Hello World

What is Digital Making?

August 02, 2021 Hello World Podcast Season 2 Episode 1
Hello World
What is Digital Making?
Show Notes Transcript

To kick off the second season of the Hello World podcast, we decided to explore "digital making"; it's part of the mission here at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, but what does it mean? Our digital making duo, Carrie Anne and James, challenge themselves to explain this broad practice, share their experiences, and explore what makes digital making appealing to learners.

Full notes available at https://helloworld.raspberrypi.org/articles/what-is-digital-making

Carrie Anne Philbin:

What does digital making mean to you?

James Robinson:

Together we built a little circuit, glued it, glitter spray painted it.

Oliver Quinlan:

It makes the thing concrete.

Rebecca Franks:

That was the thing that sparked that sort of little bit of confidence, that I can just do

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Welcome to Hello World, a podcast for educators interested in computing and digital I'm Carrie Anne Philbin a computing educator, content creator and maker extraordinaire ...

James Robinson:

And I'm James Robinson a computing educator. And I'm working on projects promoting effective pedagogy within our subject. If you want to support our show, then please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a five star review.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Today, we're exploring a topic that's very close to our hearts and part of our mission at What is digital making? We're going to be joined by some great guests to bring their perspectives on this topic. But before we hear from them, I thought I'd get your perspective, James, what does digital making mean to you?

James Robinson:

Well, I think it's really interesting and it's not a term that I really used a lot before But I think you can broadly define it as any activity where you're combining technology and the act of making or making something that involves technology. I think making or the maker culture has kind of been it's sort of been developing a lot in the States, but also over here in the U.K. And I think the other way of looking at it is that it's a form of making where you kind of you treat computing or computational devices as a material, as a resource, as a component that enhances or adds to your making. So I think, thankfully, the definition is really, really broad and encompasses a lot of fun things. How about you? Does that kind of align with your view?

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, as you've already heard, I describe myself as a maker extraordinaire and I'm But I guess for a really long time throughout my life, I've always been a very creative person and I've always been a very hands on tactile kind of person. The subjects of school that I gravitated towards were always ones where I could get hands on and physical with with it. So it's one of the reasons why computing always spoke to me, but also subjects like design and technology, subjects like art and design. And I've always been a bit of a crafty person, you know, and I always talk about my dad when I talk about how I ended up doing the things that I do now, because you know he has a very hands on background. He he was a trained carpenter and became a trained plumber. So he's always been we can fix this. We can make this, we can build this. And that's been a big part of my childhood, which just meant that I've sort of taken that approach to pretty much anything. So when it comes to computers. I can build it, you know I can make it. When it comes to software I can build it. I can make it. At the moment I'm looking at my bathroom and I'm thinking I could pay someone to do that, but also I could do that myself. So sometimes it's a good thing, but sometimes it's actually quite an irritating thing. But I think when it comes to digital making, the first time I heard that term, it really resonated with me because suddenly I had a sort of framework or a way of describing these two worlds sort of craft and making and building and Hands-On with my love of computing and computers and software and the kind of digital artefacts and things that I could make using software. And I sort of had a way of bringing those two together under that terminology. So. So for me, it's always been a, I always embrace that term because it really sort of means something to me. Does that make sense?

James Robinson:

It does. And I think that actually you describing those experiences, I think I mean, I I like to do things with my hands and I like to to make things usually follow the instructions. That's my kind of childhood with Lego. I would always follow the instructions and not deviate. But I think, then being able to introduce elements of electronics and computing into that craft. Yeah, it's that kind of synergy between those two different different sort of spaces. And that's really it's an it's a really nice broad umbrella term as it helps describe those two interests, I think really well.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, it's clear that we're both super duper digital makers. I think I've just decided we are. But does that really resonate for young people in the same way that it resonates for us? So joining us is a computing educator, teacher, trainer, researcher and author of the 2015 report into young digital makers Oliver Quinlan. Oliver, how would you define digital making? Have we got it right?

