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Educating the Reflective Educator: Design Processes and Digital Fabrication for the Classroom

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Design thinking and digital technologies are increasingly introduced in education to develop children's design literacy. This shift demands a change in teachers' mindsets, capabilities and approaches to design and technology as well as new teaching practices. This paper reports on a research-based master's course developed to address and study the challenges that educators experience when teaching design in K-12 classes. We investigate three aspects that we argue are crucial when developing teachers' capability to teach design literacy to children: (1) ability to navigate a complex design process, (2) managing digital and analogue design materials and (3) balancing different modes of teaching. This paper demonstrates how a combination of design theory, in-school practice and peer-to-peer learning created a framework towards educating design educators – a framework that allowed us to investigate K-12 teachers' development of core competencies for bringing design and digital fabrication to diverse students. In addition, the study shows how the framework can facilitate and support co-development of new teaching practices.
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Educating the Reflective Educator:
Design Processes and Digital Fabrication for the
Classroom
Mikkel Hjorth
Aarhus University
Denmark
mh@cavi.au.dk
Rachel Charlotte
Smith
Aarhus University
rsmith@cavi.au.dk
Daria Loi
Intel Corporation
Portland, OR, USA
daria.a.loi@intel.com
Ole Sejer Iversen
Aarhus University
Denmark
oiversen@cavi.au.dk
Kasper Skov
Christensen
Aarhus University
ksc@dac.au.dk
ABSTRACT
Design thinking and digital technologies are increasingly
introduced in education to develop children’s design literacy. This
shift demands a change in teachers’ mindsets, capabilities and
approaches to design and technology as well as new teaching
practices. This paper reports on a research-based master's course
developed to address and study the challenges that educators
experience when teaching design in K-12 classes. We investigate
three aspects that we argue are crucial when developing teachers'
capability to teach design literacy to children: (1) ability to
navigate a complex design process, (2) managing digital and
analogue design materials and (3) balancing different modes of
teaching. This paper demonstrates how a combination of design
theory, in-school practice and peer-to-peer learning created a
framework towards educating design educatorsa framework
that allowed us to investigate K-12 teachers' development of core
competencies for bringing design and digital fabrication to diverse
students. In addition, the study shows how the framework can
facilitate and support co-development of new teaching practices.
Keywords
Design literacy; Design education; Digital fabrication; Education;
K-12; Expertise; Reflective educator; Design Thinking
1. Introduction
The research field of interaction design and children is currently
experiencing an increasing attention towards integrating
constructionist principles and digital fabrication technologies into
formal and informal K-12 education [4, 34]. This turn is addressed
by Schelhowe who has emphasized how digital fabrication1 in
education not only supports STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, Math) related competences but also provides
children with an opportunity to learn fundamental societal issues
such as digital citizenship and complex problem solving [25].
Thereby, Schelhowe has broadened the scope of digital
fabrication in education to also include a design focus on digital
fabrication technologies; children should learn to become digital
citizens and creative thinkers through processes of digital
fabrication in education. This design focus has recently developed
into a growing field of research that combines digital fabrication
technologies with design thinking to teach design literacy to
1 Digital fabrication is a term, which has been used with diverse
meanings. Here, we use the term rather inclusively (as it has
been in much of the literature) to encompass the use of a range
of digital technologies used to work creatively towards physical
products or prototypes. The technologies, which include for
example 3D printers, laser cutters and programmable electronics
have sometimes been referred to as FabLab or maker
technologies.
children [14, 29]. This newer research field provides theoretical
[9] and empirical [29] grounds for the educational value of
introducing design thinking, combined with digital fabrication,
into K-12 education. As in [29] and [9], design literacy is here
used to denote the aspects of design thinking, from which anyone
may benefit when interacting with the world. Common notions are
that design literacy should be taught through open-ended
processes of working with real-world problems.
Existing empirical data supporting the key role of design thinking
and digital fabrication is often based on informal settings [21]
such as after-school computer clubs, university-workshops,
summer camps, etc., where more and different resources are
typically available if compared with traditional school settings.
These studies, while documenting significant opportunities for
students learning through design processes [16, 29], do not
provide directions on how to successfully integrate design
thinking and digital fabrication into K-12 classrooms and
accordingly on how to prepare teachers for such integration. Thus,
while there is an emerging field of research into how students can
and should work with digital fabrication technologies in design
processes [3, 16, 24], what the potentials of such work are for the
students [16, 19, 20], and how to assess students' learning [9, 23],
there is a lack of knowledge of how to prepare teachers to teach
through design processes with digital fabrication in formal
education.
