A Maker Studio Model for High School Classrooms: The Nature and Role of Critique in an Electronic Textiles Design Project
by Breanne K. Litts, Sari A. Widman, Debora A. Lui, Justice T. Walker & Yasmin B. Kafai - 2019
Background/Context: Though the maker movement has proliferated in out-of-school settings, there remains a design challenge of how to effectively integrate maker activities into K–12 classrooms. In other contexts, though, creative design and production have historically been successfully integrated in classrooms through studio models common to the arts, architecture, and engineering.
Purpose/Objective: In this paper, we leverage the features and practices of studio models from arts, architecture, and engineering education to integrate maker activities in a high school classroom. Within this Maker Studio model, students focus on designing a computational artifact and engage in practices more predominantly found in studio arts, architecture, and engineering classes such as feedback, critique, and reflection.
Research Design: We conducted a case study of how a class of 23 high school students participating in a STEM elective class in teams partnered with art students to develop an interactive installation. Our analyses focus on how the structure of the feedback, critique, and reflections in the Maker Studio informed and shaped students’ design processes.
Conclusions: We discuss affordances and implications of recognizing studio practices (particularly critique) as design features of maker activities, especially in high school classroom contexts, and present the Maker Studio as a viable model for integration of maker activities in classroom environments. We also characterize key features of the Maker Studio model, including the following: appreciation and support for maker processes in addition to or even above final products, integration of various structures for giving and receiving critique throughout the design process, support for interdisciplinary and collaborative project work, and engagement with diverse perspectives and expertise during critiques.
The maker movement has garnered national support and aims to equip youth to be producers rather than consumers of digital and physical artifacts. Most makerspaces and maker activities are implemented in out-of-school environments such as libraries, museums, community centers, and afterschool programs (Litts, 2015a; Sheridan et al., 2014). These spaces successfully support a wide range of approaches and models to interdisciplinary, intergenerational maker activities (Brahms & Werner, 2013; Petrich, Wilkinson, & Bevan, 2013). In particular, out-of-school settings afford the interest-driven, unstructured, and messy process of making. Nonetheless, scholars have spotlighted key inequities that inhibit access to and limit diversity in makerspaces and maker activities (Barton, Tan, & Greenberg, 2016; Vossoughi, Escudé, Kong, & Hooper, 2013). These challenges are particularly salient as educators consider maker integration in K12 settings where all participants must have the chance to succeed.
Maker approaches to education are gaining traction in formal contexts, especially as the maker movement collides with trends to increasingly integrate computer science in various types of learning activities and spaces. Within K12 contexts, makerspaces have found a home in the school library (Plemmons, 2014) or through pop-up or mobile space models (McKay & Peppler, 2013; Moorefield-Lang, 2015). Moreover, STEM genres of maker activities, like robotics (Benitti, 2012) and 3D printing (Blikstein, 2013), have been prominent candidates in K12 maker integration. More art-based genres of maker activities, such as electronic textiles (e-textiles; Buechley, 2006), have also become popular as ways to broaden participation in and access to STEM (Peppler, 2013). E-textiles are interactive designs constructed with conductive thread, sewable lights and sensors, and a sewable microcontroller. There is, however, a growing tension between the characteristics of out-of-school making and the essence of current K12 maker integration. For instance, support for the maker ethos through opt-in, interest-driven community participation that embodies makerspaces (Baichtal, 2011; Britton, 2012; Litts, 2015b; Sheridan et al., 2014) is difficult to implement within a school due to structural constraints such as restrictive time periods, forced participation, evaluation and assessment, and alignment with standards. While these challenges are not new, they are amplified with the maker movement in education, thereby creating a unique opportunity to find a new solution to an old design challenge.
In this paper, we explore a new approach to integrating maker activities in formal learning environments. Though maker activities, practices, and spaces take many different forms, scholars argue that maker environments and activities are connected by a similar ethos (Sheridan et al., 2014). Shaped by DIY and hacker movements (Martin, 2015), this maker ethos is characterized by supporting interdisciplinary approaches and products, blending formal and out-of-school communities of practice, and conceptualizing learning through design rather than skill mastery (Sheridan et al., 2014). Further, the maker ethos includes features such as distributed knowledge, sharing resources (Foster, Lande, & Jordan, 2014), resourcefulness (Sheridan & Konopasky, 2016), and collaboration through community-building (Litts, 2015b). Our aim in this study was, therefore, to create a degree of structure around maker activities that would allow them to better fit in the classroom while simultaneously preserving some core features of the maker ethos.
We developed, implemented, and examined a prototype for maker activities in a high school classroom that we call the Maker Studio model. We chose this name because its design and implementation draws upon prior work in arts, architecture, and engineering studios in education. In particular, we designed and implemented a collaborative e-textiles unit with 23 high school juniors over fifteen 90-minute class sessions. We address the following research questions: (1) What are the characteristics of different types of critique in the Maker Studio model? and (2) How do these different critique practices facilitate the integration of maker activities in a high school classroom? Drawing on a wide range of qualitative data, our analyses focus on the structure of different feedback and critique sessions and how these impacted students design process while completing their e-textiles projects. We report on the design tradeoffs of using varied types of critique to structure maker activities for classroom settings and discuss implications for how educators and designers can leverage critique to integrate a Maker Studio model that will support maker activities and work within the constraints of the classroom.
