D4.1 and D4.2 in a nutshell

Interesting results were presented in the two deliverables, that were submitted yesterday (June 30): D4.1, “Definition of the research space and agents” and D4.2 “Complementing background knowledge”.

The first one consists of background research on European educational and research institutions, as well as on DiDIY cultural movements, and aims at exhaustively listing the current uses of DiDIY-related technologies in European education and research, and creating a map of these uses.

In line with the multi-perspective methodological approach characterizing the project, the aim of D4.2 consists of enriching WP background knowledge, which is based on third-person data, with first-person data on the participants’ view of hypotheses, goals and strategies leading the application of DiDIY-related technologies in education and research, and of the concrete developments of these applications.

Hence D4.2 is an attempt to show how the theoretical aspects (as defined in D.4.1.) are applied in Europe.

In D4.1 research was conducted partially through literature and mainly through the internet, where a lot of information is, although chaotically arranged. On the web, different players show interest in this phenomenon: Governments, which strongly support the inclusion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – STEM subjects, and consider instrumental to this the use of DiDIY in education; parents, who are attracted by activities regarding the use of DiDIY for educational purposes especially outside the school (Makers Movement); students, who believe this way of education to be more engaging and more useful for their working careers than the traditional ones.

In spite of the fluidity of this phenomenon, three categorizations were defined to give a tentative shape to this magmatic movement:

  • DiDIY activities that take place in schools as curricular activities (and often involving multiple subjects). Examples are the use of 3D printers focused on STEM education, on helping students envision graphs and mathematical models, on better understanding geological formations, on making replicas of ancient artefacts in history and on providing a new method to make art.  Also DIY electronics as Arduino and Raspberry Pi are good tools to teach the design and construction of IT systems.
  • DiDIY activities that take place in schools as extracurricular activities (and often linked to competitions that were purposely designed as learning experiences). Robocup and FIRST® LEGO® League seem to be the most interesting initiatives.
  • DiDIY activities that were envisioned outside schools (also through Manifestos) and are often linked to Movements but are now becoming (or could become) part of school activities. Investigated examples are the Makers, the Hackers and the CoderDojos.

As in all real-life experiences, in most cases DiDIY activities are a mix of those categories.

Some areas of investigation seem very promising to better assess how DiDIY is used in education and research: the role of creativity, the role of sharing, the role of teachers, DiDIY learning flows, the response of school to the DiDIY use, How DiDIY can contribute to gender issues and special education and the STEAM education.

In D4.2 these areas were examined in depth collecting interviews from a series of stakeholders, identified as important actors in the field of DiDIY.

All respondents agreed on the importance of creativity as a crucial feature of the DiDIY process and model. In fact in many cases, in particular when students are involved in competitions (such as in First Lego League), the creative element is at the core also of the evaluation and the process is more important that the result.

Moreover all interviews confirmed the importance of sharing in DiDIY for education activities carried out through the use of social media, free software and open source hardware. However, linguistic barriers (in particular for students that attend primary and secondary schools) made it particularly hard to share (or access) information in a foreign language.

Respondents to the interviews were all aware that, when dealing with DiDIY in education, the role of teachers is already and will be subject to deep changes. In fact, in most cases teacher that exploits DiDIY is seen as “facilitator”, “coach” or “coordinator” and the new role requires also that the teacher is able to transfer to student skills and competences that are not usually taught, such as teamwork, time management, working for objectives (and not to fully complete the annual curriculum).

Learning flows in DiDIY activities are usually different from those that happen in more traditional educational processes, where the teacher transfers to pupils notions and knowledge so that they can elaborate them into competences. Indeed teachers, as “coaches” can suggest what is best, but in most cases the very novelty of the technologies involved makes them par with the students.

In many cases, schools as institutions seem to be more willing to fully exploit the potential of DiDIY in education compared to what they did with computers. Recently, many European countries decided to support the use of DiDIY in education through European Funds such as the European Social Fund (for the training of teachers) and the European Regional Development Fund (for the purchase of hardware and infrastructure). Examples are found in Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Portugal.

According to interviews, the participation of girls to DiDIY activities is still well below 50% (35% in the UK and Ireland, 20% in Italy, 15% in France, Germany, 10% in Lithuania and Croatia). Still, the results that girls had in some competitions testimonies to the potential of exploiting DiDIY to attract more women into STEM subjects.

Most practitioners did not have direct experience of DiDIY with special groups, also due to the novelty of the approach. Still, there are a few example of students with dyslexia or dyscalculia that were able to exploit Mindstorm thanks to the fact that it uses an iconic software or physically disabled student who moves on a wheelchair programmed Arduino with his classmates and teacher so that doors automatically open when his wheelchair approaches them.

Finally, as of now, and on the basis of the very partial information gathered, only Lithuania has decided to include Arts in the STEM acronym, which is then transformed into STEAM.

With the development of D4.1 and D4.2, which collected information about the actual situation of DiDIY in Europe, we have taken steps forward towards the coming deliverables, to focus on the methodological and strategic planning to support the positive progress of this phenomenon.

Photo by http://www.robocupjr.it/