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Persevering Through Failures in Making E-Textiles: Contextual and Classroom Supports for Learning

Sat, April 6, 4:10 to 6:10pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: Lower Concourse, Sheraton Hall E

Abstract

Moments of failure while making computational artifacts are not only recognized as key for students to apply computational thinking critically (College Board, 2016) but also to develop problem-solving skills and strategies to persevere through the process of handling them. Electronic textiles (e-textiles) can provide especially productive spaces for this type of development. E-textiles involve making fabric-based projects by sewing actuators and microcontrollers using conductive thread to make computational circuits. Intersections of crafting, circuitry, and computation make tracing root causes tricky, demanding strategic debugging and revisions productive for learning (Litts, Kafai, Searle & Dieckmeyer, 2016). Yet prior studies of dealing with failure with e-textiles (e.g., Ibid) have focused mostly on the content of the problems faced (i.e., knowledge regarding crafting, circuitry, and coding) rather than on the larger context that helps students to persevere through these failures.

In this poster we focus on how failures shaped students’ learning and participation over time during a 10-12 week-long e-textiles unit within Exploring Computer Science classrooms (Margolis & Goode, 2016). In this context, “failure” involves a range of problems that come up during the design of projects, from small or large mistakes and bugs to incomplete (i.e., “failed”) projects. We sought to study 12 “average” students based on teacher nominations from three different classrooms to understand students’ attitudes and dealings with failure over time and across multiple projects, considering their contexts of learning and what supports helped students persevere (or not) through these failures.

Two researchers collected fieldnotes weekly in each classroom focusing on case study 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 about students before, during, and after the unit. We developed each case study as a narrative (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) and analyzed across them to understand the role of failure in shaping their trajectories of learning and participation.

Analysis showed that 11 out of 12 students developed strong feelings of capability and firm identities as learners of computer science, largely stemming from experiences of fixing and accepting problems as part of what it means to do computer science. Further, various supports helped students face their repeated design failures, including:
1) Interest-driven artifact creation where students desired to press through problems to complete their projects.
2) The curricular structure consisting of a series of projects that mitigated single points of failure: one “failed” (i.e., incomplete or never fixed) project did not preclude other opportunities to learn and succeed later on.
3) Peer collaboration: helping and/or receiving help, sympathizing over common mistakes, and “leveling up” projects because others around them supported students.
4) A portfolio assignment and classroom norms that celebrated the process of design and highlighted failures as positive individual and collective learning experiences.

Together these findings not only refine our understanding of student experiences in the face of failures but also highlight some of the key contextual factors that turn these moments into productive ones.

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