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Case Studies of Connected Learning With E-Textiles: Examining Social, Structural, and Ideational Supports

Sun, April 7, 8:00 to 9:30am, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: Lower Concourse, Sheraton Hall E

Abstract

Objectives
Artifacts can become sites of connected learning when students bring personal interests and relationships to making academically relevant learning designs (Fields, 2010). Research has demonstrated that electronic textiles (e-textiles), where students handcraft personal artifacts by sewing computational circuits, can connect to students’ various interests (e.g., Kafai, Fields & Searle, 2014). While e-textile tools and artifacts are well-researched (Buechley et al., 2013), contexts that support connected learning, especially in teacher-led classrooms, are less explored. In this poster, we present case studies of 12 “average” students (as defined by their teachers) from three public high schools who participated in a 10-12 week-long e-textile unit as a part of Exploring Computer Science (Goode, Margolis, & Chapman, 2014) course. We seek to understand the connected supports—social, structural, ideational—that shaped students’ engagement and learning in classroom contexts.

Perspectives/Theoretical Framework
We apply a cultural-historical activity theory perspective (e.g., Cole, 1996) to understand influences on students’ trajectories of learning, including 1) tools, both for making artifacts and for curricular structuring (i.e., creative constraints on projects, a reflective portfolio assignment); 2) social relationships with classmates, teachers, and family; 3) norms and values established in these classrooms about participation, failure, and learning.

Methods of Inquiry, Data Sources and Evidence
We developed 12 case studies: four students each in three classrooms. Two researchers collected fieldnotes weekly in each classroom, focusing on selected students in addition to collecting journals and portfolios where students reflected on challenges and learning during the unit. Further, we interviewed these students in focus groups at the end of the unit and interviewed teachers before, during, and after the unit. We developed each case study as a narrative, and analyzed them to understand commonalities and differences across students’ trajectories of learning and participation.

Results
Four major areas of supports for connected learning stood out across these trajectories. First, interest-driven artifact creation where students expressed personal interests yet met project constraints deepened their computer science, crafts, and electronics learning. Second, the curricular structure that consisted of a series of projects allowed students’ participation to evolve with time, sometimes working with peers, other times individually. It also mitigated single point of failure: one “failed” project did not preclude other opportunities to learn and succeed later on. Third, peer collaborations, friendly conversations and debugging problems with project partners or other peers, shaped students’ participation. Helping or receiving help, sympathizing over common mistakes, and “leveling up” projects motivated by others’ designs influenced students’ trajectories of participation and learning. Finally, the portfolio assignment paired with classroom norms valuing the design process and learning from failure influenced student learning positively.

Scholarly Significance
Kumpulainen and Sefton-Green (2014) argue that individual interest-driven work is only one part of connected learning. In addition, connected learning environments must transform existing social practices, creating spaces where learners are seen as contributors to knowledge, their identities develop proactively, and they engage in authentic problem solving. In this poster, we expand the focus from artifact making to consider other influences at work in equity-driven public school classrooms.

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