Examples of authentic, engaged learning abound when youth participate in DIY, collaborative programming through online communities and platforms such as Scratch. Integrating this type of interest-driven group work in the classroom might be an educator’s dream, but the challenges of typical classroom structures for group work or computational learning often prevent these activities from being included in the classroom. In a recent study, researchers developed a structure for productive, culturally relevant collaborative coding through the models of nested collectives and studio design.

Within the structure of an eight-week workshop, groups of students were given a design challenge: create a music video on Scratch. Each group member had to contribute an independent segment to the music video, which ensured that all the programming did not fall on a more experienced student, and introduced the problems of initialization and synchronization. This involved elements of a studio design model: an authentic, real-world project, with guided-problem solving, and the production of, and reflection on, an external artifact. The nested collectives model—a group of students paired with a mentor and instructional leader, within the class workshop, within the Collab Camp, within the Scratch community—provided authentic audiences and layers of constructive feedback.

The researchers collected observational data and student interviews over the course of the workshop. They aimed to understand how students experienced initialization, synchronization, and collaboration. They used a two-step open coding scheme from which emerged themes around how students learned how to program (solve the problems of initialization and synchronization) from peers, mentors, group leaders, and online feedback. Through a case study, including interviews and group discussion transcriptions that highlighted moments of challenges and response to external feedback, the researchers illustrated their findings of the deep learning that resulted from the authentic, culturally relevant group task.

The studio design model seems promising in engaging students in the kind of learning they initiate for themselves online. In addition, the nested collectives model successfully overcomes many of the challenges of introducing programming in the classroom as students practice it in online DIY participatory culture by supporting collaboration, providing opportunities for constructive criticism similar to those found in online communities, and sharing the in-progress work. The researchers suggest the transferability of this model to other subject areas and identify the need for more research in connecting student work to the broader online community.

The potential for harnessing the learning that happens in online youth communities such as Scratch for engaging classroom instruction is exciting. The studio design and nested collectives provide models for how to think about doing this kind of activity. However, classroom teachers generally lack the advantages of mentors, group leaders, and an instructional team to support the project to the degree possible in the research intervention. Perhaps this can be turned into an opportunity for more authentic participatory culture as student leaders within the classroom are identified and genuinely engaged in contributing to the learning of their peers.

Fields, D., Vasudevan, V., & Kafai Y. B. (2015). The programmers’ collective: fostering participatory culture by making music videos in a high school Scratch coding workshop. Interactive Learning Environments, 23(5), 613-633, doi:10.1080/10494820.2015.1065892.

Image: Music Video by Sarah van den Berg Scratch