a policymaker, who is invested in, in creating legislation around how data is collected, how data is used, I think there are so many ways in which we can participate, participate, around the way technology shaping our lives that doesn't necessarily involve coding, but I think that's sort of how most people think about technology, and that and that can be associated with fear. I don't understand technology I don't understand code, like I want to stay away from that. But actually, it's technologies, you can have, you can participate, you can make an impact around how technology is shaping our lives and so many other ways. It's not just about understanding how to design to create code. And I think that's another hope I really have with the magazine is that young people come, you know come away from it, with other ways of participating, and not just thinking that they have to be computer scientists. So I hope it leads to radical really radical participation in technology.

Wilma Lam 38:42

Yeah, I mean I think that's an amazing initiative, and building on this theme of what you're talking about a really rethinking education around technology. I know you recently also co-wrote an article called human biases everywhere in tech to fix it, we need to reshape computer science education. It was a really interesting read. And so I'm wondering what are the biggest opportunities to rethink not only computer science education, but also design education?

Ariam Mogos 39:12

Sure, I think. So, I did not I don't have a traditional design background I didn't go to design school, but I will, and say with computer science I like studying, so I have a background in social sciences, but I will share i What i from my work I will say that I think one of the biggest opportunities across CS education and design education is not to treat them. In, treat them in silos, or place them in silos, divorced from context. What I mean by that is part of why we have so much bias and inequity in these technologies today, it's because they're designed in a way in which they are separated from systemic inequities, which is frankly truly impossible. You know technologies are designed within systems. They're designed to respond to systems. So, designing them in a way where they're not taking in context, is why we're seeing so much bias after, you know, the bias after the fact, I think, I think CS education and design education, always need, need to be situated within conceptual understanding and that really means bringing in the humanities like history, social studies, current events and not designing something, whether it's a piece of technology or whether it's building a product in a silo. I think that's an approach in in these in these two educational spaces that that's really has to be taken. That's really critical.

Wilma Lam 40:58

Yeah so related to that if we think about how to train you know new designers and technologies with more of this grounding and context what are the key skills that you think, you know, we should be teaching you designers and technologists in school?

Ariam Mogos 41:12

Yeah, I mean, I think, a stemming from that is really important for designers to understand that you know you can't solve societal issues with computers or design thinking. You need to understand that it's important for us to support designers understand its systems. The systems within which these challenges were created and operate, you know, technology and design can only potentially address an aspect. And in addition to that they can even exacerbate inequity. And so I think it's really important to equip them with the skills to be interdisciplinary designers. So, understanding, you know, not, not building technology in a silo or taking a tech-based approach or even a solely a problem based approach is really important. And so, helping them, just be really good researchers, even having strong research skills to really understand a problem and not just the problem but the context within which the problem lives is really important. So I think that's really, really critical even starting with, with really good research skills is important and and skills around. Even just like things like listening intercultural skills are really important. You know, how can you work in different contexts with very different types of people and understand how to, how to listen to them, I think is really important.

Wilma Lam 42:54

Yeah. Building on this idea of the uniqueness of context, you've also mentioned previously, you know, the growing awareness that design practice and purpose is not a monolith, I think there, there's a lot to unpack and in that sentence, I was wondering could you talk more about what it means to design with this lens. You know what it means to treat design, not as a monolith, but maybe as like a multiple set of practices?

Ariam Mogos 43:22

Yeah, I think. So, I think we can think of design sometimes as this practice where design is the purpose of design is to create a product, and the, it's an ends to it's a means to an end, you know, we're creating a product which will sell and then we'll make money. And I think that might be one purpose for design, other purposes of design, are you know within specific communities’ design means something really different design might mean. How do we heal wounds within our community? How do we, how do we, you know, how do we define things differently. I think design can sometimes be in certain contexts really tied to consumerism in a way where it's not in other contexts right like so when we think of design, how do we make sure our natural ecosystems are healthy and functioning better than they are. So I think there's a plurality, there, there really is a perhaps clarity around how design is defined yet, predominantly default design tends to be attached to consumerism and creation for selling products really. And so I think what's fantastic is that we're in a space where these different definitions of design or how design is being practiced across the world is becoming more visible, which is really exciting.

Wilma Lam 45:12

Yeah. So you, I mean you've been really embedded in the education space for a number of years and I'm curious, upon reflection of how education has changed not only kind of in the last generation definitely now when I look at what students are doing in school, it feels so different than what I did when I was in school, but I also imagine that these changes have been further, you know accelerated by the pandemic over the last 18 months. I'm curious to hear from your perspective what you feel is changed the most in your work or in the field at large.

Ariam Mogos 45:45

Yeah, I think I would. I mean there's been a lot of reflection about this over the last year but, you know, the internet has really shifted the way in which we have access to information and education. And, you know, in the ways that we can connect with others around information and sharing ideas. I think with the pandemic, and so many students for example, not being able to access education, not being able to access their teachers and their peers, because they don't have access to the internet, that has really revealed the inequities around connectivity. And so, I think we knew that it was always there, but the pandemic has really shown us, you know who has access and who doesn't. And the, the, the, the consequences of that everything from like isolation and lack of connection is usually, you know, not being able to keep up with your, with your schoolwork. So I think that has been, I think it's forced us to really reckon with what students need, and in education and how important connectivity is. And, you know the skills for example that teachers need around how to use digital tools. So I think, I think that that's been there's been so much around that this last year, but I make like I couldn't stop going on about it, it's just so awesome.