Oliver Quinlan:

I think that's a really interesting way of putting it, especially asking whether you've things about the Maker movement more broadly is how inclusive it is in terms of different ideas. I mean, I think to me, what's most important about it is a sort of an ethos and an attitude, really, rather than a specific type of content or skills, which I think you're getting at in what you were just saying from your own experiences. I think that idea that you can feel empowered to make things and to learn about how things work is really important. And I think being fairly inclusive about that is important as well. One phrase that always comes to my mind when I'm thinking about this is a phrase that the someone from Mozilla, Mark Surman, used in a talk that I saw many years ago, probably 2013 or something. He talked about being able to see the Lego lines in the world and that being something that's really important, that can come from being involved in making being able to look at something can of see where it could potentially break apart and be reformed into something else. Or added on to and I think that is as valid for kind of more traditional craftiness as it is for for digital approaches to making really.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And does this as a topic or does this language or this this ethos, does it resonate with

Oliver Quinlan:

I think that that is another really interesting question. I've been thinking a lot about this recently, and I think it certainly has the potential to. But but does it necessarily? I don't know. I think it probably doesn't with all young people at the moment. And the challenge is sort of opening it up because it potentially could do. I think that the ethos of seeing the world of technology or the world of products or things is something that's malleable and that people are empowered to to be able to interact with and do something is probably the kind of value that we should really be educating young people to to explore. But it doesn't necessarily and there's lots of work going on looking at that. So I'm involved in a big research project at the moment, looking at gender and computing. I mean, I think computing and programming is one thread of digital making, not necessarily everything at all. But it's it's one thread that comes across really strongly in the school curriculum, especially here in the UK, where it's become a subject that people study from a very early age. And we're looking at gender and how computing can appeal to to young people of different genders. And there's lots to unpack in that. I think there's lots of cultural things, lots of stereotypes, and there's so much to do with with belonging and how what young people view themselves and also the types of the types of experiences that they can have and how kind of authentic and relevant they are. And one of the trials that we're doing is looking at how we might be able to make competing projects really relevant to young people that can bring their their interests and that to them. And there's research to suggest that that could be really helpful for getting more girls involved in computing specifically. But I think that relevance and authenticity and being able to bring your own passions and ideas to activities is a really important part of digital making more broadly than just computing as well.

James Robinson:

And Carrie Anne and I have spoken a little bit about our sort of early experiences or, you culture. Um, what are the sort of the opportunities that are out there and available for young people now, if we if we want to encourage them to get involved in this space, what are the ways in which we find students doing that or young people doing that?

Oliver Quinlan:

Well, I think there's so many and I mean, it's five years since I did that report on young across the UK. And so much has changed since then and so much has grown. I mean, the technology is changing all the time. So the kinds of things that you can achieve with with using digital tools is it's growing all the time. You've got more powerful computers, more powerful, affordable Raspberry Pis and lots of microcontrollers. Other sort of existing brands are doing more of this this sort of stuff. You've got Lego products involving programming. You've got lots of commercial products, lots of hardware and also loads of grassroots movements as well. And some of the movements that were there back then, like Code Club, have and CoderDojo have grown hugely. I mean, obviously lots of challenges around the pandemic, but the communities around those face to face activities have grown hugely. But there also seem to be lots of more kind of specific groups popping up, groups catering for certain different demographics of young people or young people in a certain area, in a certain community. So, yeah, there's really loads of loads of opportunities. And I was reflecting on this question and thinking how might I encourage a young person to get involved in something today, and I think it really depends a little bit on the young person and what their interests are, really, and I think the the potential that adults have is to sort of point them in the right direction a little bit, thinking about their interests and a little bit thinking about what's going to challenge them. So for some young people getting involved in sitting with their computer by themselves and getting really focussed in on something that interests them, it's going to be a really good way to start. And there's lots of resources online, lots of projects that they can make. For other young people, making something with friends and being sociable is really important and you know they can bring together ideas and feel more confident exploring in that way. So, yeah, I think there is quite a lot of different modes and different things that we can encourage them to do.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And I'm glad you sort of touched on adults and young people's lives, whether they are they Joining us is Rebecca Franks, who's a learning manager at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. She's a former computing teacher and member of CAS Include a group working to increase diversity and inclusion in computing. So welcome, Rebecca. What has been your experience of digital making both in the classroom and and since?