In developing the Maker Studio for high school, we wanted to provide an integrative model for maker activities and spaces situated within, rather than outside, classrooms. Thus far, efforts to bring makerspaces into K12 have largely focused on implementing makerspaces as separate from classroom activities (Blikstein & Krannich, 2013; Loertscher, Preddy & Derry, 2013). Most school makerspaces are set up in libraries (Plemmons, 2014; Preddy, 2013), as they are central spaces that are already staffed. Another approach has been to implement making with pop-up or mobile space models (Craddock, 2015; McKay & Peppler, 2013; Moorefield-Lang, 2015), so a permanent space is not required. For instance, the Childrens Museum of Pittsburgh implemented a satellite model similar to the mobile model, where facilitators from the museum work with schools to develop and sustain maker activities throughout the year (Wardrip & Brahms, 2016). Other maker models include integrating kit-like activities such as multimedia circuits or e-textiles (Tofel-Grehl et al., 2017; Tofel-Grehl, Litts, & Searle, 2016) into existing curriculum. The integration of maker activities in classroom settings still presents the design challenge of preserving the maker ethos enjoyed in out-of-school environments while adhering to the necessary structure of the classroom and core curricula (Hira, Joslyn, & Hynes, 2014).
The separation of makerspaces from classroom is reminiscent of many issues that were prominent when computer labs were first introduced in schools in the 1980s. Most students visited a lab once a week, mostly to gain competence in operating the device itself, before returning to their regular classroom activities (Becker, 1998; Budin, 1999). This lack of classroom integration and connection to the core curriculum, combined with minimal training for classroom teachers on how to code or productively engage the technology, did not support increased computational fluency (Palumbo, 1990). Further, it reinforced cultural norms and inequities so that boys participated in computing activities with greater frequency than girls (Cuban, Kirkpatrick, & Peck, 2001). We see these same inequities manifesting in the maker movement, wherein some students are afforded more opportunities with maker experiences than others (Barton et al., 2016; Vossoughi et al., 2013).
Rather than replicating these issues, our goal is to propose a model that integrates makerspaces and maker activities into the classroom. Several efforts have already started exploring how to bridge this gap. For example, the Project School integrated a dedicated makerspace that is connected to the classroom itself (Wallace et al., 2017). In this add-on maker integration, students engaged in activities such as building an aquaponics lab, which was then connected across disciplines such as English/language arts, humanities, science, and others. Berkeley Preparatory School offers an example of a more holistic maker integration. They overhauled their K12 spaces and curriculum to focus on establishing a maker ethos across ages and disciplines throughout the lower, middle, and upper division schools (Henderson, Vogel, & Campagna, 2017). Here, staff and administrators transformed the entire school structure by augmenting the core curricular units across subjects with maker activities, for instance, scaffolding fabrication projects from using cardboard materials in lower division to using 3D materials in upper division. In both design cases, the educators struggled with how instructional practices such as level of guidance or assessment of learning are transformed by these high-fidelity integrations. We build on these design cases by offering an empirical perspective on the tradeoffs of integrating making in a formal setting and contributing critique as a tool to support learning and instructional practice in maker integration.
We propose a studio model for maker activities informed by a rich body of research in postsecondary and K12 studio practices in the arts, architecture, and engineering. The studio model has long been used in learning for various creative fields and disciplines, most predominantly art and architecture, and thus aligns well with the interdisciplinary nature of maker activities that draw on these disciplines.
THE STUDIO MODEL ACROSS DISCIPLINES
The art studio is the oldest and most established studio model used in K12 schools. Winner et al. (2006) analyzed learning in high school arts classrooms and identified three instructional phases that characterize the art studio model: demonstration and lecture, students at work, and critique. We adopted and leveraged all three of these instructional phases in the design of the Maker Studio. These instructional phases also mirror those laid out in Jamess (1996) ethnographic study of an undergraduate sculpture course. Students peer interactions are critical, and while an art studio classroom environment is supportive and community oriented, it is usually not formally collaborative (James, 1996). Students freely engage with each other during studio time, but their work is generally done individually following a single students vision, rather than in teams or groups. Student-teacher relationships traditionally follow that of the atelier model of apprentice and master (Salazar, 2013). Thus, student-teacher interactions are frequent, and often one-on-one. Informal discussion of work in progress occurs during open work or studio time through both student-teacher interactions and students peer interactions (James, 1996; Salazar, 2013). Finally, the outcome for a project, while it may be experimental, is a completed piece of work (James, 1996). Once an assignment is complete, a more formal critique is generally completed with the whole class. Students often pin up or place work around the room and the class then makes their way around the room evaluating each piece one at a time. The teacher facilitates critique and students participate as well (Doren, 2015; James, 1996).
For our Maker Studio, we also draw from the model of the architecture studio. This studio class structure is similar to the art studio instructional phases discussed above but proves to be more complex and includes more varied and structured activities. The architecture studio may include lectures, assigned readings, worksheets, and design projects (Cuff, 1992; Uluoǧlu, 2000). Similar to the art studio, work is generally performed individually (Oh, Ishizaki, Gross, & Do, 2013). Informal interaction occurs during open studio time, when students can freely interact, discuss, and check in with each other (Cuff, 1992). The most common relationship between student and teacher is apprentice and master, with the teacher sometimes referred to as the studio master (Oh et al., 2013; Uluoǧlu, 2000). Much of the learning in the studio is relayed through verbal communication between student and teacher (Oh et al., 2013; Uluoǧlu, 2000; Wendler & Rogers, 1995). Like the art studio, critique sessions are the primary way teachers transmit knowledge to students (Oh et al., 2013; Uluoǧlu, 2000). Unlike the art studio, these critiques take on different forms and structures and occur at various stages in students project development (Bailey, 2005). For instance, the desk crit is a one-on-one interaction between student and instructor that occurs throughout the course of the project, while the group crit involves the instructor and a small (46) group of students (Oh et al., 2013). The structure of the group critique is similar to the pin-up in the art studio but addresses work in progress in a small group. The architecture studio also has interim reviews which involve the entire class and are held at key points in the design process. The formal review is the final presentation of students work, during which students receive feedback from a panel of critics, including the client. Unlike the art studio, the client plays a central role in the design challenges presented to architecture students, rather than the students own ideas and expression. The final outcome of a project is generally a design proposal, presented in the form of drawings and models (Oh et al., 2013). While there has yet to be a study analyzing the use of this architecture studio model in K12, we adopted the design of critique structures and student-teacher interaction in our design of the Maker Studio.