The research presented in this paper takes on the mission of
understanding how to work with school teachers in order for them
to successfully utilize design processes to address real-world or
wicked problems [10] with their students. The course presented
here was developed based on previous research into the
challenges experienced by K-12 educators when teaching design
processes in digital fabrication. Brennan [7] has described how
teachers implementing open-ended design processes in digital
fabrication in North-American classrooms experienced a loss of
control and behaved in ways that were not in tune with students
expectations and the assessment culture that they were part of. In
our research in Danish public schools [31], we similarly identified
three central challenges to teaching through design processes in
digital fabrication: (1) navigating a complex design process, (2)
managing digital and analogue design materials, and (3) balancing
different modes of teaching. To investigate alternative ways to
prepare teachers to take on such challenges, we developed a
master’s course that integrated research-based knowledge and
practice-based activities along three axes: (1) theory-based
lectures and workshops, (2) peer-collaboration, and (3) teachers’
practice in schools. This mix of activities enabled an integration
of different fields of practice with the goal of educating the design
educator within a context based on the underlying assumption that
one does not become a designer or design educator by simply
reading about design or design education. The design processes
described in this paper rest on academic concepts of design
thinking voiced by design researchers as [10], [22], [18], and [28],
while the approach to teaching design is based on the design
studio approach [27]. As shown in [29], digital fabrication offer
opportunities to support what design researcher Donald Schön
defines as a reflective practicum [26] and such settings are
essential if children are to engage in designerly thinking and
practice. The main contribution of the paper is a discussion of
how to create a framework for educating reflective design
educators who can support students in such a reflective practicum.
In our approach this so far involves preparing teachers for
overcoming three central challenges of (1) understanding a
complex design process, (2) managing digital technologies and
design materials, and (3) balancing different modes of teaching
involved in design and digital fabrication in education.
In the following, we present our method of investigating these
challenges through a master's course. Second, we introduce the
course and unfold three central challenges to design teaching in
K-12, which the course is based on. Third, we introduce a
framework for educating the reflective educator and present three
examples from our case. We conclude the paper with a discussion
of how our cases show opportunities for moving towards a new
mindset, gaining a repertoire of working with diverse materials,
and generating new educational practices.
2. Method
The case study presented in this paper aimed at investigating how
teachers might become competent reflective educators in K-12
digital fabrication settings. Since there was no existing practice to
investigate, this study was carried out as a research-through-
design study, in which we created ‘the object’ of study and carried
out research based on our own intervention in the field [17, 32]. In
the present case, we developed the master's course on Design
Processes and Digital Fabrication with the aim of investigating
how to address three central challenges for teachers. The
challenges, which we had uncovered in our previous research,
were: (1) understanding a complex design process, (2) managing
digital technologies and design materials, and (3) balancing
different modes of teaching. We collected empirical data for the
current research contribution by following specific teachers
through the course. Apart from observations collected during the
course’s seminars, we shadowed two groups of teachers - during
their group work and while applying their design process in the
classroom at their schools. Additionally, we surveyed each
teachersknowledge and experience of working with design and
technology before and after the course. Finally, we monitored
each study group’s design process, documentation and reflections
via their online portfolios, and used final examination papers and
submissions as a basis for the analysis. Each examination paper
included a guide to understand each teacher’s design process, and
academic reflections on the practice of teaching design thinking to
students.
Participants in the course were signed up based on interest and
had been selected by project managers in the three collaborating
municipalities for the FabLab@School.dk project. Some teachers
had previously been involved in our research interventions in the
project, and were so-called pioneers in integrating emergent
technologies into their schools. Therefore, almost all of the
teachers had some (although often limited) prior experience with
the technologies, and were especially motivated to work with
digital fabrication in education. Participating teachers represented
a wide range of subjects, from language to science, mathematics,
crafts, design, and in some cases, ‘FabLab’ courses.
The analysis of how our framework and master's course supported
teachers in overcoming the three mentioned challenges was split
in two parts. We first analyzed video recordings from the course
as well as classrooms activities. Second, we compared findings
from the videos with insights from teachers’ (pre and post course)
surveys and end-course examination papers.
Based on the two sets of qualitative data, we engaged in an
affinity-diagramming process [2, 13] and selected data to focus on
and ultimately understand (1) whether a framework combining
design theory, in-school-practice and peer-to-peer collaboration
could be an effective tool to educate design educators, and (2)
how the framework addressed the three previously observed
challenges. Affinity-diagramming techniques enabled
identification of coherent patterns in the three areas/challenges
identified in the previous research.
