Local Current Blog

OK Go launch new online learning lab

Ok Go band member Dan Konopka reads his lines during the recording of an educational video September 24, 2017 in the Facilities and Design Center. School of Engineering professor AnnMarie Thomas and her playful learning lab collaborated with the band OK Go to make the video. (Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas)

When OK Go first came together as a band, they never thought they’ed end up doing anything else other than music, but once they started releasing their hit music videos, everything changed. OK Go started receiving letters from teachers who used the band’s innovative music videos as a way to inspire students interested in STEM-related fields. Fast forward 10 years and OK Go continued to receive letters from teachers all around the world — a sure sign the band had to do something to help inspire the next generation of creators.

“About a year or two ago I started to feel like there was this big gap, like a hole that I wanted to fill that was all of these teachers that are all independently writing to us, going, ‘Hey I show your video in my class every year,’ or ‘Kids really love it when I do this thing,'” Damian Kulash, OK Go’s singer and video director, said. “One by one we were getting all these emails through our website from teachers, and I was like, ‘There is no way this is happening to other bands, this is not a standard part of the rock industry. What can we do with this?”

Although the band wanted to do something to help, they didn’t know where to start. That’s where AnnMarie Thomas, a professor of engineering and entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas, came in. After meeting the band at a conference last year, she connected with Kulash, and together they came up with the idea for OK Go Sandbox, an online educational program that launched on Thursday, Mar. 15.

Produced in the University of St. Thomas’ Playful Learning Lab by the band and some of the university’s faculty and students, OK Go Sandbox gives students the tools they need to make their own creative projects, including videos, worksheets and activities for students and teachers to use. It also includes Q&A sections with the band, and videos that explain the process OK Go went through to make their music videos. The program isn’t meant to replace the curriculum taught in schools, but rather, help students practice the concepts they’ve learned in a fun way.

“Ideally [the projects] are already tied to things that the teachers already have to teach or standards that they have to cover, but if there was a way for students to feel like the band has challeneged them to do something similar or related to what was seen in that video,” Thomas said. “So that more than just seeing that video and being inspired, they were then able to use the music video itself as a jumping-off point and an inspiration to doing their own investigations and creations. We heard overwhelmingly that people wanted design challenges for their students and that they also wanted more information on how the videos were made, particularly in education friendly snippets and videos that are curated to the language of the classroom.”

Although Thomas and Kulash plan on adding more features to OK Go Sandbox and finding more ways for the band to connect with students, Kulash says OK Go aren’t interested in getting too involved in the education industry. All he hopes is that the program will inspire students to take what they’ve learned to the next level.

“I shouldn’t be teaching you physics, but I had to learn a bunch of physics in the process of making these videos,” he said. “So if we can be proxies for the students rather than for the teachers, if you can watch us finding the fascination and joy in learning, if you can watch our curiosity drive our creative process and our curiosity drive our learning process, that might be something that can resonate with the students.”

Simone Cazares is a student at Saint Paul College. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.