Collaborative Research: Fostering Public Engagement in Computational Thinking by Leveraging Quilting Communities and Practices
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of settings. The pilot and feasibility study will develop instructional workshops for an adult population of quilters to introduce them to computational thinking. By leveraging pre-existing social structures, skill sets, and engagement in quilting, the researchers hope to help participants develop computer science and computational thinking knowledge and skills. The long-term goal is to broaden public awareness of computational thinking and build links between computer science and other areas of interest. By leveraging the social structure and existing skills held by practicing quilters, the workshops have the potential to reach an audience of millions of quilters around the nation and worldwide, the majority of whom are adult women. The research will be developed and tested with two groups: the Orlando Modern Quilt Guild in Orlando, FL, and an informally gathered quilting class in the Worcester, MA area. Outcomes for the project include workshop materials that can be used in a variety of quilting group contexts nationwide, a deeper understanding of the processes and mechanisms for adult computer science education through crafts, and evaluation of the pilot workshop focused on the impact on participants' engagement, self-identity, and learning for computational thinking. The research especially focuses on leveraging pre-existing knowledge, interests, and social structures to draw connections to computational thinking, and studying how this impacts participants' self-described identity, attitude, and engagement with computer science. The project also assesses a novel method for teaching computational thinking that has potential for broad applicability in a variety of social and creative hobbies. Participants will use and modify generative design software that creates quilt designs and, in doing so, learn how creative interests can be expanded through computer science. By focusing on the hobby of quilting, which is not typically associated with computer science, the knowledge built through designing and evaluating the research offers strategies for altering public perception of computer science. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.