3. The course
The Design Processes and Digital Fabrication course described
here is a 5 ECTS2 Masters level module at Aarhus University,
Denmark. The course was run as a pilot course in the Spring and
Fall of 2016. The Spring course (February-June) is the focus of
this paper and was attended by 26 participants from three
participating municipalities. Participants were either practicing
teachers (20) or educational leaders of central FabLabs in
education (6) with the responsibility of servicing teachers in
different municipalities.
The master's course was developed within the FabLab@School.dk
project, an ongoing Danish research project at Aarhus University
in cooperation with Vejle, Silkeborg and Aarhus municipalities.
The project is part of the global FabLab@School initiative
founded at Stanford University. The Danish research project
focuses on FabLabs as hybrid learning laboratories, which
combine digital fabrication, design thinking, collaborative idea
generation and development of solutions to complex societal
challenges. Emphasis is put on the creative process from early
ideation, sketching and mockup to actual prototyping. This focus
on teaching design literacy calls for training teachers in
approaches and mindsets involved in scaffolding students' design
of possible solutions to wicked problems. However, as shown in
[31], K-12 teachers tasked to utilize design processes and digital
fabrication to scaffold children in acquiring design literacy, face at
least three challenges of (1) understanding a complex design
process, (2) managing digital technologies and design materials,
and (3) balancing different modes of teaching. Consequently, it is
crucial to better understand what capabilities teachers need and
how they might realistically develop new teaching practices to
support students' design literacy. The master's course in Design
Processes and Digital Fabrication was designed to get a direct first
understanding of what capabilities teachers need to teach design
literacy to K-12 students by addressing the three challenges
identified in our previous research. Before providing further
details on the current study, we will unfold the three challenges
that were identified as part of a previous study named
DesignThink in the next section.
3.1 Challenges for teachers
In connection with the intervention DesignThink, we studied
teachers' implementation of a learning design, which was
developed by us and implemented over an 8-week period by a
group of teachers in their respective school environments.
2 European Credit Transfer System. 60ECTS is equivalent to a full
year's work.
Through teachers' reflections on a blog and during interviews, we
identified three central challenges experienced by the teachers: (1)
understanding a complex design process, (2) managing digital
technologies and design materials, and (3) balancing different
modes of teaching. These challenges were identified among
teachers teaching utilizing a design studio approach while
focusing on teaching for design literacy. Based on our data and
analysis, we argue that these challenges point to important aspects
of reflective educator expertise.
The approach of the DesignThink intervention forged a focus on
the ability to generate reflection and knowledge through an
iterative and explorative process. This was counter to the more
linear approach of producing functional, aesthetic or realistic
products that the teachers’ perceptions and experiences reflected.
The teachers had little experience with addressing real-life
contexts and in structuring more complex processes of digital
fabrication in education. Accordingly, the teachers faced the
challenge of understanding a complex design process.
Teachers in DesignThink worried about not being competent in
handling digital technologies. We found that they were equally
challenged in managing and handling analogue design materials,
and that they did not appreciate the different qualities and
affordances of externalizations such as sketches, mock-ups, etc.
Accordingly, teachers did not develop unique design materials for
framing and feedback of the students’ process, or have knowledge
or experience in moving between diverse, analogue and digital,
during the ideation and fabrication process. They had trouble
managing digital technologies and design materials.
The DesignThink intervention challenged teachers in several ways
as they had to manage and switch across diverse roles:
instructional classroom teacher; activities facilitator; and coach
for each design group, to support students’ processes through
dialogue and reflective questions. The act of managing and
continuously shifting across diverse roles challenged the
traditional authoritative ‘expert-role’ that teachers often play.
Teachers felt challenged by the notion of losing control of their
classroom, and by the requirement to balance different modes of
teaching.
The master’s course at the center of this paper was developed
based on this initial research, to investigate how teachers could
develop a better understanding of addressing real-life problems
through complex, iterative and explorative design processes.
3.2 Scaffolding the design process
The goal of the course described in this paper was to create and
investigate a framework that, by combining design theory, in-
school-practice and peer-to-peer learning, could be used to
educate design educators and to enable the co-development of
new teaching practices. A cornerstone in the course was a design
process model (Figure 1) that we developed and refined through
previous research interventions [29] to help teachers structure and
navigate design processes. The model includes six important steps
in design processes: Design brief, Field studies, Ideation,
Fabrication, Argumentation and Reflection. Each step includes a
set of concrete activities. We used model and concrete activities to
scaffold teachers’ practice throughout the course.
We have observed substantial benefits for novice design educators
experimenting with the model in their own practice. We have also
tracked how an increased confidence in using the model often
implies increased capability to freely navigate and iterate across
different parts of the process. Our model has been specifically
tailored to the context of K-12 school. We emphasize research,
investigation and field studies in the beginning of the process with
a focus on exploring the (real-world) challenge for certain user
groups or communities. We included argumentation as a separate
and specific focal point, to emphasize argumentation in relation to
produced prototypes or products. Reflection instead deals with the
learning and reflection on overall process and learning outcome.