Finally, the engineering studio is the newest application of the studio model. At all levels of education, from afterschool K12 programs to graduate courses, there has been an increasingly concerted effort to utilize the studio model for STEM learning, particularly in engineering (Hundhausen & Brown, 2008; Little & Cardenas, 2001; Schnittka, Brandt, Jones, & Evans, 2012). Reasons for its application include a desire to integrate traditionally separated courses and curriculum to create interdisciplinary learning environments and promote collaboration, creativity, and reflection (Faro & Swan, 2006; Kellam, Walther, Costantino, & Cramond, 2013; Wilson & Jennings, 2000). So far, this integration has been documented more at the postsecondary level than in K12. Similar to the art and architecture studio models, a defining feature of the engineering studio model is that teachers transmit knowledge to students through both lecture and critique (Little & Cardenas, 2001). Assignments are usually completed in teams or collaboratively in groups (Hundhausen, Agrawal, Fairbrother, & Trevisan, 2010; Kellam et al., 2013; Little & Cardenas, 2001; Reardon & Tangney, 2015; Wilson & Jennings, 2000). Project outcomes may be in the form of a design plan or model (Kellam et al., 2013; Kuhn, 2001; Little & Cardenas, 2001) or a completed digital artifact (Reardon & Tangney, 2015). Design projects also often have a client and sometimes address problems in the local community (Kellam et al., 2013; Kuhn, 2001; Little & Cardenas, 2001). This prior work offers evidence that critique is generally a part of the engineering studio, but there is little documentation of what form this takes.
DEVELOPING THE MAKER STUDIO MODEL
In designing the model of the Maker Studio, we draw on the traditions and practices observed in art, architecture, and engineering studios, particularly (1) artifact design phases and (2) peer feedback and critique. We leverage these two studio features to provide room for creativity, flexibility, and choice within a structured design process. The tradition of the studio model has heavily influenced both constructionism and contemporary efforts to integrate making into schools. Paperts (1980) constructionism was inspired by his critical comparison of art and math classes. He was inspired by art class because it allowed time to think, to dream, to gaze, to get a new idea and try it and drop it or persist, time to talk, to see other people's work and their reaction to yoursnot unlike mathematics as it is for the mathematician, but quite unlike math as it is in junior high school (p. 5). Papert saw a natural fit between the pedagogical practices of the art classroom and the goals of STEM education. In more contemporary contexts, the engineering studio model referenced above is another example of how the compatibility of these practices can be leveraged. In our design of the Maker Studio, we offer a formalized model that serves to integrate studio and STEM practice as well as maker and classroom practice.
In our Maker Studio implementation, the project was structured in two phases: the ideation phase (where students brainstormed ideas and came up with a project plan) and the construction phase (where students implemented their ideas by coding and sewing their projects). Instructors utilized brief lectures, worksheets, project journals, and critique sessions as learning tools. Furthermore, we implemented peer feedback and critique as outlined in prior studio models. The e-textiles design project demanded that students learn both design practices and complex technical skills around coding, crafting, and circuitry, which are common to this type of multimodal maker project. As a result of this inherent complexity vis-a-vis the classroom time constraints, which limited project duration, we introduced necessary design constraints such as narrowing project scope to crafting an interactive sign for the school and structuring the coding to require four light patterns triggered by sensors.
Similar practices have been leveraged in maker contexts, including e-textiles workshops and Scratch game-making workshops connected to, but external from, classrooms (Searle, Fields, Lui, & Kafai, 2014; Vasudevan, Kafai, & Yang, 2015). In one example of this, students participated in peer critique through the industry practice of play testing as part of a video game design project (Vasudevan et al., 2015). In play testing, students tested each others games and provided feedback, as part of a process of improving their designs through iteration. Other scholars (Johnson & Halverson, 2015) leveraged the practice of critique from writing and explored different technologies to support asynchronous feedback in out-of-school maker settings. These scholars argue for designing maker environments that include documentation and critique (Johnson & Halverson, 2015). In our current study, we seek to build upon this work by more clearly defining the role critique practices can play in structuring these maker activities for the classroom.
We implemented the Maker Studio model by facilitating a collaborative e-textiles classroom unit with 231 high school juniors participating in a STEM elective class (4 boys, 19 girls, 1617 years old) at a charter school in a northeastern metropolitan city. Within this STEM elective course, students are given diverse opportunities to explore STEM subjects outside of their regular curriculum. For the e-textiles project, the particular goal was both to give students the experience of working on an engineering design project that would be shared with members of their school, and to collaborate with art students in the school on an interdisciplinary project. The classroom teacher, who maintained classroom management including grading responsibilities throughout the project, cofacilitated the e-textiles unit with Author 2, who primarily supported by modeling the critiques and providing technical expertise. Authors 1 and 3 were also present in the classroom, primarily as researchers, but also occasionally supported with technical expertise. The e-textiles unit spanned over fifteen 90-minute class periods during which students worked in pairs to construct an interactive sign that would be exhibited in a high-traffic area of the school (see Figure 1). Each pair was assigned a letter designed by an art student in the same school and given a LilyPad Arduino, LEDs, sensors, switches, and other e-textiles materials. The assignment was to create an interactive design for their letter through which peers and visitors could trigger at least four different light patterns by interacting with at least two sensors or switches sewn onto the canvas. The Institutional Review Board approved this study.
