Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Use of E-Textiles in Ontario Education

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Use of E-Textiles in Ontario Education

Article excerpt


Making (or creating/building) as a way of learning is gaining traction in the Canadian education system as makerspaces and a return to a do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos spread in society (Hughes, 2017). Some schools in Ontario have begun to build physical maker-spaces, and others are adopting the pedagogy associated with these learning spaces--a pedagogy which draws heavily on collaboration, inquiry, constructionism, and self-directed learning (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014). Part of the appeal and efficacy associated with a maker-oriented approach to teaching and learning is that students become active participants in their learning process and often develop a sense of agency through making (i.e., by producing a tangible artifact reflective of their learning). Oftentimes, learners' identities can shift from "recipient of information" to "maker" and co-developer of knowledge in the learning community. Within these makerspaces, students can draw on a variety of digital and physical tools in their constructing and learning processes.

A commonly found tool is the e-textile kit, which can come in many forms. E-textiles, or electronic textiles, refer to "fabric artifacts that include embedded computers and other electronics" (Peppler, 2013, p. 38). E-textile programs for youth are currently being implemented, although infrequently, in a variety of settings, including classrooms, makerspaces, and libraries. As this crafts-based medium gains popularity, it raises a question: In what ways are e-textiles influencing student learning in formal and informal learning environments in Ontario? We address this question through an examination of existing literature and identify common themes related to student interaction with e-textiles and similar media. We then offer four ethnographic case studies, based on our own design-based research working with students in Grades 3-9 (ages 8-14) in two informal settings (maker camps) and two formal classroom settings in Ontario, Canada. We highlight the benefits and challenges of using e-textiles with these students, and share the stories of how our own thinking shifted based on each subsequent iteration of the research. We present an analysis of the types of 21st-century skills and competencies, which include communication, and that are being fostered through the use of e-textiles. Finally, this paper addresses some of the challenges in implementing e-textiles in schools, concluding with recommendations about the direction of future research.

Literature Review

Locations for Learning

The majority of research on e-textiles in education has been conducted in the United States. While some e-textiles workshops can be found in Canada, prior to our work in this area there has been no associated educational research. In Canada, Berzowska (2005) has done some interesting work related to the development of technology for e-textiles using conductive yarns, knitting, embroidery, and sewing, but there is a dearth of recent Canadian research related to the use of these materials in K-12 education. Many of the findings in American studies can be related to Ontario students, and have been used as a starting point for our research. In a study performed by Buechley (2009) concerning the distribution of LilyPad (an e-textile creating kit) and Arduino sales, less than 13% of customers came from Canada. This indicates that the use of e-textiles is still an emerging practice in Canada.

E-textile studies have been conducted with adolescents from 6 to 18 years old, from a variety of cultural backgrounds, in Midwestern US cities (Peppler & Glosson, 2012; Buchholz, Shively, Peppler, & Wohlwend, 2014; Kafai, Fields, & Searle, 2012). Participants volunteered for the studies, which started with basic circuitry tutorials before moving into complex, personalized, and creative projects. Participants' skills with electronics, programming, and e-textiles varied. …

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