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Developing Computational Thinking Practises through Digital Fabrication Activities

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This paper presents a study of developing computational thinking (CT) practices through digital fabrication activities, such as creating tangible artefacts with digital tools. The aim of the study was to explore the potential of digital fabrication activities for developing CT practices. We investigated three cases of school visits where the students engaged in digital fabrication activities in Fab Lab Oulu, northern Finland. Based on the perspectives of the teachers who participated in the activities and facilitators who ran the activities, we identified that digital fabrication activities have the potential to develop CT practices, especially formulating problems in order to use a computer for assistance, thinking logically, and implementing possible solutions efficiently and effectively. The findings suggested that the nature of digital fabrication activities, such as frequent use of computers and complex problem-solving, encouraged development of CT practices. However, we also uncovered the possibility that CT is not being adequately defined by the teachers and facilitators.

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Developing Computational Thinking Practises through Digital Fabrication Activities

  1. 1. Developing Computational Thinking Practises through Digital Fabrication Activities Megumi Iwata, Kati Pitkänen, Jari Laru & Kati Mäkitalo University of Oulu, Finland
  2. 2. University of Oulu6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed2 Where are we from?
  3. 3. University of Oulu Introduction 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed3
  4. 4. University of Oulu Why digital fabrication as a context of the study? 1. As CT is considered as a thought process to support understanding problems and formulating solutions effectively (Wing, 2010), digital fabrication may be an environment to apply abstract thought processes into practice 2. STEM-rich digital fabrication activities take place around design and engineering practices, typically integrating digital tools (Bevan, 2017). Hu (2011) maintained that solving STEM problems may foster a person’s CT ability. 3. As CT combines mathematical and engineering thinking (Wing, 2006), STEM-based digital fabrication activities may provide opportunities to apply CT into practice. 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed4 ”Computational thinking is the though processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form tht can be effectively carried out by information processing agent” (Wing 2010)
  5. 5. University of Oulu CT in educational contexts ‒ Kafai (2016) argued that CT in K-12 contexts is social and includes creative practices. (making) ‒ Making is described as “a class of activities focused on designing, building, modifying, and/ or repurposing material objects, for playing or useful ends, oriented toward making a “product” of some sort that can be used, interacted with, or demonstrated” (Martin 2015, p. 31). ‒ Montero (2018) stated that hands-on digital fabrication activities are beneficial to introduce CT, rather than through programming alone, since such activities reduce the negatively biased perception toward “programming” or “coding”. ‒ Digital fabrication activities motivate children to build personally meaningful artefacts in STEM-rich environments and may involve opportunities to develop CT practices in the process. 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed5
  6. 6. University of Oulu Aim Aim is to explore the potentials of developing CT practises through digital fabrication activities 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed6
  7. 7. University of Oulu Methods 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed7
  8. 8. University of Oulu Context: Fab Lab Oulu 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed8 ‒ Fab Lab Oulu, established in 2015 at the University of Oulu, northern Finland, has arranged digital fabrication activities for school visitor groups since 2016. ‒ Fab Labs are a type of makerspaces offering digital fabrication facilities (Cavalcanti, 2013).
  9. 9. University of Oulu • In this study, we focus on three cases of school visits where students from 7th to 9th grades engaged in digital fabrication activities by creating physical artefacts in Fab Lab Oulu in October and November 2016 • In all the three cases, the activities were run by two facilitators working in Fab Lab Oulu. • The facilitators’ main role was to provide instructions on the basic operations of the facilities and digital tools and to help the pupils when they had problems in the process. • The school teachers’ role was mainly to observe the activities and general schedule management Participants
  10. 10. University of Oulu Data Collection 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed10 ‒ We collected data through two semi-structured focus group interviews (e.g., Morgan, 1997; Puchta & Potter, 2004). FOCUS GROUP I: Teachers + Facilitators as a observers • the interviewees were three teachers from two schools (School A and School C), who participated in the activities with their students (see Table 1). • Discussion followed the questions regarding their observations and experiences of the digital fabrication activities, (e.g., which aspects in Fab Lab activity were meaningful for the students’ CT process?). FOCUS GROUP II: Facilitators • The interview questions regarded their perspectives and experiences during the activities (e.g. how was CT seen in the activities?), as well as observation of the focus group interview I with the teachers (e.g., what did you notice in teachers' answers, what are lacks/ shortcomings of educationalists?). The interviews were recorded in video and audio.
  11. 11. University of Oulu Data Analysis 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed11 ‒ We collected data through two semi-structured focus group interviews (e.g., Morgan, 1997; Puchta & Potter, 2004). FOCUS GROUP I: Teachers + Facilitators as a observers • the interviewees were three teachers from two schools (School A and School C), who participated in the activities with their students (see Table 1). • Discussion followed the questions regarding their observations and experiences of the digital fabrication activities, (e.g., which aspects in Fab Lab activity were meaningful for the students’ CT process?). FOCUS GROUP II: Facilitators • The interview questions regarded their perspectives and experiences during the activities (e.g. how was CT seen in the activities?), as well as observation of the focus group interview I with the teachers (e.g., what did you notice in teachers' answers, what are lacks/ shortcomings of educationalists?). The interviews were recorded in video and audio.
  12. 12. University of Oulu Data Collection 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed12 ‒ For data analysis, we employed a theory-driven approach following the guidelines introduced by Krueger and Casey (2000). ‒ First, we transcribed the recorded two focus group interviews. ‒ Based on the predetermined codes, six CT practices defined by Barr et al. (2011), we examined the teachers’ and facilitators’ perspectives towards their experiences in digital fabrication activities. ‒ The unit of analysis in this study is the institutional level. In this study, we intend to highlight the perspectives of groups of people, teachers and facilitators, rather than those of individual participants.
