Designing E-Textiles Together: Creating More Equitable Collaborative E-Textiles Projects for High School Classrooms

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


Toronto, Canada

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E-textiles provide accessible on-ramps to computing and STEM through three overlapping and interdependent domains—crafting, coding, and circuitry—that offer different pathways for student learning (Kafai et al., 2014; Searle, Litts, & Kafai, 2018). As a result, e-textiles design projects have been adopted for teaching computing and STEM in high school contexts including the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum (Goode & Margolis, 2011). With the expansive adoption of e-textiles in K-12, our team specifically examined how to design collaborative e-textiles projects for high school classrooms asking: What are the design tradeoffs of different collaborative learning arrangements in e-textiles?

We present findings from two workshops with the same high school students across two academic years (sophomore and junior) with a total of 24 participants (18 participated in both workshops).Students collaborated in teams of 4-5 in the first workshop, and in pairs in the second. We collected a range of qualitative data: reflective interviews, photographs of design artifacts, and fieldnotes. We completed an iterative analysis process primarily employing line-by-line coding using a combination of descriptive and in vivo methods and worked together to theme data (Saldaña, 2009) that highlight design tradeoffs of group versus pair learning arrangements.

Our findings provide evidence that a paired learning arrangement, inspired by pair programming (Denner, Werner, Campe, & Ortiz, 2014), yields more productive collaborative discourse and expertise exchange than team-based arrangements successful in robotics design activities (Baretto, 2012; Litts, Kafai, & Dieckmeyer, 2014; Litts, Lui, Widman, Walker, & Kafai, 2017a; Lui, Litts, Widman, Walker, & Kafai, 2016). As we further explored this phenomenon we also found that two phases of collaborative work greatly impact successful student projects: (1) circuit design, and (2) project construction (Litts, Kafai, & Dieckmeyer, 2015; Litts et al., 2017a; Lui et al., 2016). First, as part of the design process, students draw a circuit design, or blueprint of circuit connections, for their project that pairs refer to throughout their project construction. Due to the interdependencies across e-textiles domains, the circuit design inherently impacts the aesthetics (crafting) and function (coding) of e-textiles projects. Circuit design, therefore, requires an understanding of codeable circuitry, and demands a negotiation of design plans and expertise exchange between partners. Students reported that the circuit design phase was more collaborative and conversation as focused on aesthetic and functional circuit design decisions (e.g., where to put lights or a blink pattern for the lights) (Litts, Kafai, Lui, Widman, & Walker, 2017b). Second, students mediate project construction across physical (crafting) and digital (coding) modes. The multimodal nature of this phase results in a range of collaborative styles from equitably sharing tasks across modes to firmly dividing tasks between modes (Litts et al., 2017a; Lui et al., 2016). Students reported the project construction phase was more individualized and their interactions focused on clarifying the distribution of workload by explicitly assigning tasks across domains with their partner. Collectively, this work provides insights not only to understanding of collaborative e-textiles, but also collaborative learning arrangements in interdisciplinary, multimodal design spaces more generally.

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