Figure 1. A sample of letters compiled randomly (to maintain anonymity) as an example of what the final interactive sign might look like
We collected a range of qualitative data focusing on students design process and moments of critique and how these two intersected. In addition to taking fieldnotes and documenting artifacts throughout students design process, we video recorded all class-wide interactions (including lectures, demonstrations, and discussions) as well as individual interactions between four (of the 122) pairs. The classroom teacher regularly shared reflections with researchers through informal debriefing interviews and journaling. Author 3 also focused on observing four case study pairs, who were selected at the start of the workshop in collaboration with the classroom teacher based on student pairs expertise with e-textiles and gender.
Our analyses focused on five critique sessions: (1) a class-wide feedback session on design ideas; (2) a group critique session between two pairs; (3) a group feedback session between each pair and their corresponding art student; (4) a class-wide feedback session on project interactivity; and (5) ongoing informal desk critiques between instructors and students. All critique sessions were video recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. In addition, observation notes for art student and pair feedback sessions were also analyzed. Coding schemes were developed using both deductive and inductive approaches (Ravitch & Carl, 2015). First, we deductively applied codes identifying the relationships between participants (i.e., student to student or teacher to student) as well as participant interaction structures (i.e., formal or informal), which were adapted from architecture studio literature (Oh et al., 2013). This provided a descriptive characterization of how engagement was structured within student groups, between student groups, and between teachers and student groups. These codes also provided a frame within which to analyze the nature of engagement. Authors 2 and 4 coded data sets independently and met to reconcile discrepant code applications. This process occurred iteratively until full consensus (i.e., interrater reliability) was reached. After these first rounds of coding were complete, additional codes inductively reflecting the nature of participant engagement were applied. These codes were used to describe both the content and quality of the critique or feedback exchanged between participants (e.g., technical or aesthetic, and prescriptive or suggestive, respectively). Authors 2 and 4, again, coded data sets independently and met to establish full code application consensus. See Table 1 for codebook.
Table 1. Codebook Generated in Data Analyses
In addition to presenting themes across types of critique and students design process, we construct an instrumental case (Stake, 1995), which is used to illustrate an issue, to provide deeper insights into how critique (the issue at hand) was enacted within a specific pair. We selected Adam and Estelle as our case because we had the most data on their design process, since they were one of the groups Author 3 tracked in depth who participated in all types of critiques (i.e., not all students participated in the critique between pairs). Selecting the pair with the most holistic dataset allowed us to triangulate across more data sources and perspectives to ensure we developed a valid case.
In our study, critique and feedback offered a productive context to engage students in relevant learning around maker activities and processes. We first outline the different types of critique sessions along with their affordances and constraints. We then present an instrumental case (Stake, 1995) of a Maker Studio model in a classroom setting using students design process to provide context and depth of our findings. Finally, we share critique trends across all students design processes.
CRITIQUE TYPES IN A MAKER STUDIO
Overview of Critique Types
In our implementation of the Maker Studio, we gained valuable insights into the features of each critique type. Table 2 outlines the five types of critique we explored in this study. Because critique practices were likely new to most students, we oriented students to these practices in several ways. In the overview of critique types outlined below, we detail the introduction and modeling of critique practices throughout the workshop. This often occurred in the form of framing and instruction about presentation and feedback at the beginning of a critique and the modeling of productive feedback by instructors by asking questions and giving prompts during the sessions.
Table 2. Features of Critique Types
Class-wide Critique on Initial Design Ideas
In preparation for this critique, students were given a brainstorming worksheet that framed the project as a design project and introduced the themes that would be brought into the critiques throughout the workshop. Questions on the brainstorming worksheet prompted students to consider the environment the projects would be installed in (the cafe space of the school), the user of their design (who the audience would be), the use and functionality of the project (how users would physically interact with the piece), and the aesthetics of the project (the placement of the LEDs, switches, and sensors on their design).
During the critique, student pairs were asked to present initial design ideas for their sign that emerged from the brainstorming worksheets to the entire class. One instructor (Author 2) facilitated interactions by asking each pair several questions, including where they wanted to place lights, what kind of sensor they wanted to use (e.g., light, touch, etc.), and how they imagined the interactive sensor would be activated. Author 2 provided the majority of the feedback, which was primarily suggestive design and technical, focused on user experience and pushing the pairs to envision the future of their project in different ways. For example, student pair Caroline and Joy imagined that users would place hot coffee near their temperature sensor to activate it. The instructor encouraged the pair to rethink more practical user interactions, as well as highlighting a technical constraint (lack of a temperature sensor) that made their design impossible (Fieldnotes & Transcript, 11/06/2015). Embedded in these critiques was also articulative feedback, in which students were asked to actually verbalize their nascent ideas, thus forcing pairs to make in-the-moment decisions about their project focus and design.
Group Critique Between Pairs on Project Plan
Two sets of pairs (or four pairs total) participated in a small group critique session in a separate room during which each pair took turns presenting their proposed plan to one another. Author 2 facilitated the critique by first asking the presenting pair where they wanted targeted feedback and then prompting the responding pair to ask questions and provide critique. Students used multiple pieces of evidence to present their designs, including full-sized color copies of their designs from the art students, hand-drawn circuit diagrams, and programming flowcharts, where they listed their logic of actions and desired light patterns. Instructor involvement was dependent on the individual pairs level of engagement; for example, the sessions with pairs who were very engaged in the project required little direction from the instructors. In these sessions, the emphasis of critique was to push students to rethink and re-envision their designs (suggestive); however, students mostly took this time as an opportunity to solidify their designs by communicating them with others (articulative) and express support for one another (prescriptive). For instance, in their session with Malik and Robert, Cassidy and Kiara received praise about the placement of their lights, and also spent time trying to clarify the difference between their light patterns to the group by explaining that in on pattern all the lights stay on, but in another pattern theyll all blink on and off together (Video, 11/13/2015). Notably, these comments primarily focused on aesthetics and technical aspects of the project rather than process or design, something that likely occurred because students were right at the end of their ideation phase and transitioning into construction of their projects.
