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Creative Codings: Investigating Cultural, Personal, and Epistemological Connections in Media Arts Programming



The focus of this poster is to turn our attention to the arts as an understudied area in the learning sciences and examine how studying the learning of arts and programming can open new avenues of research. Results from a case study analysis suggest that appropriation builds on multiple connections: cultural connections such as referencing popular iconography, personal connections such as including family pictures, and larger epistemological connections to larger bodies of knowledge.
Creative Codings: Investigating Cultural, Personal, and
Epistemological Connections in Media Arts Programming
Kylie A. Peppler and Yasmin B. Kafai
University of California, Los Angeles 2331 Moore Hall Los Angeles, CA 90095 and
Abstract: The focus of this poster is to turn our attention to the arts as an understudied
area in the learning sciences and examine how studying the learning of arts and
programming can open new avenues of research. Results from a case study analysis
suggest that appropriation builds on multiple connections: cultural connections such as
referencing popular iconography, personal connections such as including family pictures,
and larger epistemological connections to larger bodies of knowledge.
Learning science researchers have paid little attention to the field of arts education as the more prominent
focus has been on science, math and to a lesser degree, social studies and language arts. Among a number of reasons
that can explain this absence of interest is the lack of new technologies in the arts education curriculum. Recently,
the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) issued a call for research to further investigate ‘New Technologies and Arts
Learning,’ noting that “[n]ew technologies…are changing the nature of arts education” (AEP, 2004). The
intersection of arts and technology (called “media art” here) is a relatively new avenue of research that has
implications for both the arts and computer sciences, and more generally, the learning sciences. The focus of this
poster is to turn our attention to the understudied area of the arts and examine how the learning of arts and
programming can open new avenues of research.
A design studio found at a community technology center in South Central Los Angeles presents an
interesting opportunity to explore the ways in which youth culture are already making use of new media as tools for
expression, particularly capitalizing on software that promote computer programming. The studio and its design
software were created with a constructionist theory of learning in mind, which poses that people learn best when
they are active participants in design activities and share their design with others (Papert, 1980). The findings
outlined here build on one of the main concepts of constructionism, appropriation, which posits that learners
construct knowledge by making it their own. Resnick (1996) points to two constructional-design principles, which
allow the creator to appropriate knowledge through the making of (1) personal connections (i.e., connections to
outside interests, past experiences, or prior knowledge) and (2) through epistemological connections (i.e., the ability
to connect to important domains of knowledge). We add a third component to this analysis, (3) cultural connections
(i.e., connections to larger cultural context). The results suggest that youth leverage previous knowledge in the
design process, appropriating the design software through personal, cultural, and epistemological connections to
their work.
Over the past year, we have documented design activities that incorporate computer programming at a
design studio with predominantly Latino/a and African-American youth ages 8-18 through extensive ethnographic
field note taking (Creswell, 2003). Young artists created a variety media arts projects such as animated stories,
Videogame art, and interactive or playable art using pop culture images and sounds. Using a comparative case study
approach, the artist in this study was selected from over 30 other case study participants based on the prototypical
nature of her work and her persistent interest over a period of multiple weeks in using computer programming for
expression. Field notes were open and axial-coded for themes derived from the theoretical framing.
For this analysis, we draw from an example of a “dance video” called “k2b,” created by a thirteen-year-old
female software designer, who modeled the piece after a Gwen Stefani music video. When the viewer presses a start
button, music begins to play, characters dance on the screen, and the background changes between several different
images. At the start of the project, the first-time designer had an existing interest in pop music and chose to use
“Hollaback Girl” as the basis for her music video. As a result, she chose images and music that reflected her
perception of pop culture and music videos. The use of a shared cultural context (i.e., the pop music video)
resonated with other members of the design studio. During the design process, members would gather behind the
designer to watch the “k2b” video, being drawn in by the music. In addition to her interpretation of the well-known
music video, the designer made additional personal connections to the piece such as choosing to insert both a picture
of herself and her younger brother as two of the dancers in her music video.
Undoubtedly, when designers create media art they are connecting to many different bodies of knowledge,
here we focus on connections to the traditional arts and computer programming. The aesthetics of the images played
an important role in the design process. In the search for “k2b” images, it was less important to her to insert an
image of herself, as it was to find one that fitted her perception of how a music video should appear, underscoring
the importance of understanding and emulating contemporary art and pop culture aesthetics in media art production.
