EXCLUSIVE NEW LEARNING TIMES INTERVIEW
Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: I dual majored in Psychology and Fine Arts in my undergrad, which enabled me to do both psychological research as well as experiment with various artistic media early on. During this time, I started incorporating a number of new technologies in my art, largely in response to pushback I received from my instructors to update my artistic practice to be relevant to the 21st century. At first I was a little taken aback at the suggestion, but I quickly became excited about the world that opened to me as I began wiring electrical circuits into my sculpture, welding, and moreover exploring the possibilities that computation and new media had for expression. At the same time, I really fell in love with research through the work I was doing in psychology, though I was seeking to get out of the lab and into more applied contexts. So when I applied to graduate school, it was my good fortune to bring these strands together through my work with James Catterall (arts and neuroscience) and Yasmin Kafai (studying of the early versions of Scratch) at UCLA. It was the perfect training ground to cultivate my interests in the arts and new technologies. My identity as an artist has served as a consistent through-line in all of my research, affording me a unique perspective into both learning and arts education.
Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: My research experiences in graduate school were by far the most formative. It led me to work closely with several nonprofit arts organizations and after-school technology centers -- relationships that still extend to today. Cumulatively, these experiences grounded me in the realities of out-of-school institutions and made me acutely aware of the high-quality learning that takes place in these spaces. Through my training, I was able to see how youth that were "disabled" in the classroom were completely enabled in these out-of-school environments to produce work with both beautiful artistic and technical qualities--kids that, for example, were able to computer program proficiently before they were able to read and write at grade level. All of this heightened my awareness of the learning, particularly the arts and media arts learning, outside of the school space. As I have delved deeper throughout my career, I began to see how formative experiences can be in the out-of-school space in activating youth interest--not only in the arts, but also in science and other fields. For the most part though, this goes unrecognized. However, when we can engage youths' passions particularly in long-term design projects, youth learn so much in the process. The key challenge has been for me to find resonant ways to show that to others.
Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: My hopes are twofold: First, that we'll begin to re-imagine the possibilities for in-school spaces to really put design, construction, creation and/or making at the core of K-12 educational practice and really understand how, in doing so, we shift the learning landscape to be more inclusive of all learners, while also producing higher quality learning opportunities for all. At the same time, I also want to celebrate and preserve the kinds of learning taking place in out-of-school spaces; traditionally there hasn't been a rich base of research taking place in these spaces, but what we're cumulatively finding there is truly unique. For example, in retrospective case histories, adults typically cite their experiences in the out-of-school space as the most formative for their careers. Yet, at the same time, there's a push happening right now to both extend the school day and to create greater accountability in the out-of school time, which is having the cumulative result of making out-of-school time look more like in-school time. The resulting impact this could have on creativity, artistic development, and identity can't be underestimated.
Question:What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: Right now, I'm captivated by the larger Maker Movement. The Maker Movement consists of a growing culture of hands-on making, creating, designing, and innovating. A hallmark of the Maker Movement is its Do-It-Yourself (or Do-It-With-Others) mindset that brings individuals together around a range of activities, including textile craft, robotics, cooking, woodcrafts, electronics, digital fabrication, mechanical repair or creation, and making nearly anything. Despite its diversity, the Movement is unified by a shared commitment to open exploration, intrinsic interest, and creative ideas. And it’s spreading; online maker communities, physical makerspaces, and Maker Faires (check-out this NLT coverage of a recent Maker Faire) are popping up all over the world and continually increasing in size and participation. This is also the first time, to my knowledge, that there's been a grassroots movement in education that has impacted in- and out-of -school learning that so many educators, after-school coordinators, youth, and parents are willing to adopt so readily. At the same time, the Maker Movement connects to family histories of all kinds, it gets us excited about the creative process, and it engages youth in hands-on work (as opposed to worksheets and standardized tests). Best of all, we don't need to push these making activities into schools, museums or homes--people are already adopting this work enthusiastically.
Question:What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Answer: Currently, my colleagues and I have produced several new toolkits to support design and digital art making across a variety of media, spanning e-textile construction (wearable computers and other electronics that can be sewn into clothing or other textiles), videogame design and digital storytelling. These toolkits will be available from MIT Press in the upcoming months, and we've been thrilled by the number of formal and informal educators--nationally as well as internationally--who are showing interest in adopting these volumes. The books were created out of a legitimate need for educators to find ways to use these new tools toward the development of transformational learning opportunities in support of the creative process. In my lab, we have also been working on how to bridge persistent cultural divides in education through such new tools, materials, practices, and products -- providing a good deal of research that supports the learning in these books. In the coming years, we're turning our attention to supporting broad communities of formal and informal educators, spanning both in- and out-of-school, as well as diving deeper into the research around these tools and materials. You can expect to see more from us about the learning benefits, for example, of blending electronics with conductive play-dough, the value of women's craft (like knitting, crochet, quilting, etc), among other endeavors that span the arts, crafts, and new media.
Image: Courtesy Kylie Peppler