Figure : The FabLab@School.dk Design Process Model.
With the Design Process Model as key scaffold for teachers, we
created the course here discussed to investigate ways of training
K-12 teachers to overcome the three previously mentioned
challenges.
4. Teaching design: A framework for
educating the design educator
As previously stated, there is a growing focus on advocating
design literacy through digital fabrication in K-12. Hence, it is
crucial that we understand what capabilities a teacher needs in
such contexts. Drawing upon well-established design literature on
design practice and design thinking [10, 11, 18, 28], we believe
that there are specific approaches and mindsets that are key for
teachers to successfully scaffold design processes in the classroom
(e.g. an appreciation of the complexities of the design process and
a repertoire of past design processes and products). The literature
provides cohesive insights into scaffolding students of different
design disciplines (e.g. architecture and interaction design) to
develop design thinking and expertise. A common insight in this
body of literature is that students typically develop those skills by
engaging in long-term projects, while focusing on real-world
problems. This approach is referred to as the Design Studio [27,
35], which according to Stevens [33] represents a master-
apprentice relationship at the heart of architectural education
throughout its history.
The design studio approach was our starting point for
understanding how to teach design literacy through digital
fabrication in K-12. As depicted in the center of Figure 2, our
course included three types of activities: workshops and lectures,
peer-collaboration and in-school-practice. These activities were
constantly informed and influenced by design theory as well as
practice-based theory on how to teach design literacy in specific
settings. Practice-based theory was often created when teachers
shared their own practice with each other during peer-
collaboration sessions – activity that typically influenced teachers'
own practices in return. In the following sections we describe in
more detail the three categories of activities that constituted our
course.
Figure 2: The framework for the master's course
To investigate and learn how to address the challenges uncovered
in our previous research, our aim was twofold: (1) teach teachers
by using existing literature and their own practice and (2) initiate
the development of new practices of teaching. Additionally, the
structure of the course reflected our assumption that design
expertise is best learned by mixing practice with reflection on
practice, and analysis of practice through existing literature.
4.1 Workshops and lectures
The course was founded on a mixture of literature on digital
fabrication in education and pragmatist design literature, which
was taught through lectures, group exercises and pre-work. Some
literature was selected specifically to introduce the constructionist
ideas of digital fabrication in education [3, 25], while other
literature focused on developing an appreciation of the design
process, and on understanding the notion of design thinking [10,
18, 28]. Some literature introduced ideas and techniques of
ideating and prototyping with digital and analogue design
materials [6, 8], while a set of teaching materials we had produced
based on the design process model, guided participants through
the whole design process. Finally, the literature included
impediments for and an appreciation of different modes of
teaching for design literacy through design processes and digital
fabrication in K-12 [1, 19].
The theoretical part of the course was structured as three main
seminars (6 days) of workshops and lectures over the course of 14
weeks. During these face-to-face sessions the focus was primarily
on: lectures; group work based on own practice; participant
presentations of own practice; class discussions; and guidance and
feedback from peers and course instructors. As we highlight later,
discussions and group work during these sessions sometimes
triggered creation of practice-based theory for teaching design
literacy in the context of the participating schools
4.2 In-school-practice
The theoretical part of the course was structured around teachers’
practice, and participants were told to implement a learning design
targeted at engaging their students in creating solutions for a real-
world challenge. The challenge selected was eWaste due to its
complex nature, unquestionable environmental impact, relevance
to technology practice as well as tech industry, and its potential to
trigger awareness of local and global structures as a positive
byproduct. Participants were equipped with research and data on
eWaste through lectures and literature, which was connected to
the 6-steps design process model as a framework for the design
challenge. This was a starting point for participants (in groups, see
below) to create their own learning design to be carried out in
school with their own students. The eWaste challenge was divided
into four case-areas, which teachers could choose from to focus
their teaching: (1) What novel PROCESSES or SYSTEMS can
alleviate or resolve the eWaste issue? (2) What novel DESIGNS
and PRODUCTS can have limited eWaste impact? (3) What
novel PRACTICES can help us deal with eWaste? and (4) What
novel SOCIAL DYNAMICS can help us create eWaste-free
futures? Based on the case and the design process in school,
participants were asked to develop a teaching guide, which could
be used by other teachers. This represented an important step for
becoming and being a design educator.
4.3 Peer-collaboration
To enable a transformation of experiences in the Deweyian sense
[12], we scaffolded a reflection process around the participants.