Group Critique With Art Student on Project Plan
Each pair also presented their ideas to the art student who designed their assigned letter; these sessions took place with minimal instructor involvement. Since the art students inherently brought a more developed aesthetic perspective, student pairs received a lot of prescriptive feedback on the look of their designs. For example, several art students commented on the chosen colors and placements of the LEDs on the canvas designs, often following up by asking the pairs to either add lights or change colors in response (Fieldnotes, 11/16/2015). These sessions were also highly articulative as student pairs were often forced to explain, at a basic level, the technical features of the project to art students, who had neither knowledge nor experience with e-textiles.
Class-wide Critique on Project Behaviors and Interactivity
When projects were nearly complete, each pair presented their design to the class and explained the project behavior and interactivity of the project, including their choice of sensor and their four light patterns. One instructor (Author 2) introduced the structure and framing of the critique before beginning. She instructed students that they would have one minute to present their design and prompted them to focus on talking about the patterns they had programmed their lights to perform. She also noted this critique would give them the opportunity to see what their pair projects would look like when installed together as an entire class and encouraged them to ask their classmates questions if they wanted specific feedback (Video, 11/24/2015).
The aesthetic and technical nature of this design context resulted in a lot of prescriptive critique about specific light patterns or colors (e.g., I like the red [LEDs] in the eyes; Video, 11/24/2015). The classroom teacher, however, challenged students with more articulative critique by prompting them to share how they envisioned what would happen when someone interacted with their project (e.g., So what's going to happen when you touch the touch sensor? How is the pattern going to change?; Video, 11/24/15). Most students, unfortunately, had not completed enough of the code in their projects to fully demo their light patterns, which resulted in presentations where students abstractly talked through their plans rather than concretely demoing their ideas. Thus, project progress had an impact on the type of critique students provided or received.
Informal Desk Critiques
Over the course of the workshop, instructors provided ongoing informal desk critiques that arose spontaneously as needed. Students often initiated the interaction themselves, primarily to gain help with technical issues and troubleshooting. For example, Matt and Mia asked for help in figuring out how to prevent short circuits in their project by using felt for electrical insulation (Fieldnotes, 11/10/15), while Joy and Caroline solicited assistance when trying to figure out how to program a chase pattern with one light coming on after another (Fieldnotes, 11/17/15). Sometimes, though, instructors provided students with suggestive process critique to help guide project progress and execution. During their idea brainstorming, for instance, Author 3 consulted with Yoana and Naomi and provided multiple suggestions about the placement and shape of their touch sensors:
INSTRUCTOR: [the sensor] doesn't just have to be like a circle or a square, it can be a particular shape
YOANA and NAOMI: Uh-huh.
INSTRUCTOR: That you cut out that maybe conforms to something on here, like the car, you know what I mean? I dunno, just think about it.
NAOMI: Oh yeah, and if we use the tin foil thing, then we could use it to accent certain parts of the picture, like the car like you said (Video, 11/6/15)
Thus, unlike formal feedback sessions, where the interaction was often brief and one-sided, informal instances of instructor-to-pair feedback often yielded more in-depth and sustained interactions that ranged from instructive to collaborative in nature.
MAKER STUDIO IN K12 CLASSROOM: AN ILLUSTRATIVE CASE
In this section, we describe the experiences of Adam and Estelle as an instrumental case (Stake, 1995) that demonstrates how students experienced the different critique sessions throughout the e-textiles unit. As illustrated by the narrative below, the pairs design trajectory was significantly shaped by their participation in the critiques throughout the workshop. While the class-wide critique on initial ideas and the pair-to-pair critique afforded them opportunities to develop and refine their unique design plan, the art student critique and class-wide critique on project interactivity supported students in concretizing their execution and implementation strategy. Desk critiques provided support for both phases of the workshop. This trajectory is further described below.
Figure 2. Adam and Estelles completed project
At the beginning of the workshop, Adam and Estelle were paired together and assigned to work on the design for the letter I within the collaborative mural (see Figure 2). The pair used the several different types of critique session to help develop and refine their ideas. In preparation for the class-wide critique on initial ideas, for instance, the pair wrote that one of their interests was to not take away from the [art students] picture but instead enhance it and make it better through the addition of lights (Brainstorming Document, 11/6/15). While they were initially unsure of how to do this, a desk critique with the classroom teacher highlighted the hidden images within the dark corners of the art students design (suggestive) (Fieldnotes, 11/6/15). This suggestion helped them to develop an initial plan of highlighting these images, such as a womans face and a traffic light (see Figure 3) through the addition of LEDs.
Figure 3. Close-up of a hidden image of face in the corner (left) and traffic light (right)
Adam and Estelles participation in the pair-to-pair critique also helped them further refine their design ideas. Here, the pair articulated the specific locations for their LEDs (around the face, traffic light, and clock tower), as well as their intended light patterns (e.g., only clock tower LED on or blinking back and forth between face LEDs and clock tower LED). The other pair (Naomi and Yoana) in this critique session asked several clarifying questions (articulative). For instance, they probed for a rationale for Adam and Estelles design decision to place the LilyPad Arduino in a prominent spot in the middle of the picture rather than tucking it away in a corner; Adam and Estelle explained it was for ease of circuitry connections and to avoid covering the images placed around the canvas. In answering these questions, Adam and Estelle reflected on their design choices while considering both the technical and aesthetic appropriateness of their decisions. Naomi and Yoana additionally helped Adam and Estelle figure how to actually sew in the lights to the project, whether on top of the canvas or underneath so that the light would shine through. After discussing the possibilities (suggestive), Naomi and Yoana ultimately helped the pair come to a final decision (prescriptive). Adam stated: I like having them all show on the front cause I think it represents our part of the project, and Estelle agreed: I dont want to put it on the back It shows what we did, and shows what [the art student] did (Video, 11/13/15).