Additional connections to traditional arts include the designer’s attention to the choreographing the dancers. “k2b”
required precise timing and unique dance moves of each of the characters. During these design moments,
programming took a back seat to design considerations of when characters should enter and exit the stage and how
each of the dancers should moveroles that seldom assumed by youth in the traditional arts. The designer also
made connections to computer science. This is exemplified by the designer’s use of programming concepts like
looping constructs, conditionals, and assembling programs out of base components concepts that are even new
for novice computer science majors. In addition, she was able to repurpose code in a meaningful way and
accomplish artistic design goals for the piece by taking pieces of code and creatively recombining them for new
This case study illuminates how programming within an arts context is very different from context of math
and science. Programming in this context is less about code and more about personal expression. While case studies
of work in the design studio give us only a partial understanding of the larger design culture, they do provide us with
an understanding of how individuals are able to repurpose the design environment for personal expression. The
advantages of this work are at least threefold: (1) Media arts have implications for broadening the participation and
applications of traditional programming courses in K-12 which tended to focus on mathematics and science; (2)
Media arts are an essential component to artistic expression in a digital eraa tool that has an arguably increasing
importance for youth and society at large; and (3) these projects emphasize graphic, music and video media that
have been found to be at the core of technology interests for youth and thus could provide new opportunities to
encourage and broaden participation of youth from under-represented groups to become designers and inventors
with new technologies.
AEP (2004). The Arts and Education: New Opportunities for Research. Washington, DC: Arts Education
Partnership (AEP).
Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Publications, Inc.
Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books.
Resnick, M., Bruckman, A., & Martin, F. (1996). Pianos Not Stereos: Creating Computational Construction Kits.
Interactions, 3(6).
Sefton-Green, J., & Buckingham, D. (1998). Digital Visions: Children's 'Creative' Uses of Multimedia
Technologies. In J. Sefton-Green (Ed.), Digital Diversions: Youth Culture in the Age of Multimedia (pp.
62-83). London: UCL Press.
The work reported in this poster is conducted in collaboration with Mitchel Resnick’s research group at the MIT
Media Lab and supported by a grant of the National Science Foundation (NSF-0325828). The views expressed are
those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the supporting funding agency or the University of
California, Los Angeles.
... While Clubhouse is earnest about supporting members to build on their own interests, it doesn't always use a cultural model of identity as the starting point. This is not to say that finding ways to build on children's home and interests is ignored, and indeed there are some detailed studies of video game design and music videos that show how forms of popular-cultural consumption are built on in Clubhouse activities (Kafai and Peppler 2011;Peppler and Kafai 2006;. However, the notions of cultural interest espoused in Clubhouse aren't quite the same things as those explored in the media productions in youth settings. ...
... It goes to the heart of how engaging with Clubhouse can support metalearning. I would also like to note that slightly less formal feedback as part of the process is also highlighted in other studies (Peppler and Kafai 2006; as performing the same function. The study of Pearls does raise a key dilemma that underscores the discussion in this chapter so far-namely, whether forms of metalearning or learning-to-learn can be imagined distinctly from forms of formal learning. ...
Schools do not define education, and they are not the only institutions in which learning takes place. After-school programs, music lessons, Scouts, summer camps, on-the-job training, and home activities all offer out-of-school educational experiences. In Learning at Not-School, Julian Sefton-Green explores studies and scholarly research on out-of-school learning, investigating just what it is that is distinctive about the quality of learning in these “not-school” settings. Sefton-Green focuses on those organizations and institutions that have developed parallel to public schooling and have emerged as complements, supplements, or attempts to remediate the alleged failures of schools. He reviews salient principles, landmark studies, and theoretical approaches to learning in not-school environments, reporting on the latest scholarship in the field. He examines studies of creative media production and considers ideas of “learning-to learn”-that relate to analyses of language and technology. And he considers other forms of in-formal learning--in the home and in leisure activities--in terms of not-school experiences. Where possible, he compares the findings of US-based studies with those of non-US-based studies, highlighting core conceptual issues and identifying what we often take for granted. Many not-school organizations and institutions set out to be different from schools, embodying different conceptions of community and educational values. Sefton-Green’s careful consideration of these learning environments in pedagogical terms offers a crucial way to understand how they work.
... Στην περίπτωση του προγραμματισμού, προκειμένου να παρακινηθούν οι μαθητές, έχουν προταθεί ελκυστικές εργασίες διαφόρων τύπων, όπως ψηφιακά παιχνίδια, (Peppler & Kafai, 2007a), ψηφιακή αφήγηση (Kelleher & Pausch, 2007, Papadimitriou, 2003, Burke & Kafai, 2010 ψηφιακή τέχνη κα. Αυτά τα είδη εργασιών θεωρούνται αυθεντικά, με δυνατότητα να εμπλέξουν τον μαθητή αλλά και να προωθήσουν μία δημιουργική προοπτική της επιστήμης υπολογιστών στην εκπαίδευση, (Peppler & Kafai, 2006;Peppler & Kafai, 2007;Romeike, 2007) που είναι παιδαγωγικά κατάλληλη (Robertson, & Good, 2004;Maloney et al, 2008) τόσο σε σχέση με τη βαθμίδα εκπαίδευσης των εμπλεκόμενων μαθητών όσο και σε σχέση με την αναδυόμενη προσέγγιση Ενώ όμως η αναδυόμενη προσέγγιση στον προγραμματισμό θεωρείται αποτελεσματική στα εισαγωγικά μαθήματα, ενέχει το μειονέκτημα ότι είναι δύσκολο για το διδάσκοντα να «ελέγξει» τις έννοιες που οι μαθητές θα ανακαλύψουν τελικά. Επιπρόσθετη προσπάθεια μέσω διδασκαλίας είναι συνήθως απαραίτητη, πάνω στα εννοιολογικά μοντέλα που οι μαθητές έχουν αποκτήσει εμπειρικά. ...
