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Restorying Geek Identity: A Case Study of Underrepresented Youth Reimagining Connections Through Collaborative Counter-Storytelling

Sun, April 19, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Virtual Room


Objective: In this study, high school students from backgrounds underrepresented in computer science (CS) engaged in a collaborative counter-storytelling (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002) project to develop prototypical interactive, electronic textiles (e-textiles) quilts. The “Restorying Geek Identity” approach seeks to reimagine access to computer science by promoting CS skills and identity development. By integrating CS skills with storytelling, this project created space through which girls and youth of color drew upon their lived experiences to “restory” and reimagine themselves into CS.

Framework: We draw upon the historical practice of quilting, restorying (Thomas & Stornaiuolo, 2016), and e-textiles research (Kafai, Fields, & Searle, 2014). As a tradition, quilting has been documented to conceptualize cultural identity and represent histories, particularly for marginalized groups (Cash, 1995; Tobin, 2000; Brophy, 2004; Stull, 2001). A form of narrative agency, restorying is a process by which young people “reshape narratives to reflect perspectives and experiences that have been routinely marginalized or silenced” (Thomas & Stornaiuolo, 2016; Stornaiuolo & Thomas, 2018). “Restorying” the dominant story of CS, these young people drew upon their experiences with CS to reimagine access to the field by using digital technologies to challenge the reproduction of dominant narratives (e.g., that only white men can be computer scientists).

Methods: We developed a critical literacy-based (Janks, 2010) CS project for underrepresented high school students ages 14 to 16 at a one-month-long summer STEM workshop at a local science museum. Over the course of 8 hours, four groups of students designed interactive quilts using Chibitronics microcontrollers, programmable paper circuit materials, and circuit diagrams as a means to reimagine and ultimately “restory” dominant narratives of CS. After the quilts were completed, groups exhibited their quilts to the rest of the class, acknowledging the dominant CS narratives they drew upon and how their interactive quilt restoried those narratives. Data included video observations and recorded field notes, design worksheets, post-workshop interviews with students, and their quilts.

Results: We provide a potential framework for how critical identities can be explored in CS. By examining students’ process of identifying dominant CS narratives and reimagining those narratives through the design of their quilts, we present themes illustrating how students restoried their connections to CS based on their development of CS skills and engaging in critical literacy practices. Themes included: 1) how students reconstructed CS identities based on race and gender, 2) how students negotiated tensions between reality and their imagination, and 3) how the physical act of interaction supported the restorying process.

Significance: Identity in CS education has focused on how negative stereotypes of computer scientists and CS have contributed to underrepresentation in the field (Cheryan, Master, & Meltzoff, 2015; Pantic, Clarke-Midura, Poole, Roller & Allan, 2018). Outcomes for this poster session will include how: 1) the integration of counter-storytelling through restorying with computer science skill building promoted underrepresented students’ connections to intersectional CS identities, 2) restorying provided students with the opportunity to “prototype” CS identities, and 3) reframing CS research with critical literacy scholarship impacted access to CS learning more broadly.