Figure 4. Naomi and Yoanas e-textiles project
Following this, the pair eagerly listened to Naomi and Yoanas design (Figure 4) and gave them feedback. They asked a number of clarifying questions (articulative) about the functionality of the lights (particularly their similar stoplight LEDs) and also about the balance of the light layout on the canvas (the upper right corner was the only place without LEDs). They also discussed the placement of the touch sensors; Naomi and Yoana explained that they had placed them toward the bottom for accessibility. At the end of the session, both pairs had developed a more solidified sense of their final designs and were ready for construction.
As with the ideation phase, Adam and Estelle relied upon several different critique sessions to support the construction of their final project. While the art student critique and class-wide critiques on project interactivity aided them in organizing their plans for implementation, the desk critiques assisted pairs in acquiring the necessary domain knowledge to create and troubleshoot their projects.
Before moving onto project construction, all pairs were asked to present their final designs to their corresponding art student. Adam and Estelle worked on finalizing the location of their lights, as well as what light patterns to discuss. On the day of the critique, Adam was absent but Estelle presented the pairs plans to their art student counterpart. While the art student agreed with most of Adam and Estelles choices, she was concerned about the central placement of the LilyPad and the visibility of stitches, which she felt would be distracting (prescriptive). Estelle, however, reassured the student by showing her the gray conductive thread, which she said she could blend by putting it in a darker spot. She also explained the logistical difficulties of moving the placement of the LilyPad, since it would require a total rearrangement of the circuitry of the project (Video, 11/16/15). Estelles response to the articulative critique required her to demonstrate her understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of coding, crafting, and circuitry of e-textiles design projects. After discussing this feedback with Adam, both agreed to move ahead with their initial plan of keeping the LilyPad in the center of the project while trying to blend the stitches with the underlying design of the art student.
Adam and Estelle then transitioned to the construction phase of their project. As a pair, they shared and discussed design visions together, but Adam took lead on the coding tasks and Estelle took lead on the crafting tasks. Like almost all the pairs, the pair relied heavily on informal desk critiques during this phase in order to address their technical and process issues. Adam and Estelle regularly consulted with one instructor (Author 3) both in regard to circuitry and coding programming tasks. For instance, early on in the construction phase, the pair received suggestive critique focused on problem solving their redesign challenge of how to shift connections in their circuit diagram to add more LEDs (Video, 11/13/15). Later in the process of developing their final program, Adam received not only more problem solving assistance on how to code a chase pattern that lit up one LED at a time but also prescriptive feedback to test out light patterns on a separate device (LilyPad Protosnap) before Estelle had finished with sewing the project (Fieldnotes, 11/18/15). Thus, desk critiques were simultaneously used for skill development in multiple domains as well as troubleshooting.
Notably, Adam and Estelles participation in the second class-wide critique on project interactivity also helped them to organize and finalize their program code. During this session, all pairs were required to demonstrate their four light patterns and accompanying sensor triggers; for instance, the lights blink when one presses the touch sensors. Like other pairs, Adam and Estelle had some difficulty outlining which light patterns corresponded to which actions, since they had not yet finished writing up their program. However, the classroom teacher helped clarify this confusion by asking about each pattern one by one (articulative), and thereby forcing the pair to commit the arrangement of their different patterns (Video, 11/23/15). Following the critique, the pair went back to completing their final programs, moving away from their initial test program toward creating a final program that matched their stated decisions.
Throughout the workshop, Adam and Estelles experience with the critique session shaped the design and implementation of their project. While they only enacted some of the feedback they received, the act of articulating and sometimes refuting recommendations helped them to develop, refine, and solidify their project designs over time. Furthermore, the pairs engagement throughout the critiques supported their experience with the maker ethos: the pair was able to create a highly personalized artifact while simultaneously working collaboratively with other members of the class, drawing upon shared class resources, and engaging with just-in-time learning within a variety of domains.
SHIFTS IN CRITIQUE TRENDS THROUGHOUT THE DESIGN PROCESS
In this section, we outline the role different critiques played over the course of students design processes. We note overarching trends of critique as well as affordances of each feature of critique: characteristics, content, relationship, and structure (see Table 1 for codebook).
Characteristic and Content
Over the course of students design processes, the critiques were predominantly characterized as prescriptive (evaluative of design) and articulative (prompting explanations), with fewer critiques characterized as suggestive (envisioning possibilities), or problem solving (resolving issues). Moreover, the content of critiques was primarily focused on aesthetics with less emphasis on technical issues, and even less focus on design or process. Hence, across the workshop, we found the most common type of critique to be prescriptive aesthetic (e.g., feedback about liking a pairs aesthetic decisions, such as what light patterns they coded or where they placed their lights). On the one hand, this finding could be a result of having a critique with art students and not including similar critiques that primarily focused on technical, design, or process issues. On the other hand, the prevalence of this prescriptive aesthetic critique could be due to the nature of the e-textiles designs themselves as they emphasize aesthetics. These visual features may thus be easier for nonexperts to comment on (whether art students or the pairs themselves) than technical aspects of e-textiles like code and circuitry, which generally requires more specialized knowledge to understand and assess.
