Thursday, May 23, 2013

E-textiles Broadening Participation and Sewing the Way at Bay Area Maker Faire 2013!


Last weekend, IU Creativity Labs’ Dr. Kylie Peppler and Sophia Bender both presented on e-textiles at the Bay Area Maker Faire’s Maker Education Initiative tent. Both sessions were well attended and produced a great deal of audience interest and participation!

On Saturday, May 18, Kylie spoke about how e-textiles can help broaden the participation of females in the fields of computing and electronics. She presented findings from both her own lab and from colleagues showing that e-textiles are the first computing field dominated by women, and that these materials help to empower girls to take a leadership role in e-textile projects. She also emphasized that e-textiles can be a legitimate computing field in and of itself, without needing to be viewed as a “pathway” for girls to enter into more “traditional” computing fields such as robotics. Finally, she ended with a discussion of the potential for e-textiles to teach youth about circuits more effectively than do traditional materials such as alligator clips, because e-textiles use uninsulated conductive thread and help to make circuitry concepts more embodied and more visible.


Sophia presented on the experiences and best practices for learning circuitry that the lab has developed while conducting e-textile programs with youth. This involves a process of starting with a mini-circuit activity, doing a mini-sewing practice activity, doing the e-textile make itself, and finally sharing and reflecting. The audience then got to try out the mini-circuit activity, attempting to light up one and later multiple LEDs with alligator clips and a 3V coin cell battery. In the process, they learned--just as youth in our workshops do--about series and parallel circuits, current flow, and voltage. This then prepares youth to work with circuits in their e-textile project.


Sophia ended her talk with five lessons gleaned from our experiences with e-textile workshops:

  1. Build from kids’ existing understandings and give them tools, materials, and activities to shape new understandings.
  2. Privilege the technology and crafting aspects equally.
  3. Give kids the language they need to understand what they’re discovering as they explore the materials.
  4. Provide making activities that allow for multiple solutions and personalization.
  5. People who work across diverse sets of materials are better prepared to work with formalisms.

The Maker Faire was a wonderful, inspiring experience, and Kylie and Sophia appreciated the opportunity to spread the word about e-textiles there. Thank you to Maker Ed for inviting and welcoming us!

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