NewsUsing e-textiles to deliver equitable computing lessons and broaden participation

Using e-textiles to deliver equitable computing lessons and broaden participation

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In our current research seminars, we’re exploring the ways that computing can be linked to other disciplines using inter-disciplinary strategies. The seminar was held in July of 2022. Our guests included Professor Yasmin Kafai of The University of Pennsylvania and Elaine Griggs who is an award-winning educator at Pembroke High School, Massachusetts We also were informed about their use of electronic textiles to help students and expand involvement in the field of computing.

New clubhouses being built

The places where children learn about computers have been called clubhouses in order to connect them with the areas where social or sports clubs gather. Computing clubhouses can be a space where students gather to participate in computer-related activities and develop an appreciation for community. But as Yasmin said studies have revealed that computing clubhouses have frequently been dominated by electronic and robotics-related activities. The result is that clubhouses are being viewed as exclusive places for youngsters who have the same desires.

Yasmin’s work is fueled by the notion of creating new clubs that cover an array of computing-related interests and a particular emphasis on areas for electronic-textile projects, in order to demonstrate that the many applications of computing are appreciated.

At Coolest Projects, a group of people explore a coding project.

Yasmin’s research into learning through e-textiles has taken place in formal computing lessons in high schools in America, by developing and using a unit from the Exploring Computer Science curriculum called “Stitching the Loop”. In the seminar, we were fortunate to be joined by Elaine, a computer science and robotics teacher who has used the scheme of work in her classroom. Elaine’s learners have designed wearable electronic textile projects with microcontrollers, sensors, LEDs, and conductive thread. With these materials, learners have made items such as paper circuits, wristbands, and collaborative banners, as shown in the examples below.

 Items created by learners in the e-textile units of work

Learning strategies for equity-oriented equity

The project-based, hands-on approach of the e-textile class has many similarities with the principals which underpin our work in the Raspberry Pi Foundation. There were two specific methods of teaching that were incorporated into Elaine’s classroom to encourage equitable learning in the computer classroom:

  1. The priority is to allow learners time to develop their artwork prior to the beginning of the task.
  2. Retrospective on the learning process through the use of an online portfolio.

Making time for design

Teachers with a list of learning objectives to meet it is not uncommon to be under pressure to organize our lessons in a way that students spend the most time engaged in things that we think can achieve these outcomes. I was interested to find out how, the e-textiles were created it was decided to emphasize the aesthetics. When students were able to design their creations and linked the design to their personal passions, they felt an innate sense of ownership of what they had created and motivated them to work hard and overcome any issues in sewing, programming, or even electronics.

Title: Process of making your project.   Learner's reflection: One main challenge that I faced while making this project was setting up my circuit diagram. I had trouble setting up where all my lights were gonna be placed at, and I had trouble color coding where the negatives and positives would be at. I sketched about 6 different papers and the 6th page was the one that came out fine because all of the other ones had negative and positive crossings which was not gonna help the program work, so I was finally able to get my diagram correct.

Spending time on design helped this learner to persevere with problem-solving

My own personal experience was that developing the digital textiles project that is using a set template could be thought of as an equivalent to teaching programming using code copied. Both methods boost the odds of producing a high-quality output but they won’t necessarily enhance students’ knowledge of computer concepts or encourage them to see computing as an area where everyone is a part of. I was inspired by the ideas presented at the conference on the importance of prioritizing design time. This could lead to different representations of the process.

Retrospective on the learning process by using an online portfolio

Elaine explained to us that students were asked to make an online portfolio that included photos of the various stages of their work as well as examples of their code and reflections on difficulties they faced in the course of the project. Below the student has provided both the ‘wrong’ as well as right versions of their code with a description of how they solved the issue.

A student portfolio with the title 'Coding Challenge'. The wrong code is on the left-hand side and the right code is on the right. The student has included an explanation beneath the wrong code: This is the wrong code. The problem I had was that I was putting the semicolon outside of the bracket. But the revision I needed was putting the semicolon inside of the bracket. That problem was a hard one to see because it is a very minor problem and most people wouldn't have caught it.
A learner’s example of debugging code from their portfolio

Yasmin discussed the theories of equity that underlie the digital portfolio teaching method. Reflections of the students allowed greater understanding of the computing and electronics aspects involved. It also allowed them to balance the individual quality of their work with the necessity of meeting expectations for learning.

Yasmin was also clear about how vital it was for students to be involved in a variety of tasks to ensure that they encounter electronic and computing concepts repeatedly. This way, reflective journalling could be considered an effective method of teaching since it aids in moving learners away from their initial involvement to more complicated projects. In reminiscing about this model of clubhouse, it’s equally important that learners be recognized for their complicated electronic-textile projects just as they are for their robotics-related projects that are complex Portfolios made up of a number of e-textile-based projects demonstrate that a variety of students can succeed in computer science at the highest levels.

Explore e-textiles with your student

Science and nature models made with an RPF project

If you’re considering ways of introducing e-textile activity to your students, here are some great resources available here:

  • This Exploring Computer Science website has all the resources and information related with the “Stitching the Loop” electronic textiles unit. It also contains the video Yasmin and Elaine discussed during the course.
  • In the non-formal learning environment for non-formal learning, the StitchFest website has a wealth of details about an e-textile hackathon which was held in 2014, that was designed to expand the participation of computer users and their perceptions.
  • “3D LED science display with Scratch” is an initiative that integrates LEDs, science, and nature to create an 3D installation. This project is part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s “Physical computing with Scratch and the Raspberry Pi” project pathway.

Looking forward to our next free seminar

We’re having a short break in the seminar series but will be back in September when we’ll be continuing to find out more about cross-disciplinary approaches to computing.

In our next seminar on Tuesday 6 September 2022 at 17:00–18:30 BST / 12:00–13:30 EST / 9:00–10:30 PST / 18:00–19:30 CEST, we’ll be hearing all about the links between computing and dance, with our speaker Genevieve Smith-Nunes (University of Cambridge). Genevieve will be speaking about data ethics for the computing classroom through biometrics, ballet, and augmented reality (AR) which promises to be a fascinating perspective on bringing computing to new audiences.

Sign up for the free seminar now

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Michal Pukala
Electronics and Telecommunications engineer with Electro-energetics Master degree graduation. Lightning designer experienced engineer. Currently working in IT industry.