Specifically, we set up loops of reflection-on-action [28] activities
to expand teachers' repertoire using cases from their learning
designs' implementation. This was achieved by creating study-
groups of 4 participants who were required to spend 8 full
workdays together during the 14-week course. Each group had to
co-develop a learning design based on the eWaste case, and to use
their study-groups to reflect on, change, and iterate on their design
together. Meetings were typically scaffolded with a set of tasks to
focus on for instance, playing a design game to clarify goals for
students' learning or activities, using video-recorded reflections of
own teaching to initiate common discussions, planning the
following weeks activities in the learning design, and reflecting on
the design process by connecting theory and practical experiences.
The study-groups were asked to document and reflect on their
design process using a blog as a collaborative portfolio and
reflection tool.
5. Investigating challenges through the case
By connecting peer-collaboration and in-service practice with a
theoretical perspective on design thinking and digital fabrication
in education, we aimed at investigating teachers potential to take
on the three identified challenges to integrating digital fabrication
in a design literacy perspective in K-12. In the following setions,
we will discuss, how the course served to scaffold teachers'
development of a better understanding of (1) design processes, (2)
materials, and (3) modes of teaching.
5.1 Understanding a complex design
process
In [31], we described how teachers lacked an understanding of the
complex design process. More specifically, "[r]ather than an
explorative design process, their perceptions reflected a more
linear discourse of developing new ideas and functional and
aesthetic products." A central aim of the course framework was to
gain knowledge of how to develop teachers’ perception toward a
more complex, iterative, and explorative understanding of the
design process. Apart from using the design process model to
scaffold more structured steps in the process, participants were
asked to develop goals, activities and design materials to fit each
step. Moreover, they had to create a framework to scaffold their
students’ work, helping them to move from specific activities to
reflective and iterative phases. In the next section we overview a
presentation and subsequent class discussion where the inclusion
of teachers' own practice lead teachers to gain new insights into
the open-endedness and complexity of design processes.
5.1.1 A HAT: Judging student’s ideas
A general problem of teachers’ understanding of the complexity
of the design process is that it counters traditional curriculum-
based learning. We observed that teachers often had a tendency,
even in the early stages of the design process, to evaluate
students’ ideas against the design brief instead of for instance
helping students develop ideas further before judging them. In
brief, teachers were more focused on whether or not ideas were
“right” or "wrong", instead of helping students develop ideas
through iterations.
This phenomenon was palpable when one group during a
presentation mentioned their challenges with students, who
developed design fixations [15] on irrelevant ideas. Students had
been tasked with coming up with ideas for a product that could
create awareness about eWaste and a group of students wanted to
make a hatfor teachers this was a wrongidea. However,
during a seminar, discussions between researchers and teachers
generated a shared understanding that a hat could in fact become a
good product for creating awareness about eWaste. This example
well demonstrates that teachers can display discomfort with and
underestimation of the roles that uncertainty and messiness play in
design processes. Rather than judging and discarding students’
idea as irrelevant, teachers could have explored with students how
the idea had come about and what visions and design they were
planning on developing. Discussions about research findings, user
groups, development of multiple ideas (not just one), discussions
of prototyping, materials, and technologies, could all have been
fruitful ways of testing the students’ idea in relation to the given
task. This would have structured the students design process, and
given them ownership and understanding of their own ideas,
driving the process forward while developing solutions to the
requirements of the design brief. In short: a better understanding
of how design processes can develop in different ways and the
role of working through iterations while not knowing the
outcome, would have helped these teachers avoid premature
judgements and helped students develop, iterate and evaluate their
idea more thoroughly.
By combining design thinking literature with experiences from the
teachers’ own practice and collaborative reflections in groups,
some of the teachers developed a budding appreciation of the
complexity of iterative and messy design processes. These
teachers asked their students to reflect on the relevant qualities of
their design in relation to the wicked problem, rather than judging
‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’ solutions during the early stages of the design
process.
5.2 Managing digital technologies and
design materials
In the work reported in [31], students and teachers struggled with
the idea of exploring concrete challenges and building knowledge
through use of different design materials. With materials ranging
from post-it notes, posters and sketches to mock-ups and
prototypes incorporating digital technologies: "…the teachers
found that they lacked competences to support the students in
transforming their own and given design materials into relevant
design concepts." Participating teachers often felt challenged in
supporting their students in making meaningful connections
between analogue design materials and the subsequent work with
digital materials (e.g. Arduinos, 3D software and printers, and
LittleBits). Therefore, students became too focused on using
either digital technologies or analogue design materials.