Rebecca Franks:

Well, I actually found it quite tricky to get into digital making when I was a classroom I had all the gear and no idea, I was one of those. And I really did desperately want it because I saw everything that you were doing as well with Picademy years and years ago. And I was thinking, well, how could I do this in the classroom and I kept trying these things... My most successful thing was a (SparkFun) PicoBoard that worked with Scratch because that was literally just plug and play and they could attach extra things to it. And that was really, really simple to get out and use. And I found that fantastic. But anything sort of further than that, I really quite struggled with. And I think a lot of it was down to just sort of my own experience and sort of my sort of not really knowing what to do and how to help people and how to get started. And I'd follow instructions and I could do that. I was fine at following those instructions. But if I had to go off and make something myself, I find that really challenging. I didn't know where to get help and all that kind of stuff. But since working for the foundation and learning more about digital making and really just sort of taking a step back and really going back to basics, I've found now I started looking at things like how a circuit actually works, because when you look at experienced digital makers, like you Carrie Anne, you think, well, I'll never be like that. I'll never be able to be like that. But what I don't see is the journey that you started with all of those years ago when you at the beginning, I'm sure at the very beginning, you were like what's an LED. Which way do these legs go round and where does the battery go? Why do I need a resistor and all these questions that you asked years and years ago? You solved all those problems, but I haven't solved those problems and I needed to do that myself. So now I've really sat and thought, right I know exactly how a breadboard works now and I can explain it to anyone and I'm really proud of that. And I can build a circuit and I can add things to it. And I'm building my confidence because I've gone back to basics. And I think as a teacher, you try to do too much almost in the classroom and bring too many things in. But if you really just go back to basics, build the confidence yourself first, get that confidence, get so that you can help the learners. So if you've got a breadboard and LEDs, you can very quickly go, oh, it's just that you just got to turn it round. You know, it becomes less overwhelming once you've got that sort of foundational understanding of those things, which makes it easier. And then once you've built up your confidence a bit more, you can start doing things a little bit more challenging. So just my advice would just be really take it slow, just take that time out and have fun. Just enjoy it. So that's kind of sort of my journey from start to finish.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And you sort of touched on this idea of taking the time to invest in yourself and your Some teachers might say, I don't have time to do that. Want what's the benefit in me, you know, spend giving up my time to do this, to to learn this myself. Is it there's a benefit to you as a teacher because it gives you perhaps a wider understanding of of the subject or did you see a sort of benefit? And are you seeing a benefit on you know, I know doing some stuff with your own children? And did you see the benefit of taking that extra step with your students?

Rebecca Franks:

Yeah, I think now I understand it more. I can definitely help my my kids at home to get started themselves. And they've started making their own little projects to we've used the fancy, I just discovered the fancy multicoloured LEDs that you don't need to programme. They just change colour automatically. I discovered those a few months ago and my kids made their own sort of little lanterns like disco lanterns with them, just a bit of tracing paper wrapped around it. Dead simple to make, just turn it on and off. But they got really into it and they soldered it and everything like that. And I think it was just because my confidence has grown a little bit, I can sort of spread that enthusiasm with them. And then we've got a maker challenge group that we do as part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and I'm starting to do some basic circuit stuff with a group of women at the Raspberry Pi Foundation and their confidence is growing so much more. Now, I've come really back to basics and really shown them things, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what projects they start to make next month to see what they come up with based on what they've learnt. So. I definitely feel like this slowing down and going back to basics and really sort of building that foundational understanding is definitely a way to go, certainly for me anyway.

James Robinson:

I think that's interesting as well, like you mentioned, going back to basics and sort of I think that's, as Carrie Anne alluded to, that's very difficult sometimes for a teacher to do. You're so bound to the curriculum and the pace of teaching. And I think, you know, this may be something about in order to get something that's going to change something or benefit your learners and the learning objectives you're working to, there's maybe a journey that you have to go on before you can get to that point, whereas if you try and go into a lesson and say, well, we're going to use physical computing or this project to learn this concept, there's quite a lot of sort of background that you have to understand before you get to that point. And so you have to kind of set those smaller steps maybe. I'm not sure if that makes sense, Rebecca, but does that kind of did it and did it resonate?

