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Scaling Up Equity With E-Textiles: Stitch the Loop Unit Results in Exploring Computer Science

Sun, April 7, 11:50am to 1:20pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: Lower Concourse, Sheraton Hall E


Objectives & Perspectives

Traditional computer science programs in high school typically reflect disproportionate participation across social and economic categories such as student gender, race and socioeconomic status (Margolis et al., 2010).  However, leveraging skills and practices that are culturally responsive to learners’ existing skills can help students engage with making (e.g., Vosoughi, Hooper & Escudé, 2016) and computer science (Scott, et al., 2015). Using these perspectives as a guide, we developed and implemented a computer science curriculum unit that uses conductive sewing to creatively design and program electronic circuits in textile-based material artifacts (i.e., electronic textiles or e-textiles).  The approach leverages interest-driven crafting practices in a way that is atypical of traditional CS courses that privilege gendered artifacts like robots, games, and drones (Kafai, Fields, & Searle, 2014). Instead we support and broaden what counts as computing in order to create opportunities that are diverse in practice and participation.

Context, Methods & Data

Our Stitch the Loop curriculum is situated with Exploring Computer Science (ECS) classes that already support equity- and inquiry-based introductory computing (Goode, Chapman, & Margolis, 2012). We created an 8-10 week e-textiles unit where students craft a series of four projects, each increasing in depth of knowledge as well as creative freedom (Kafai & Fields, 2018). Teachers participated in four days of professional development that emphasized learning by designing, promoting aesthetics, celebrating and modeling mistakes (both teachers and students), and promoting peer pedagogy). Both the design of the curriculum and the teaching practices emphasized in professional development supported an equitable environment in CS classrooms at a small scale (see Fields, Kafai, Nakajima, Goode & Margolis, 2018).

In Spring 2018 the unit was implemented across 17 classrooms with a total of 280 high school students taught by 15 different teachers (in as many schools) in a large urban school district. We used likert-based survey instruments before and after the unit to ask students about their social and economic demographics as well as information about their perspectives on computer science and its importance in their future.


After validating our survey constructs using a Cronbach alpha measure of consistency and performing a statistical analysis of variance (ANOVA), we show that after completing the Stitch the Loop e-textiles unit, there were significant (p<0.001) increases in student self reports of: (1) being competent in computer science, (2) being able to be creative in computer science, (3) being fascinated with computer science-based problem solving, and (4) valuing computer science in future endeavors. Furthermore, our results suggests that these outcomes emerged independent of self-reported gender, race, primary home language, or family educational attainment.


Collectively, these results suggest that the electronic textiles unit widely and consistently supported positive and equitable learning outcomes across social and economic categories that are traditionally underrepresented and/or marginalized in computer science educations. In our discussion, we consider potential factors that may be mediating these effects in order to inform computer science professional development programs designed to support increased diversity in computer science learning.


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