You might think of it as the ultimate intellectual buffet.
Leadership Pittsburgh’s inaugural Unboxxed event on Friday and Saturday at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort featured 31 speakers who talked about everything from new educational games to brain research to eyeball transplants.
With the “Edges of Learning” as its main theme, many of the speakers focused on ways of improving the educational system and our ability to learn throughout our lives.
Jesse Schell, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and head of a Station Square-based game design company, talked about a new game his firm has developed called “Lexica,” to be released next month. It will allow players in many locations to join together to act out adventures with heroes from well-known works of literature. To get ahead, players will need to read the books.
The game is driven by his belief that curiosity is at the core of learning, he said, and that much of what happens in schools today does not encourage curiosity. “Our schools are really designed to teach the same thing to everyone — standardized students, standardized education.” Well-designed educational computer games “go where the learner wants to go.”
Jim Denova, vice president of the Benedum Foundation, lamented the way much of the nation’s vocational education has failed to keep pace with the times. To close the social and educational gap, he points to model programs like one in which an AP engineering class in one high school is working with vocational students who use high-tech manufacturing equipment. The students collaborate to design and create products.
Aradhna Oliphant, president of Leadership Pittsburgh and the event’s organizer, said about 200 people attended, representing teachers, foundation officials, lawyers, corporate managers, business owners and people from the arts. Its goal was to have an eclectic set of ideas that will have ripple effects throughout the region.
“I don’t know what all will happen, but I do know that inspiration was ignited and interesting connections were made. We don’t force-feed people; we work with leaders and creative minds and influencers.”
Videos of the Unboxxed presentations will be available starting Wednesday at http://lpinc-unboxed.org/.
Besides the focus on education, Unboxxed also offered up leading-edge medical and scientific research.
Julie Fiez, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, has studied a sugar-cube-sized part of the brain critical for reading. Called the visual word form area, this node on the lower left side of the brain allows people to interpret whole words and rapidly know what they mean.
To prove this area of the brain is responsible for word recognition, her group used an alphabet made up of human faces and taught students how to read this new language.
After two weeks of training, the students could read the “face font” at about a first-grade level, and those who performed best had stronger activity in the visual word form area than others. Her group’s research suggests the word form area is in a critical place that connects the letters in a word to parts of the brain associated with sound and meaning.
There are a growing number of people who can no longer read by sight, because their vision has been destroyed in warfare or accidents, said Vijay Gorantla, a plastic surgeon at Pitt who has participated in the university’s pioneering hand transplants.
His group has received military funding to conduct research into the futuristic possibility of transplanting entire eyeballs.
Known as ARGOS, for audacious restorative goals for ocular sciences, the team is exploring the complexities of how eyes could be safely transplanted.
Referring to last week’s Philae probe in space, he said, “If we can send a probe 4 billion miles away and put it on a comet that is hurtling through space at 86,000 miles an hour and send back a picture, is this really so impossible?”
Mark Roth: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1130 or on Twitter @markomar.