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Στην εργασία περιγράφεται σχέδιο έρευνας για την επίδραση του είδους του μαθησιακών έργων (π.χ. ψηφιακή αφήγηση, παιχνίδια, διαδραστικές αφίσες-σήματα, έργα διαδραστικής τέχνης) που ανατίθενται στους μαθητές στο πλαίσιο της προσέγγισης αναδυόμενου εγγραμματισμού στον προγραμματισμό ΗΥ. Η προσέγγιση του αναδυόμενου εγγραμματισμού στις γλώσσες προγραμματισμού βασίζεται στην ομώνυμη μεθοδολογία της διδακτικής της γραπτής γλώσσας. Με την συγκεκριμένη προσέγγιση η εκμάθηση μιας γλώσσας προγραμματισμού αναδύεται κατά την εμπλοκή των μαθητών σε αυθεντικές δραστηριότητες στο πλαίσιο μιας κοινότητας μάθησης. Το μαθησιακό αποτέλεσμα καθορίζεται σημαντικά από τα είδη των εργασιών που ανατίθενται στους μαθητές επειδή θέτουν τις προγραμματιστικές απαιτήσεις για την ολοκλήρωσή τους. Προηγούμενες έρευνες για την προσέγγιση του αναδυόμενου εγγραμματισμού στον προγραμματισμό δείχνουν ότι οι μαθητές καταφέρνουν να κατασκευάσουν σημαντική προγραμματιστική γνώση και δεξιότητες χωρίς άμεση διδασκαλία αλλά σημαντικά διαφοροποιημένη σε έκταση από μαθητή σε μαθητή. Σκοπός της έρευνας είναι η διερεύνηση και τεκμηρίωση των αναμενόμενων μαθησιακών αποτελεσμάτων ανάλογα με το είδος της εργασίας.
... Although some critics fear that these tools will be inaccessible to all but top-level youths and impossible to learn in the unstructured, informal hours outside of school, we have found that the new technology accommodates varied ability levels (Peppler & Kafai 2006;2007a;2007c), including youths who are struggling to read, write, and identify printed letters. Across the spectrum, young artists use computer programming for expressive aims, demonstrating that computation can be a tool for artists and not just computer science experts. ...
Commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, this book explores research indicating that youth are learning new ways to engage in the arts on their own time and according to their own interests. Digital technologies, such as production tools and social media, allow youth to create and share their art. Kylie Peppler urges educators and policy makers to take advantage of «arts learning opportunities» and imagine a school setting where young people are driven by their own interests, using tablets, computers, and other devices to produce visual arts, music composition, dance, and design. This book gives educators an understanding of what is happening with current digital technologies and the opportunities that exist to connect to youth practice, and raises questions about why we don’t use these opportunities more frequently.
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This article describes some findings from recent research into young people's creative uses of new technologies in the home. The first section considers a range of theoretical perspectives on children's relationship with digital technologies. It interrogates popular and academic claims about the potential of the computer as a means for facilitating creativity. The main body of the article presents quantitative and qualitative data from the study, focusing on the ways in which children learn to use new technologies, parental regulation in the home and the role of new technologies in sustaining peer group cultures. The analysis therefore aims to situate the use of computers within wider social and cultural contexts and practices. This raises further questions about the relationship between digital technology and the formal educational system; the use of technology to define boundaries between childhood and adulthood; and assumptions about economic and vocational futures for young people in this area.
The stereo has many attractions: it is easier to play and it provides immediate access to a wide range of music. But "ease of use" should not be the only criterion. Playing the piano can be a much richer experience. By learning to play the piano, you can become a creator (not just a consumer) of music, expressing yourself musically in ever-more complex ways. As a result, you can develop a much deeper relationship with (and deeper understanding of) music. So too with computers. In the field of educational technology, there has been too much emphasis on the equivalent of stereos and CDs, and not enough emphasis on computational pianos. In our research group at the MIT Media Lab, we are developing a new generation of "computational construction kits" that, like pianos, enable people to express themselves in ever-more complex ways, deepening their relationships with new domains of knowledge.
The Arts and Education: New Opportunities for Research
AEP (2004). The Arts and Education: New Opportunities for Research. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership (AEP).