In our course there was a variety of different materialities, from
design games developed for specific activities with the teachers to
a focus on analogue and digital materials as flexible and
transformative materials in the design process. From seminar 1,
teachers were tasked with making sure that every activity with
their students resulted in concrete design output, which students
could carry into the next phase of the design process. This focus
on design materials was also evident in the chosen literature
(which for instance included [5, 8, 25]). In the following example,
we describe how all groups of teachers came to a new
understanding of the affordances of different types of
externalizations. The example links one groups new insights to
their reflections on using different materials at the appropriate
time during the design process.
5.2.1 The Video Design Game
Reading about the use of materials in design processes was an
important part of the course. Additionally, it was essential that
teachers during the course could gain hands-on experience as well
as a practical appreciation of the value of engaging with diverse
materials. Teachers worked with design materials during seminar
two of the course. Here they were asked to create a video to
describe, analyze and reflect on a feedback session from their own
practice [30]. Each participant filmed a short session involving
themselves and a group of students. During the course, each study
group watched the videos and described their related observations
(using post-it notes). We then used a poster and a game design for
teachers to share their post-it notes. The game design acted as a
scaffold for better understanding the situations in the videos. An
important point of the work was to familiarize teachers with the
need to have a practical outcome – in this case conceptualizations
or rules-of-thumb and to demonstrate how the outcome could be
developed though a structured process, without predefining
results.
The Video Design Game helped teachers enrich their
understanding of the role of externalizations in ideas’
communication and assessment. The value of interacting with the
students’ physical models and sketches emerged as an important
point for the five teachers’ groups involved in this reflection-on-
action. The video game work demonstrated to teachers their lack
of physical engagement with materials and mock-ups: they ‘spoke
about’ but did not ‘engage with’ students materials. In one group
a teacher had however worked specifically with visualizing
through sketching students’ ideas and articulations while engaging
with their prototypes. This group (group 5) constructed a principle
for giving feedback on student ideas: "The spoken word should
never stand alone". This rule of thumb focused on the importance
of drawing, sketching or engaging with models while giving
feedback. This group developed a very strong focus on
externalizations and in their final exam paper, they reflected:
"The work with mock-ups and rapid prototyping has maintained
student interest through the process and caused students to be
motivated longer in the process without giving up. This
externalization of students' ideas, which is recurring in our
process, gives students concrete objects they can see, feel and
transform continuously. They get a physical object, which they
can talk about and develop further together. This also creates a
more shared language among the students."
Further, this group demonstrated in their final exam paper how
they learned to balance digital and physical technologies
throughout the design process with their students. In their case
technologies were introduced only when they added value to the
design process. For example, one group of students were
designing a talking trashcan in order to create awareness about
eWaste. In the early phases they worked with quick mock-ups
(horizontal prototypes) and only when it was time to test the
interaction they added a homemade tinfoil switch and a
MakeyMakey to the garbage bin to control sounds. For this group,
working with diverse design materials as a central focus
throughout the design process turned out to be a concrete and
effective way of 1) focusing their own practice of creating a
maker setting for an iterative design approach in the school
context, and 2) keeping the students engaged and focused through
the entire 10-week design process.
Multiple factors enabled an appreciation of how to manage
different materials: literature and lectures; demand for material
outcomes for all activities throughout the design process; and
facilitated games and discussions with design materials. In the
concrete example of the Video Design Game, teachers
experienced working with a design material (the game) to respond
to a demand for material outcomes and the experience enabled
them to understand and appreciate the importance of
externalizations.
5.3 Balancing different modes of teaching
In [31] we identified challenges that originated because of
teacherslack of experience with the modes involved in teaching
through design processes. Specifically, teachers felt a loss of
control of their traditional ‘expert’ roles and lacked the capability
to navigate the design process in the classroom context. To
address these challenges, the previously mentioned Video Design
Game was centered on teachers’ roles.
Since to our knowledge there is no body of literature on K-12
teachers’ roles in design processes, we decided to use Schön's
description of professional design educators’ roles in design
processes [26] and asked teachers to engage with the that piece of
literature. In Schön’s archetypical case, Quist teaches the
architectural student Petra by enriching and developing her ideas
for a school on a slope and does so through a combination of
sketching (demonstrating) and meta-communicating (telling). In
our seminar with teachers, we discussed the differences between
Quist's design studio with architecture students and a K-12
classroom setting, of which another empirical example was given.
It was crucial for participants to realize that knowledge of how to
teach design processes and digital fabrication in K-12 did not yet
exist, and that they were engaging in co-developing a new
practice. After discussing the examples, teachers were asked to
create videos of each other's practice and to describe, analyze and
reflect upon the roles involved. In the following section we
discuss an example of how one group of teachers developed new
insights into modes of teaching design in K-12 by discussing one
of the produced videos.