  13. 13. University of Oulu Results 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed13
  14. 14. University of Oulu Results 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed14 1. Developing CT Practices through Frequent Use of Computers in Digital Fabrication 2. Developing CT Practices through Complex Problem-Solving in Digital Fabrication 3. Teachers’ and Facilitators’ Perspectives on CT Practices
  15. 15. University of Oulu 1. Developing CT Practices through Frequent Use of Computers in Digital Fabrication ‒ Among the six CT practices defined by Barr et al. (2011), the teachers and facilitators most frequently discussed formulating problems to allow computers and other dig ‒ “You have to use a vector graphics program to prepare your file in a certain way, in a form that the laser cutter can process…. it’s an algorithm you have to follow and also do CT, you have to perform certain steps in a certain order to get the result.” (one of the facilitators) 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed15
  16. 16. University of Oulu 2. Developing CT Practices through Complex Problem-Solving in Digital Fabrication ‒ In the digital fabrication activities, the students were engaged in complex problem- solving. The complexity they needed to confront involved the functions of the artefacts and the procedures of making. One of the facilitators explained, “Computational thinking is best applied to a little bit larger design problems, when you really have to divide your work into pieces that you need to solve piece by piece.” ‒ Not only by using computers in the process, but the students also had opportunities to develop CT practices by thinking logically and implementing solutions efficiently and effectively. ‒ “The whole project was pretty much about thinking logically, all the hardware staff, you had to think that when this part is moving that way, it moves the other one in the opposite direction, and stuff like that. So…. you had to think logically to get it working.” 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed16
  17. 17. University of Oulu 3. Teachers’ and Facilitators’ Perspectives on CT Practices ‒ The facilitators indicated that digital fabrication involves the concept of CT in its process. One of them explained it as follows: “Any process in Fab Lab requires this way of thinking [CT]: go through these logical steps. For example, if you want to make a printed circuit board or milled circuit board, you have to follow certain steps, and it is about computational thinking, it’s an algorithm you have to follow.” ‒ On the other hand, the facilitators mentioned their unclear understanding as regards the concept of CT. One of them said, “I don’t know. We don’t actually know, we guess they are learning CT. But we don’t know they really are.” 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed17
  18. 18. University of Oulu DISCUSSION 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed18
  19. 19. University of Oulu DISCUSSION: Complexity may increase potential for developing CT ‒ The findings suggested that the nature of STEM- based digital fabrication, frequent use of computers and complex problem-solving, enhances the development of CT practices described by Barr et al. (2011). ‒ Frequent use of computers in the process, which naturally occurs in the process of digital fabrication, allows the students to convert their problems into certain formats to employ digital fabrication methods. ‒ The complexity of digital fabrication activities may increase the potential for developing CT practices, especially thinking logically and implement solutions effectively. 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed19
  20. 20. University of Oulu DISCUSSION: Teachers and facilitators can be vague in their definition of the concept of CT ‒ in the focus group interview with the teachers, the discussion focused on visible actions in the use of computers, such as designing on the computer, rather than implementation of the fundamental concepts of computing: abstractions and automation, which, according to Wing (2008), underlie CT ‒ This finding is in line with the result of the survey among school teachers conducted by Mannila et al. (2014). ‒ On the other hand, we uncovered that the facilitators might not have a clear definition of CT and CT practices, even though CT is a basic way of thinking in their fields of expertise: computer science and engineering6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed20
  21. 21. University of Oulu LIMITATIONS ‒ As a limitation of this study, we are aware that the sample size for the focus group interviews was small. ‒ In addition, we could have described the concept of CT in a more detailed manner during the focus group interviews. ‒ Although we provided an explanation of CT before starting discussion in the focus group interviews, it is likely that the interviewees might not fully understand the concept to discuss it properly. 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed21
  22. 22. University of Oulu CONCLUSIONS 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed22
  23. 23. University of Oulu CONCLUSION Aim was to explore the potential for developing CT practices through digital fabrication activities. ‒ We found that STEM-based digital fabrication activities may enhance developing CT practices. ‒ In addition, the complexity, such as the complex mechanics of the artefacts and complex procedures to fabricate, encouraged the students’ skills in thinking logically and implementing solutions effectively. ‒ However, we also found that the teachers and facilitators could be lacking in their understanding of the definition of CT 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed23
  24. 24. University of Oulu TO SUM UP: To encourage the development of students’ CT practices, both the school teachers’ and facilitators’ awareness of the concepts of CT is essential. Future research may examine the development of teachers’ and facilitators’ understanding and implementation of CT in more detail. 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed24
  25. 25. University of Oulu Thank you! 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed25 https://www.researchgate.net/project/DigiFabEdu-Digital- Fabrication-and-Fab-Labs-in-Formal-Education
  26. 26. University of Oulu RELATED PUBLICATIONS Pitkänen, K., M. Iwata, and J. Laru. “Supporting Fab Lab Facilitators to Develop Pedagogical Practices to Improve Learning in Digital Fabrication Activities.” Paper presented at Fab Learn Europe 2019 Conference. FabLearn Europe ‘19, May, 2019, Oulu, Finland. Laru, J., E. Vuopala, M. Iwata, K. Pitkänen, M. L. Sánchez, A. Mäntyniemi, M. Packalén, and J. Näykki. “Designing Seamless Learning Activities for School Visitors in the Context Of FabLab Oulu.” In Seamless Learning: Perspectives, Challenges and Opportunities. Lecture Notes in Educational Technology, edited by C. Looi, L. Wong, C. Glahn, and S. Cai, 153-169. Singapore: Springer, 2019. 6/13/2019 Replace footertext if needed26

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