As opposed to critiques focused on aesthetics, critiques focused on the design of students projects were most commonly characterized as articulative, in that the critique aimed to elicit students own ideas and encourage them to verbally explain their design vision. Articulative critiques were most commonly given by an instructor to guide students to identify their own problems and solutions by challenging them to concretize their ideation and vision through articulating their designs for an external audience. This often occurred within the class-wide critiques, for instance, when the instructor would ask students to verbalize their individual designs for other students:
INSTRUCTOR: So what is your sensor?
AYSHA: Oh, a light sensor.
INSTRUCTOR: Okay, so do you have it doing different things? So what's going to happen when the light is on?
XENIA: Oh, when the light is on, um, I don't know. I think these two are going to light up and these two [points to lights on the canvas], and then these are going to be off [pointing to different lights on the canvas]. Like the middle ones will be off.
INSTRUCTOR: Okay, when the light is low, then-
XENIA: They [are] all going to blink. (Video, 11/23/15)
We also note that the majority of technical-focused critiques were articulative as well. This allowed students not only to formalize their ideas but also to solidify their understanding of technical concepts such as the relationship between particular triggering actions (e.g., low levels of ambient light) and programmed behaviors (e.g., a chase light pattern). Across all critiques, we noted a clear improvement in students ability to articulate their design ideas and plans from earlier to later critique sessions, which indicates a better grasp of domain and process knowledge of e-textiles designs.
Aside from the trend of articulative technical critiques, technical critiques were fairly evenly characterized as prescriptive, suggestive, and problem solving. This was true of process critiques as well. In other words, discussions about functional issues (technical) and project completion (process) took on multiple characteristics. For example, in a technical and process-focused desk critique session, pair Melanie and Jasmine asked for assistance with programming their special color-changing RGB (red-green-blue) light. They were simultaneously given multiple forms of critique from peers and instructors, including the following: a variety of options for programming the RGB light (suggestive), tips for finding and remixing relevant code online (problem solving), and praise for the idea they finally chose to implement (prescriptive) (Field Notes, 11/17/15). In this way, the technical and process critiques were characterized by techniques for execution and oriented toward problem solving.
Another shift we observed over the course of students design process was from suggestive to prescriptive critique. The class-wide critique on design idea, which was the first formal session, was primarily suggestive and the content was most evenly distributed between aesthetic, technical, and user/design. This more even distribution of content is likely due to the fact that it was the most general of the critiques, since it was early in the design process and focused on students initial overall ideas for the project. For example, rather than engaging with the technicalities of how a blink pattern would be programmed, there was more emphasis on considering a wide range of possibilities in terms of light patterns and user interaction. As students further developed their projects, critiques became increasingly more prescriptive. This can be seen in the class-wide critique on interactivity that occurred toward the end of the construction phase, where instructors were more explicit about final outcomes. Instead of providing suggestions for envisioning possibilities, feedback primarily focused on implementation and completion, with instructors making concrete recommendations such as making lights twinkle or fade and cutting out sensors in particular shapes (Video, 11/23/15; 11/24/15). The shift in critique from suggestive to prescriptive thereby indicates a shift in class discourse: from that of novices who have a hard time envisioning what an e-textiles project could be to that of active practitioners who are able not only to understand but to implement specific directives and suggestions.
Relationship and Structure
Over the course of the study, we noted variations across critique according to relationships and structure. Instructor critiques were evenly distributed across all content domains (aesthetic, technical, design, and process) and included both formal (class) and informal (desk) critiques. Since the instructors had expertise in making e-textiles designs, they were able to provide more holistic feedback that spanned across domains, as compared to peers. This was primarily seen within the desk critiques, where instructors would often focus on a wide range of content, such as how to best plan sewing to avoid short circuits and errors (technical, process) or where to place the LEDs in order to highlight features within the canvas (aesthetic, design). Peer critiques were dominated by aesthetics and were largely informal in nature. As we previously discussed, the group critique with the art students, who had less experience with the technical aspects of the project and more ownership over its aesthetics, biased some of the trends in our data toward being more aesthetic, but revealed the importance of expert peer critiques. Compared to class-wide critiques, smaller group critiques, such as the group pair and art student critiques, were more supportive of peer feedback, a trend consistent with prior work that has found class-wide critiques are significantly less conducive to active student participation (Oh et al., 2013).
We did note an overarching theme across the design processes that technical feedback was often focused on problem solving and occurred in informal desk (instructor) or formal group pair (peer) critiques. This could suggest that technical feedback is more productive or natural in smaller group structures (informal or formal) compared to larger class-wide structures. Since technical feedback often includes a more in-depth discussion referencing Arduino code on a computer screen, the smaller group setting is naturally more supportive of this sort of interaction. It is also important to consider the expertise technical feedback requires, which many students lacked at the beginning and developed over the course of the project.
In the current study, we designed and implemented a Maker Studio model through employing an e-textiles unit in a high school STEM classroom. We explored the affordances and constraints of using critiques as learning and instructional supports to not only integrate making into a formal environment but also maintain some critical features of the maker ethos found in out-of-school environments. Here we discuss the affordances of critique in guiding students making processes and outline how this informs the Maker Studio model.
AFFORDANCES OF CRITIQUES
Critiques functioned as both learning and instructional supports within the Maker Studio. As a learning support, our findings highlight four key design considerations of critique structures: formal/informal, small/whole group, student/instructor, and internal/external audience. While in some cases these design considerations were in tension, at other times they were complementary. Generally, formal critique was prescriptive and articulative with a goal of clarifying design ideas and project direction, whereas informal critique included more active, collaborative problem solving, especially to resolve urgent issues. Additionally, smaller group critiques, either with peers or an instructor, were more participatory in nature compared to the whole class group critiques where students often did not share feedback with their peers. Moreover, students tended to give more prescriptive feedback about specific recommendations or preferences, for instance, where to place lights; in contrast, instructors took more suggestive or articulative approaches to encourage students to consider different design issues or guide them to design solutions. Finally, on the one hand, we found that critique from an internal audience, someone with shared knowledge of e-textiles, was more specific and included technical feedback. On the other hand, the external audience gave feedback that was either beyond the scope of the project or outside the constraints of technology, but this external critique challenged students to articulate their understanding and knowledge of e-textiles and the coding, crafting, and circuitry domains.