5.3.1 Shifting perspectives
In the Video Design Game workshop, group 4 spent a lot of time
discussing different teacher roles and modes of engaging with
students. An important area of discussion centered on the effect
that teachers could have when they took the role of telling that
often caused students to steer in specific directions. Teachers felt
the dilemma of which role one should take when giving feedback
on students' ideas. In the final stage of the Video Design Game,
while developing new principles for teaching design and digital
fabrication, the group elaborated: “attention to use of teacher
authority do you wish to point to a direction or not?” In their
final examination paper, Group 4 included a short video of a
teacher who was about to stop the development of an idea while
playing the “telling” role:
"…I’m actually in doubt about whether or not this is possible. In
any case, you have to direct this towards…well…here, I think you
should think about…well…No, you know what? I won’t shoot it
[the idea] down. I think we should choose one of your solutions,
and then work with that, and then we might realize at some point,
whether it is possible or not. Perhaps…let's say we built
something onto these glasses. Can you foresee any problems, any
design problems we might have to face?"
In the final exam, Group 4 reflected on how the teacher in the
example was about to "shoot down" an idea that he believed
"wrong". The teacher was concerned that the students would not
be able to create any meaningful prototype, and therefore he was
on the verge of terminating their idea in an authoritative, telling
role. In the example, he stopped himself and instead decided to
engage with the students’ idea, taking on a more democratic and
explorative role. Group 4 reported this development to be a
consequence of lessons learned when playing the Video Design
Game.
We addressed the challenge of balancing different modes of
teaching using three strategies: teachers were asked to read
classical literature on the teacher role in Quist design studio [26],
and to engage in lectures and group discussions on this
archetypical example in comparison with examples from their
own practice. This mix of theory, practice and peer-to-peer
learning enabled teachers to create new insights on their own
teaching. The exam papers from several groups suggest that the
teachers reflected on their role and authority with more nuanced
perspectives, and began to co-develop new teaching practices
based on the course.
6. Discussion: Educating the reflective
educator
In this paper we discussed a framework for introducing K-12
teachers to design processes and digital fabrication. Research and
analysis of teacherswork using this framework was possible
thanks to a master's course that we deliberately designed with a
dual purpose (1) for K-12 teachers to develop the capabilities
needed to school children with design literacy and (2) to
investigate teachers' acquisition of such capabilities (educating the
reflective educator). As demonstrated in our examples, some
teachers developed better understandings of the nuanced
complexities of the design process, how to manage diverse
materials, and how to balance different modes of teaching. As
identified in previous research, these three areas were all
challenges to teachers' integration of digital fabrication in K-12
education. While we are aware that our analysis may have
different results in different situations or contexts, we present
three aspects, or qualities, of our framework that positively
reinforced and supported the teachers in the following sections.
6.1 Towards a new mindset
Understanding and navigating design processes is not an easy
task, and the teachers in our course did not become professional
designers, or design educators, over the course of one semester
(single subject). However, our analysis of the case suggests that
through the 3-way structure of design theory, design practice and
peer-work and reflections, teachers developed a more complex
understanding of design processes and the mindsets necessary to
scaffold and navigate a complex design process for and with their
students.
In the post-survey, teachers were asked through an open-ended
question what they felt they had gained from the course. On this
item, 7 out of 19 respondents (37%) stated that they had
experienced a shift in their mindset; 6 (32%) stated that they had
gained a better understanding of design processes; and two
teachers stated that they had acquired more language for talking
about design processes in K-12 education. One teacher stated that
she had learned "…to look at design differently and as a process,
which fits well into schools in 2016, since it is actually mandatory
to teach creativity, critical thinking and cooperation [in Danish
schools in 2016]."
On a Likert-scale in the post-survey 18 out of 19 teachers (95%)
agreed that their students had become better at design processes,
while 13 (68%) agreed that their students had become better at
repeatedly ‘trying againand not giving up.
More work is needed to assess teachers’ and studentscapabilities
in the context of teaching design and digital fabrication in
education. What our analysis however suggests is that by
combining literature with peer collaboration and the development
of a hands-on design process, it is possible to enrich teachers
capabilities and to boost their confidence in taking on the
challenge of supporting K-12 students in working through the
complexities of the design process and in developing design
literacy.
6.2 Gaining a repertoire of working with
diverse materials
During our master's course, teachers had the opportunity to
appreciate how to manage different (digital and analogue) design
materials thanks to literature, lectures and practice-based work.
