Saturday, May 23, 2015

Summer 2015 Service Kick-Off!


This past Friday, we hosted a hands-on exploratory workshop at Clifty Creek Elementary School’s STEM Fair in Columbus, IN. Given the drop-in and walk-by atmosphere of a fair, we wanted to offer a project that is easy to create but at the same time offers all of the circuitry learning benefits of the electronic textiles toolkit. We offered one of the many e-textiles activities documented in our colleague Leah Buechley’s book Sew Electric, the light-up bookmark, and another project we made up on the fly while preparing for the workshop, a light-up bow. However, much of the preparation was done in coordination with the Clifty Creek Elementary School teachers, who also provided materials for the workshop, including electronic components and crafting supplies.

E-textiles are electronics embedded into clothing, accessories, or other wearables. In the Creativity Labs, we like to use the LilyPad Arduino toolkit, which includes sewable LEDs, battery holders, and microcontrollers that can all be connected with conductive thread. This provides opportunities to combine both high- and low-tech, both crafting and electronics, and represents an unusual and very powerful approach to learning circuitry and programming that tends to be more inviting to girls. The Creativity Labs is always happy to share e-textile workshops with our partners!
The Clifty Creek STEM Fair was an informal after-school field day, kind of like an open house, for families and people of all ages to enjoy the pre-Memorial Day Friday. Throughout the fair, barbecue grills, face painting, and moonbounces gave the festival a true Mini Maker Faire vibe, that was sprinkled with science explorations at every corner of the schoolyard and house. The focus of the Fair was many science-themed activities, such as our e-textiles workshop.
E-sewers hard at work!
Our workshop was set up in Ms. Lucas’s 3rd-grade classroom. To create light-up bookmarks, we provided various materials to the visitors of our table. These included fabric strips, felt stickers, bows, conductive thread, sewable LEDs, sewable battery holders, and batteries. Many children gathered at various tables with their parents and embarked on highly imaginative creations, which included various patterns with stripes, hearts, and happy animals. The children were captivated by the lights sewn into the fabric, but naturally, many lacked experience with sewing and needed assistance from adults. Thus, parents were highly involved; while children focused on the imagination, decoration, and connectivity of the circuits, any parents who were present primarily helped with the stitching and knot-tying.

The classroom setup
The drop-in nature of the workshop provided many interesting facilitation challenges. For instance, our workshop was very popular and attracted more youth than the two facilitators could address at the same time. Many participants were excited by the prospect of bookmarks that lit up, so they got ahead of themselves before one of the facilitators could provide instructions on the next step, and even made some mistakes when connecting the circuits. Backtracking was necessary, but this simply led to even deeper circuitry learning. Excited about the decorative possibilities, but confronted with limited time towards the end of the day, some of the children did not finish their e-textiles projects at the table. We provided them with little take-home bags filled with samples of conductive thread, a battery and some decorative craft materials. One of the mothers said that this might be a fun evening at home finishing the project together with her children. We hope to further explore how to improve facilitation of drop-in e-textile workshops.

Given this great start to the Creativity Labs' summer service activities, we are excited about the other upcoming opportunities to interact and share our learning with the local community in and around Bloomington, IN, and, in fact, throughout the country. Here is a list of some of the events we are looking forward to:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Our DML Commons Story at ALTfest

Last week, we had the opportunity to present our experience co-facilitating the DML Commons Design Based Research course at the Academic Learning Transformation Festival (ALTfest) held at Virginia Commonwealth University. The purpose of ALTfest was to explore ideas and share stories of learning transformation in a festival-type atmosphere. Mimi Ito kicked off the day’s events with a keynote address where she shared her work of connected learning with young people. Many of the participants in ALTfest came from higher education backgrounds, and were very interested in applying the principles of connected learning with faculty, in professional development with teachers, and in other spaces. A few quick highlights from our day at ALTfest included a visit to the Makerspace where we met @abchamberlain, and pulled a few prints.


We also met the folks from Hack.RVA, a makerspace for adults in Richmond, VA, played with some 3D printed animals, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere that buzzed with creativity and all kinds of artists and makers.

During our presentation on co-facilitating the DML Design Based Research Course, we began with introductions in order to get to better understand who was attending our session, and why. We created an online poll to get a better sense of attendees’ level of experience with MOOCs and DOCCs.  As you can see from the results, most of the attendees had never facilitated a MOOC or DOCC before, and we learned that most folks there were interested in learning more about how to facilitate open, online courses. 