Rebecca Franks:

I totally agree. If I could if I could talk to myself sort of six years ago, I would say, a week, just get it out and and fiddle around with some little circuits and get going and have in the back of your mind that maybe next year, I'll do one short project with one year group or one class and just really take it you know, take it slow in that sense and I think if you just give those sort of little chunks of time over over a period, you will sort of build it back in. And, you know, as soon as you get that sort of aha moment, that's when you start sort of the ball starts rolling with it all and you get more excited about it. And when you start seeing as well, like my children doing it as well and seeing the enjoyment that they get out of it, then you just want to do it even more and learn even more things. So that would be my advice. Just get a little tub fill it with a few little cheap bits and pieces and and just get get going half an hour a week or 20 minutes or whatever it is that you can that you can dedicate. I think that is definitely a way to go.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And Oliver, Rebecca's talk there about the journey that she's been on and the benefits But what do we know about the benefits of digital making on young people and on and on adults who are supporting them?

Oliver Quinlan:

Well, I think. There's there's a lot it might seem like a really new area, but there's a of sort of quite well accepted principles about education. And I think the sort of link or the movement between concrete and abstract is a really important one here. And lots of teachers are very well aware of these concepts, I think, and especially explored by Piaget, people thinking back to their teacher training I'm sure, will be remembering him, but lots of his work was around moving between different different kind of levels of understanding and things being more concrete and then moving into the abstract. And I think particularly in more technical sort of subjects like like computing, there's a lot of abstract stuff that young people need to learn, especially if you're leading up to kind of exams and assessments and things like that. And what digital making can do, whether it's on screen making or whether it's physical making, is make a lot of concepts, quite concrete and and able to understand them. And I've been really fascinated by this, looking at some of the work that the teachers have been doing around kind of using circuits and physical computing. So much in research I've done with teachers you hear about how compelling young people find setting up a computer and getting it to light LEDs and things. And I always find that really interesting because it's actually really complicated to do it that way. If you're using a Raspberry Pi and Python or Scratch to get an LED to flash, that's a super complicated way of doing things. And lots of things can go wrong. And yet people sort of take this approach and find it really engaging. And I've heard a lot of teachers reporting that the young people seem to really understand the concepts behind the programme because they've got something they say, because they've got something physical going on, even though that's, you know, in some ways overcomplicating it. It makes the thing concrete and when you've got something physical happening in front of you, you can sort of think through those abstract concepts of the programming and how how they're working, the kind of loops that you can imagine, how that electricity's moving around that circuit in a physical way I guess. So, so yeah, I think that's that's a really interesting thing to think about. And people often often talk about the ideas of like reading and writing and how that applies to some of this stuff. And I think I think that's really interesting because there's definitely a lot to be said for thinking about computing and programming and and reading and how important it is to to be able to understand how to read other people's code and learn from that. But often when I when I hear people talking about this, they sort of say, oh, you learn to read before you write normally. And that's not actually the case. Young children get involved with mark making and and writing, you know, not necessarily before, but very much alongside when they're experiencing books and learning to read from them. And I think that that making and that creating and that reading and understanding are really intertwined in complicated ways. Sometimes it can be really powerful to have a go at making something, even if you've got really got very little idea of what you're doing, because you start to pick it up as you go along. And I think that's because it's you're learning abstract things through concrete activities.

James Robinson:

I think that's a really, a really good explanation that sort of link between concrete and I think something else that's really you can see that being a really real benefit in this, you know we've kind of defined digital making as this sort of, broadchurch of creativity, and I think because it's so broad and inclusive, it's able to span multiple disciplines. So we've just talked about circuits, for example, and in primary school, pupils learn about how circuits work and and how electricity flows and how to light, light up you know, bulbs and LEDs. And then we can connect that to those computing concepts and really kind of form interconnections between what are often taught as discrete areas of the curriculum. So I think it helps bring sort of different connected ideas together. I had a question for Rebecca, which was around. I mean, I know you're super passionate about inclusivity and diversity. And I think when we started the show, we talked a little bit about how welcoming and inclusive both the definition and the community around making is. Is that something that you the you kind of think is important or is there a connection between digital making and inclusion? Is that a way we can support more people getting involved, do you think?