Wilma Lam 47:40

I'm wondering with some of these themes you mentioned, like, how is this currently influencing the kind of design principles that you use in your work and how you approach actually decision making?

Ariam Mogos 47:53

Yeah, I mean I think this was, it was another inspiration for rep in a lot of ways it's why we for example, the approach is not to have young people on computers, trying to learn how to learn coding concepts or learning technology, technology concepts through being on the screen but this format of it being a hands-on magazine paper and pen base, just makes it so much more accessible. Because again, there's so much inequity around connectivity. And if we're really trying to reach those who are farthest from access, we have to we have to make the resources for them to be able to access those learning opportunities. And so I think, in, in my design practice, and the team I'm working with at the D school. We really tried to do that with rap by making it as engaging and fun and learning by doing. But as accessible as possible. All you need is a pen or a pencil and then rep, as, as a paper-based magazine.

Wilma Lam 49:06

And as we're thinking about, you know kind of the pace of change in education and what's changed. I'm also curious because it's sort of embedded in your role that you're working with K through 12, educators, is there any like interesting feedback or insight that that K through 12 educators have shared as part of your partnerships?

Ariam Mogos 49:26

Yeah, it's been great, we've been doing like early testing sessions with educators on a couple of the issues, and just getting feedback on the learning experience. What, what young people will be drawn to in terms of the content and what not, has been really interesting. And again, it reminds us like there's diverse there's so much diversity across students and their interests. And really it's really important for us to consider that when we're designing the experiences within the magazine. So we're trying to be as inclusive as possible that's what keeps coming up as inclusive as possible and not and again that doesn't even just mean across the students backgrounds but the students students interests, that's really really important to be as diverse as possible in the content. Yeah.

Wilma Lam 50:18

Now that makes a lot of sense. So kind of building on that earlier question, you know, We're asked you, like, you know, reflect back on what's changed in, in the field and in your experience, I'm also interested in hearing from you, like if you project forward. You know what's top of mind for you as you think about the future of education and design and technology. And in particular, you know I'm always interested in hearing what are you optimistic about for the future of this space.

Ariam Mogos 50:47

Yeah, I think I'm, I've been building off the work that we're doing with rap and thinking about these intersections of technology and education and equity. I'm really optimistic about how equity really is becoming a priority I mean I think we're still getting that right in education but I mean just looking at the 1619 project. You know I think the seeing that in schools is amazing, and I think like, hopefully seeing that in computer science education and technology education is what keeps me hopeful. I think going back to the your question about design education and CS education, you know, I hope to see shifts and like this might exist in, in certain universities insurance, or the curriculum, but, you know, seeing that interdisciplinary approach. You know if you're, say, an architecture and you're an architecture program. Are you learning about the history of a hostile architect, architecture and visionary design, you know, in public spaces like parks and sidewalks, which really are species that belong to everyone you know and can you clearly recognize that. And do you have the skills and tools to design against that. I think like that is, that's really important and the same thing, you know, if you're in a photography program, you know, are you learning about the history of photography and now photography has been used as a, it's been a tool for surveillance against certain communities, what does that look like and how are you using photography as a tool that is surveilling and oppressing certain communities so I think like, I hope that that interdisciplinary approach that brings in, you know, history, social studies, current events and really centers, people in and where technology is doing the most good versus exacerbating social inequities, is something we see for example in CS education, similar to like the Zen project and the 1618 project so that keeps me very, very hopeful.

Wilma Lam 53:06

Yeah, that's great to hear. It's been so wonderful getting a chance to chat with you, Ariam, and learning about your work and learning about the K 12 lab. So thank you so much for being part of Optimistic Design today.

Ariam Mogos 53:19

Yeah, thank you so much for having me, it was just such a joy to share about this work and, yeah, thanks for having me.

Wilma Lam 53:26

Yeah, of course, and thank you everyone out there for tuning in today to follow along and hear more from optimistic design, please head to and come join us again next month as we continue to take a future focused look at ethical innovation and technology. I’m Wilma Lam, and I look forward to hearing, to being with you again soon.

Additional Episodes


Andy Leong

Product Design Lead

Andy is a Product Design Lead at Karat, a company on a mission to unlock opportunity for both hiring companies and candidates by re-engineering the interview process.


Fred Kukelhaus & Ben Young

Hugo & Hoby

Fred and Ben are co-founders of Hugo + Hoby which they founded with the simple mission to make beautiful, locally crafted, and sustainable furniture more widely accessible.


Mary Quandt

Director, Experience Strategy
Johnson & Johnson

Mary is a leader of design strategy at Johnson & Johnson, focusing on health and wellbeing, end-to-end experience design, and bringing behavioral science into the design process.


Digital optimism delivered straight to your inbox.

Opt in below for other updates from Substantial. We promise not to spam or sell your contact information.