Additionally, we emphasized the focus on materials by requesting
within all activities to provide material inputs and outcomes, and
by facilitating at each seminar a series group discussions mediated
through unique design materials. This work led many groups of
teachers to include reflections on externalizations in their exam
papers and to reflect on the principles for teaching design
processes and digital fabrication in K-12 developed during the
course. Our data suggests that an emphasis on creating design
materials to scaffold certain goals of particular design activities,
prompted teachers to carefully consider materiality throughout the
process. As a consequence, they were in a position to scaffold
studentsstep-by-step process using analogue design materials
and digital technologies.
In both pre- and post-surveys, teachers were asked to choose,
from a list with 16 relevant options, the 5 most and 5 least
important parts of a design process. Their answers display an
interesting shift. On the pre-survey, 25% of the responding
teachers had selected building models (e.g. in cardboard) as one of
the five most important parts of a design process. On the post-
survey, this number had risen to 40%. Further, whereas 40% had
selected building models (e.g. in cardboard) to be among the five
least important parts of a design process in the pre-survey, none of
had chosen the building of cardboard-models as the least
important aspect on the post-survey. Overall, this suggests a
significant shift in teachers’ understanding of the value of
analogue materials in the design process.
Gaining a repertoire of using a range of materials takes time.
However, for some teachers the appreciation of different types of
materials lead to an understanding of how to manage a diversity
of digital and analogue design materials in various phases of the
process. Thus, we argue that an increased repertoire of working
with materials could increase teachers’ ability to frame and
manage a complex design process.
6.3 Generating new educational practices
By mixing the theoretical example of teaching roles with own
practice and peer-to-peer collaboration in the Video Design
Game, both teachers and researchers created new insights around
different modes of teaching, including the need to balance the
traditional authoritative know-it-all teacher role with a more
democratic and explorative teacher role that focuses on framing,
investigating and posing questions.
The wicked problem of electronic waste offered teachers the
opportunity to work with the framing and exploration of a real-
world problem as part of their own practice. The central qualities
of this problem was that it is real, current, global and in need of
exploration and re-interpretation by teachers. Without predefined
outcomes to the design process, teachers had to continuously
review their ways of framing teaching activities, rather than
defining outcomes. This exercise in ‘loosing control’ in a
traditional curriculum-led sense prompted development of new
teaching practices and principles.
Whereas the master-apprentice relation in the design studio [27] is
a tested approach, K-12 educators do not have the same expertise
as design educators, and their students lack the motivation and
capabilities of full-time design scholars. Hence, teachers in K-12
settings must develop new practices to integrate design and
technology into the classroom and to carefully balance explorative
and iterative approaches to problem solving with challenging
school contexts including for example required learning goals,
assessments, diverse groups of children, schedules, and multiple
subjects throughout the week.
Overall, the focus on complex problem solving through the
eWaste case gave weight to understanding a wicked problem,
generating insights from field studies, and working in structured
ways to generate relevant solutions. There were many possible
levels of engagement in the problem, which gave different groups
of teachers and students the possibility to identify and frame the
level they preferred to engage in: from creating ideas, prototypes
or products for the Ghanaian youth, to focusing on their own local
environment, by for instance creating a hat or a trashcan to create
awareness in their own school. Simple applications of technology
to students’ immediate ideas were not in focusinstead, the scope
of the design brief and approach broadened the necessity to build
a repertoire for designing using both analogue and digital
materials. Our research suggests that this enabled teachers to shift
their focus from pre-defined learning goals (e.g., using set
teaching materials) and fixed technologies (as closed entities) to
an understanding of the different properties and affordances of
diverse materials in different steps of the design process. Our
research suggests that understanding technologies and design
materials as flexible materials in a complex design process, allows
teachers to have more flexibility with regards to modes of
teaching.
7. Conclusion
Based on analysis of qualitative and quantitative data gathered
from the master's course on design processes and digital
fabrication, we demonstrated how a framework that combines
design theory, in-school-practice, and peer-to-peer learning can be
used to educate reflective educators. The framework functioned to
address three central challenges that we found to be crucial in the
development of capabilities for K-12 educators: (1) developing
teachers' mindsets, (2) gaining a repertoire of working with
diverse materials, and (3) generating new educational practices.
More research is needed to identify other relevant aspects of
becoming a reflective educator with digital fabrication in K-12.
Further, there is need for research that links teacher mindsets,
repertoires and practices to students’ attainment of design literacy
in schools. Within this context, our research suggests that a strong
focus on design thinking and complex problem solving can
strengthen teachers’ abilities to structure and manage design
processes in digital fabrication in K-12, while keeping students
motivated and shifting education’s focus from predictable
learning outcomes to reflective and transformative educational
practices.
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