Rebecca Franks:

Yeah, I mean, I definitely think it can support inclusion. And like with Oliver saying, you know, we can have we can make a more culturally responsive curriculum through digital making, I think and this would lead to greater inclusion. Decision making can be used as a tool to bring in learner's lived experiences, their interests and their cultures. And this is really evident when you take a look at the showcase for Coolest Projects, if you've ever had to do that is a really good thing to go on the website and take a look. And because young people from all over the world make things that matter to them. And I remember looking at a project from a young woman called Vivian in the US, and she lives in an area where there are loads of earthquakes and wanted to make an earthquake detector to warn her friends and family that one might be about to occur. And the finished project was just fantastic and it was extremely professional. And she could easily sell it, I think, if she wants to. And I just think that that kind of thing, if if we can use digital making to really draw on what matters to our young people, I think we will begin to have a more inclusive curriculum in general.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Yeah, I think it's like Oliver said about the reading and writing, doing these things problems you want to solve, the things you want to build, alongside learning how electricity flows, alongside learning how to programme it and control it with code. By doing these things together, I think it will bring a more diverse group of young people into the subject and really enjoy it. It is definitely what I've always talked about and been on my soapbox about for a really long time, because I saw it in my classroom and I saw it with young people I worked with. So I kind of have a final question for you both, which is what's what's your personal favourite digital making project that you've you've created and that you're most proud of?

Oliver Quinlan:

I prepared for this one. I've got mine here. And this is for the benefit of people on audio I've been into music production for a really long time. And this is a synthesiser that I built and it's based on the chips from a Commodore 64, the Commodore 64 computer had an analogue synthesiser built into it. And this is a sort of a modern sort of style thing that lets you get those sounds out of out of those chips. So there's so many layers of, like, culture to that as a project. Music production, retro computer games. Yes, digital making as well. The reason I chose it was that I first saw this as a project about 10 years ago, and I thought it looked absolutely amazing, but completely unfathomable, and inaccessible to me. No way, I had a little bit of experience with electronics and things, but no way how to how to make it, but through building up some skills, doing some smaller projects and sort of starting to learn and understand a bit more. Eventually, after a long time, I was able to make something that previously had seemed completely out of my reach. And I think that's really important. I don't necessarily I couldn't create it from scratch. And I think there's something quite interesting there, I've definitely debugged lots of different bits of it and learned how bits of it work. But I'm sort of building on other people's knowledge, there's an amazing forum about it and that kind of thing, and using that to build a tool which I use for something that I like to do, which is making music and just building on your point that Carrie Anne. I think seeing digital making and using technology as a tool people can use for other lots of disciplines and interests is really important.

Rebecca Franks:

I'm going to get really what I've got imposter syndrome now, after hearing that one but unreal, but I'm really proud of it because it really was the aha moment for me in the project I made, so last summer, I got really, really into soldering and doing soldering projects where you follow a kit through and you make things. And I've got really into that. I got quite good at it. And then I was like, you know what? I just want to make something that isn't a board and a kit I just want to do something myself. And it was the first time I'd ever really gone. I just want to do something myself. So I literally just got the Raspberry Pi values post card. I put some LEDs in it. I was like I'm going to use a parallel circuit. I get to attach it with, with my jumper wires and solder it all together. And I attached a battery and I was like, well I need a switch, but I haven't got a switch. So I just found an old Crocodile clips that was just at the bottom of a drawer and I just made that as my switch. And it's actually one of my favourite things. It just sits pride of place on my maker shelf behind me, the little things that I've made, just because that was the thing that just sparked that sort of little bit of confidence. I can just do it myself and just have a go and just make something. So although it is quite basic. And it is something that I'm very proud of just because that little thing just gave me that spark. So I think it's really, really good idea. A good bit of fun.

