Monday, October 26, 2009

New Media Literacy Experiences...what makes it enjoyable?

Kylie asked me a question that I would like blog about since everyone could input their Scratch experience (and now their textile workshop) as well.  The question asked was: How do I see my experience in the Computational Textiles (CT) workshop at MIT in Boston (see for the one day workshop blog) as compared to my engagement with Scratch. 

As I reflected back I realized each workshop was quite unique experiences. In the MIT based CT workshop our tasks included 1) learning the elements of a simple circuit, 2) sewing a simple circuit (switch, LED, battery) and test it, and 3) Download Arduino and program the LilyPad then test the programming with alligator clips.  The workshop was held in a relaxed community oval table setting in a large room with helpers standing in the wings to answer any question we had. The grad student helper to participant ratio was 1 to 3. Additionally, the environment was set up so learning could easily be shared.  For example Yasmin, who was sitting beside me had sewn a + pole to a – pole with conductive thread, thus breaking the circuit connection. When her LED didn’t light a helper was there immediately to help discover what went wrong.  Her lesson learned made all of us aware to verify the symbols on the elements before sewing.

Probably the most complicated part of the workshop came at the LilyPad programming stage, especially since Mike and I missed the introduction, as we were a bit late returning from the MIT bookstore.  When I arrived I quickly realized I needed help since I couldn’t access their Internet and one of the helpers, Emily, immediately came to my aid.  When she couldn’t help me, David, another MIT grad student, assisted me in connecting.  Then Emily walked me through where to find the Arduino software and download it to my laptop.  Next she helped me navigate to the Leah’s programming page where the code was available to copy and paste.  (Leah has all of her programming code on her website, which is extremely helpful.) I then hooked up the LilyPad and she watched as I successfully tested it.  I was then caught up with the group and remained so for the rest of the workshop.  As you will see this experience was quite different from my last Scratch experience.

I must first set up a disclaimer for Scratch, which many of you know, is a multimodal animation programming software.  The amount of programming options are immense, which is wonderful for building a wide variety of projects, however the basic skill levels needed on other programs to edit elements before importing can be a hindrance if trying to build a more complicated design.   I believe this was my downfall…my choice of meaningful projects (one for a grandchild) was too complicated without first having the proper basic skill set or in-house support (either online or in person) to accomplish it.

The 650 Scratch training started with viewing existing projects as a class, followed by a short round robin of building like adding a simple background, changing a sprite characteristics (e.g. color, motion), and adding text.  We played a short time then the class ended. The next lab we were to work on an animation with a partner and I needed to do my name project. This was when I learned the most since my partner, David, was quite versed in Scratch due to his time spent building his name project out of class. It was suggested for additional training we could search for an existing project and examine how that person had programmed it…which I found could be quite time consuming. (time is something we don’t have…hence the frustration in learning a new multimodal software, without easily accessible instructions starts to build)  According to Csikszentmihalyi  (1996) one way to help creativity in a domain is to have knowledge structured, central, and accessible. 

...a trapped Mickey Mouse

For me, accessible knowledge was lacking in trying to build a Scratch multimodal project.  For example my current Scratch project has been littered with roadblocks, each taking time to research and problem solve, sometimes needing to go through several attempts.  (again there’s that nasty T word!)  These are a few of the problems I encountered and #2-4 am still perplexed with:
1)    sound file types: When trying to find out the type of sound files I could use, after searching in the program and online I couldn’t locate the types of files supported, so I finally guessed the type I thought it would support. 
2)    How to edit out the character background before importing: When trying to cut out the background of an imported character cartoon (like Mickey Mouse), the in-program editing cut off the character’s head.  Therefore, I need to use Photoshop, which I’m not familiar with…more time needed.
3)    Why do sprites stay on the stage?  After locating my Mickey Mouse Club characters, I imported the 6 sprites (with backgrounds) but they were automatically placed on the stage and I couldn’t remove them.  I found the only way to remove them was to delete them, which then erased the 7 audio files I had just imported for each one. 
4)    Programming sound file: After searching for existing Scratch files with behaviors that I wanted, unsuccessfully I might add, I logically tried to program the sound file actions (a counting song), which I had edited into 7 pieces.  The action was programmed to play the next part after clicking on the proper number key, however the song doesn’t play past the first segment even after pressing on the proper key. 

So Mickey and Friends are currently held captive in the multimodal underworld with a few seconds of working sound and a frozen Mickey trapped in a white rectangle on the Clubhouse stage.  Amazingly I’m still motivated to finish this project since it’s for my 2 year-old granddaughter Katie, who adores the MM Clubhouse and is learning her numbers. 

While I will continue to work on my Scratch project, I’m really curious about everyone’s experiences with Scratch and/or the Computational Textile Workshop.  If you attended this weeks workshop, do you favor one experience over the other?  If so, why do you think that is so?  Or do you LOVE Scratch and found your experience wonderful?  (If so...I really need your help : -)


  1. These are all good questions to explore during studio time in the course -- I hope that you're able to complete your MM Clubhouse project! One of the things I noticed in comparing the two experiences was the amount of conversation that happened while sewing that didn't happen while working on the computer. I think that this level of socialization is interesting and I'm not sure why computers (especially laptops) don't encourage the same level of conversation. In many ways, I see something similar happening in the design process. Your hands are engaged in working towards an end goal (albeit typing vs. sewing are somewhat different). There are time limitations with deadlines to complete the work that create and intense problem solving moments. I would have thought that in a room full of novice sewers that there wouldn't have been the ability to carry on a simultaneous social conversation on an unrelated subject and yet there was... I think that this has important implications for learning outcomes. I also remember that this was one of the notable moments that we all reflected on and enjoyed -- even those that had picked up the needle for the first time. It seems like there is something satisfying with physical labor and perhaps were not quite as satisfied with virtual labor in the same way? Or perhaps it was the ability to socialize in the process of making progress toward a goal that made it more enjoyable? I would be interested in hearing further thoughts...

  2. Thanks for going into such detail, Diane. So I'd have to say that I found the two experiences frustrating (see my blog) for very different reasons.
    *Scratch felt frustrating because I desired more support, either from a direct tutorial from an expert or from community members helping me out. (I actually like the medium itself one thousand times more than textiles.) I felt like we were "supposed" to tinker on our own and rarely asked for help, perhaps due to my pride or some (inaccurate?) understanding that we needed to play around with it and figure it out by trial and error.
    *The textile stuff was frustrating, despite incredible amounts of support and eager direct help, because I HATE HATE sewing, and am completely lacking in hand eye coordination. The computer stuff was interesting, but I felt like it was WAY over my head; however, the step-by-step working together as a group made it totally doable.