During our presentation, we provided a brief tour of the DML Commons website, and engaged participants in some of the DML Commons activities we found particularly fun, such as the “What Epistemology Are You?” quiz (which was very popular among the audience!). We also presented some of the design features we found most helpful in increasing and encouraging participation.

We then engaged participants in a design challenge. We handed out packets with a collection of the elements of the connected course including webinars, readings, webinar activities, blogs, and so on, and then encouraged them to work in groups to apply some of the design principles to their own connected course and content.

As we visited with each of the small groups, we were impressed by the level of conversation and the ways in which folks were applying some of these ideas to their own settings. For example, one of the groups wanted to know more about how folks were using Twitter in the course. Another group wanted to learn about the advantages of etherpad in comparison to Google documents for engaging viewers. Yet another participant shared that she didn’t like Twitter and thought that it would be a useless design element to include in an open course, and was surprised to find out that much of the DML Commons interaction took place among participants on Twitter, for example through live tweeting sessions. Another participant wondered about the “seamlessness” of the experience. He asked “with so many platforms being used, were participants overwhelmed or confused?”

Finally, many participants shared that creating a connected course was a lot more difficult than they had imagined. We’d agree with them, but add what we shared at the end of our presentation: that because connected courses are co-created and co-constructed, the line between teacher/learner/facilitator becomes blurred. Indeed, it is in the act of “making” the course, that allows for the most meaningful learning happens. Ultimately, the process of co-creating the Design-Based Research Course not only deepened our understanding of a methodology we are truly excited and passionate about, it also helped us to become more connected learners and teachers.

After the presentation, we had an interesting conversation with one of the participants, musing about the layers of distribution the DML Commons course includes. @derekbruff wanted to know more about why we were calling the DML Commons a “DOCC” instead of a “MOOC.” “Weren’t they, in fact, the same thing?” he asked. We argued that they weren’t. First, we wanted to give credit to the Femtechnet scholars for broadening and pushing our understanding of what it means to teach and learn in online spaces. Second, we feel that the co-constructed and distributed nature of the DML Commons is one of its strongest features, and should be foregrounded. This includes the range of diverse range of online spaces that were appropriated to support the rich sharing of everyone involved, the participatory design of the course to shake traditional hierarchies, and the possibility to enrich offline learning spaces through the generated content and practices. Third, we think it’s important to move beyond the term “MOOC” because, frankly, it has a lot of negative connotations and people tend to have knee-jerk reactions to the term.

Through the DML Commons Design-Based Research course, we had the opportunity to prepare and co-facilitate two online synchronous events before presenting together at the ALTfest. Here, the boundaries that we experienced through online channels, such as directing listeners to where to submit comments or to use a backchannel to coordinate and pitch questions to one another, did not apply. However, the online co-facilitation experience gave us a chance to get to know each other’s presentation style and to develop a shared style together.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Community-based DBR: A Few Linguering Questions

As we are wrapping up an exciting 2 weeks filled with vibrant discussions around community-based research  as well as participatory approaches in design-based research, we created a collection of questions that could perhaps provide others interested in similar work with starting points for inspirational insights.

  • What are the kinds of academic contributions participatory research can make? Ask new questions? 
  • Megan Bang mentioned that it is important to make academia more transparent to participants and to provide them with access to the academic infrastructure and tools. How does this relate to your work?
  • What is the value researchers can they offer to communities?
  • Nancy Erbstein’s challenges of working with youth-led research included that decision makers questioned small sample sizes of the youth's work. Nancy recommended mixed methods. How does this relate to opening or closing participation? What do you recommend?
  • As part of her list of sensibilities of community based partnerships, Magen Bang noted the need for  research to engage in strategic transformation of institutional relations. How important is this question for your work?
  • For Phillip Bell, his theoretical approach informed the way participation infrastructure was framed and how DBR played out. How has this been for you and what would you recommend?
  • Is participation and research+practice partnerships part of your larger research trajectory? What would you recommend others to practice who would want to build their career in this area of work?
  • We frequently heard of projects that started with a 3 year trajectory and then continued and continued and continued. How do you consider sustaining engagement in your project planning? What are the tools and techniques you use? What tells you that you are right in continuing to seek funding for a work?
  • Phil Bell and Julian Sefton-Green pointed out the need to be embedded and personally invested in the community one asks to collaborate with. Do we need to put ourselves in harms way to do good work?