CAREER: Designing a New Nexus: Examining the Social Construction of Electronics and Computing Toolkits to Broaden Participation and Deepen Learning

PI: Kylie Peppler
Indiana University
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The persistently lopsided gender makeup of computer and information science programs in US universities and colleges suggests that the gender gap in computing education is still obstinately wide. Despite several national initiatives to diversify participation in STEM fields, the underlying culture of computing education remains relatively stagnant, with curriculum, tools and materials that continue to emphasize areas historically aligned more closely with male interests than women’s. This project takes a very different starting point to understanding the pipeline challenge of women’s underrepresentation in STEM careers through focusing on how young girls learn. Through understanding the socially situated nature of learning tools and materials, educators and technologists can design more equitable learning environments for all youth and extend current learning theory to better understand the role of tools and artifacts in the learning process.

Central to the understanding of learning is the relationship between various tools and technologies and the structuring of disciplinary subject matter. However, very little empirical research exists to inform contemporary understanding of how tools and materials shape learning and participation across this emerging technological landscape. Through a series of systematic and crosscutting research investigations, this project provides a basis for theorizing how contemporary electronic tools and materials (e.g., toolkits like paper computing, squishy circuits, e-textiles) shape learning and participation. Each investigation occurs in the complexities of real-world settings such as schools and afterschool clubs; includes the development of new sets of assessments; illuminates design principles for creating new tools and educational ecosystems to better support learning and equitable participation; and explores the design of new toolkits and parts based on these emergent principles. Design-based research guides the methods of each study, in consultation with practitioners to help ensure each proposed activity system effectively complements curricular and practical realities.

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