As instructional support, critique guided students making processes and distributed teaching. Pragmatically, critiques kept students on a loose trajectory toward completing their projects. One design challenge of integrating making in the classroom is balancing classroom structures like time and deadlines with the freedom and open-endedness present in many maker activities. As previous research suggests and as we speculate based on our observations, critique can be a tool to keep students on track without constraining them to a kit-like making process. Furthermore, critique also afforded a more distributed teaching model, which is inherent to out-of-school makerspaces. Not only did peers become experts and support the instructors by teaching each other, but also critique provided a unique opportunity to bring experts into the classroom. We note here that there is an opportunity for further research on peer-to-peer critiques, especially intrapair critiques. In this study, we did not facilitate structured intrapair critiques or collect data to properly capture within-pair interactions; however, we anecdotally observed rich interactions at this level, suggesting this is a key area for additional exploration.
In many K12 implementations of making, designing to promote these maker interactions has largely been ignored or proved to be at fundamental odds with many of the underlying structures of schools; however, the Maker Studio model offers a new frame through which to design making in high school environments with implications for broader K12 implementations. A contribution of our current exploration of the Maker Studio model is how critique can mediate and cultivate various levels of community interaction. We explored instructor and peer feedback in this study and identified additional opportunities to invite other audiences and experts, such as makers from the community, to participate in the classroom. Furthermore, we can also investigate how to invite student makers to provide and share expertise as it develops over the course of a design process. We present critique as a promising characteristic of a Maker Studio model with which we can design for interdisciplinary participation and expertise exchange, which are hallmarks of out-of-school making (Baichtal, 2011; Britton, 2012; Litts, 2015b; Sheridan et al., 2014). As with other studio models, the Maker Studio is defined by more than critique, and additional research is needed to further characterize its design features.
CHARACTERIZING THE MAKER STUDIO MODEL
By examining critique as one design feature, our study highlights key characteristics of a Maker Studio model:
Appreciation and support for maker processes in addition to or even above final products
Integration of varied structures for giving and receiving critique throughout the design process
Support for interdisciplinary and collaborative project work
Engagement with diverse perspectives and expertise during critiques
Most literature on learning through making focuses on the artifacts being produced as a defining feature of making and evidence for learning. In the Maker Studio model, we leverage critique to structure the creation of maker artifacts within the context of formal environments. As part of critique, we embedded structured interactions with instructors and peers throughout the making process. We argue that these structures are essential to the successful completion of maker artifacts, particularly in high school settings. With critique, there is still a focus on producing an artifact (a necessary outcome for assessment in K12), but the implicit and embedded structures of a maker ethos are made visible and, by extension, actionable for teachers and students. For example, the series of critiques in our Maker Studio implementation provide assessment points both in terms of tracking the progression of making and evaluating and reflecting on the overall process. Further research can clarify whether these critique structures within the Maker Studio may need to be adapted or modified for middle or elementary school models.
We proposed the Maker Studio as a model for bringing makerspaces into schools that is distinct from current efforts to establish independent makerspaces separate from classrooms. In developing the model and its activities, we drew explicitly on its interdisciplinary origins inspired from traditions across the arts, architecture, and engineering. In that sense, our Maker Studio model reflects maker activities that combine different disciplines like computing, engineering, design, and the arts in their productions. Rather than seeing making apart from other classroom activities, we used the Maker Studio model as a way to integrate the activities and disciplinary connections. In our particular context, the connection to computing is the one which offers a promising direction to think about how making and computing can enhance each other. But we see equal benefit in linkages to the more high-tech engineering and the more low-tech crafting activities that are not often seen together in one context but offer promising opportunities to connect to students home and community experiences.
We conceptualized the Maker Studio as a model for integrating disciplinary content, for linking to existing practices such as critique and feedback from the arts that teachers can leverage when bringing maker activities into the classroom, and for helping students to make connections between school and home. Working with e-textiles offered one example of maker activities and materials that challenges the discourse around typical making and issues around equity in participation (Barton et al., 2016; Vossoughi et al., 2013). In the Maker Studio model, teaching is distributed and, thus, students are positioned as contributors of expertise rather than consumers of knowledge. The collaborative e-textiles designs require STEM, design, and art expertise and offer a diversity of avenues for participating through creation and critique. The interdisciplinary nature of the Maker Studio legitimizes broader forms of participation and expands notions of what counts as making.
As with other studio models, critique is just one characteristic of the Maker Studio model. With additional implementations and iterations of making in formal settings, we can gain more insights into other defining design features of a Maker Studio and adaptations for middle and elementary classrooms. Based on our findings, we suggest additional potential features of the Maker Studio model might include collaboration across disciplines and content areas, student choice and agency in the design process, distributing teaching, especially by drawing on community expertise, and other features inherent to the maker ethos in out-of-school settings. The goal of the Maker Studio model is to support making in a formal environment without completely sacrificing the aspects that define makerspaces in out-of-school spaces. In this way, the Maker Studio model addresses key issues of equity not only in broadening access to authentic maker design processes but also in leveraging interdisciplinary studio practices to expand participation in educational maker contexts.
1. There were initially 24 students, but one student transferred schools during the study.
2. One students partner left the school partway through the project, and she proceeded to work individually.
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