James Robinson:

I think, I mean, you say it's basic, but I've got a similar kind of project. You you're talking about multicoloured LEDs that reminded me of this, A few years ago, my daughter wanted to dress up for like a World Book Day thing. And one of her favourite books at time was a book called Interstellar Cinderella, who has a super socket wrench or something. I call think what it's called, but we found an old plastic little wrench from her toy box. We pulled it open and together we built a little circuit, which was a button, and we embedded an LED in the little vice grip it, and put a battery in there. And we closed it all up, we glued it, we glitter spray painted it. And it was her prop for the day. But since then, it's become like a mainstay of our toy box and it's been passed down to her siblings. And it's the battery still going. I haven't worked out how I would change the battery if I ever need to. But again, it's just I think and for me it was... It was making it with my daughter. It was making it for a project which was important for her. My wife did the spray painting and the decorating kind of bit. And so and then it's got some longevity. And so I think it's that emotional personal connection with the project as well. That's really important.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I mean, I just like anything with LEDs, to be honest. I mean, you talk about multi-colour LEDs. I just think the more LEDs you can get on something, the better, really. I mean, it needs to sparkle, it needs to be probably randomly sparkling, to be honest. And then I'm usually in parallel oObviously, I just you know, I've always fallen on the more creative end of things. So I tend to like projects that don't really have a really well defined problem that they're solving in the way that you've described. They're usually a little bit wacky and a bit more out there. So one of the first things I did with the Raspberry Pi was I created a box which I called the little box of geek. When you press the button, it would print a little geeky statement at random because you probably just needed a little geeky pick me up on that day. And the other one, and probably the most proudest of is when I was pregnant with my son, I created a project that I called Eat Sleep Poo. And this is you could tell I hadn't had any children yet, but my my thinking was that I would have a microphone and it would detect, based on the cries of the child, whether or not the child needed to sleep, eat or had done its business. But again, completely impractical, but just something that was fun for me and just made me laugh and giggle and and I think you mentioned Coolest Projects early on, Rebecca and I. I see that when I've judged Coolest Projects before and I've met young people, some of the projects that they come forward with that they show in the showcase are things where they've solved some real fundamental problem in their location that's really groundbreaking. And then every now and then you meet a child who's just created something for fun. And I think both of those have so much value and it's just such a joy to see that for me, physical computing and digital making is kind of broader discipline. It just just so, just so exciting.

James Robinson:

And the the video of you presenting your box of geek will be in the show notes for a So we asked our listeners, what does the term digital making mean to you and what digital making experiences do you provide for your learners? And Nick Provenzano talked about the fact that digital making is creating with digital tools. It might be coding, it might be robotics that encompass coding and other digital elements. If you're creating something you are making and that's what matters the most, it's a big tent for making and the bigger is the better. And he went to also to say that making needs to be as inclusive as possible and adding digital making to the mix brings more makers together. And that's a win for everybody. And Shashi Krishna, who's a computer science teacher from Aberdeen, talked a little bit about, you know, they sort of share a similar definition, that it's about using effective and sustainable digital solutions that are aimed at helping others. So very much connecting to that, having a purpose and solving a problem. Whether that be a small or big problem, a clear purpose and a context are an important step one, starting with a required user experience and build your digital journey that meets it from there.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And Jackie Tan a maker and teacher said digital making is using digital tools to design. So maybe 3D design, code, use circuits for creative projects and innovative innovations. In my classroom, we mash up digital and hands on making for a variety of personal projects, as well as solutions to a variety of real world problems. And Allen Heard, secondary educator and Raspberry Pi Foundation learning manager, said digital making for me is solving a problem by means of combining electrical components and sometimes code, but not always, to produce something functional. Examples in classes I have had include pressure sensitive doormat alarms and a light sensitive lamp. If you have a question for us or a comment about our discussion today, then you can email via [email protected] Or you can tweet us at HelloWorld_Edu. My thanks to Oliver Quinlan and Rebecca Franks for sharing their expertise with us today.

You can read Oliver's article, Digital Making Educators:

A look into the Community in Issue five of the Hello World magazine. So, James, what did we learn?

James Robinson:

I was reflecting on what Rebecca was saying, I think that the idea of starting with the think everyone could take away from today's episode How about you Carrie Anne?

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I've learnt that building a parallel circuit is actually a really good fun thing to do. So I'm going to go away and break out my my circuitry and start getting my soldering iron out.