PIs: Erica Halverson, Kimberly Sheridan
University of Wisconsin-Madison
The practices of critique and portfolio creation are crucial to successful learning from design and making. Critique involves carefully describing the properties of one’s work, analyzing how the properties function together, envisioning other possible approaches and solutions, evaluating what has been done and which next steps to take, and communicating these ideas to an audience. Critique practices allow a learner to build a series of successive mental representations that include both technical expertise and content understanding. These representations, in turn, allow learners to develop meta-representational competence — the ability to know when to invoke representational tools to solve a given problem at a given time. In this Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies RAPID project, the PIs are developing, testing, and disseminating an on-line critique and portfolio tool to foster learning among young people participating in maker spaces and studying the effects of such support on participants’ learning. They are adapting existing critique and portfolio tools that have been used in more formal learning environments for use in maker spaces and by middle school and high school age learners. RAPID funding is allowing the PIs to refine the tools for use by youngsters in maker spaces in time for some 300 mentors to integrate use of the software into between 100 and 200 maker spaces during Summer, 2014. Analysis of participants’ learning during Summer, 2014, will both add to our understanding of how to support learning while designing and making and will inform subsequent refinement of the critique and portfolio tools.
While much of the current literature on learning through making has focused on the engineering aspects of making, the PIs argue that successful making sits at the intersection of the arts, engineering, and entrepreneurship, and that the most successful and engaged learners will be those who are given access to all three of these fields together and to experts who can help them practice designing, making, and reflection in the ways they are done by experts. It is generally difficult for maker spaces to have the necessary expertise to foster such practices available on site all the time. The PIs are developing cyber-enabled solutions to both challenges simultaneously: to engage young makers in meaningful critique practices and to give them access to experts and expert practices without requiring face-to-face contact. The proposed project is making these solutions easily exportable to informal learning environments across the United States that are bringing a learning-through-making approach to their work with young people.