F2-STEM2-1 - Design, Code, Stitch, Wear, and Show It! Mobile Visual Pattern Design in School Contexts

1. Innovative Practice Full Paper
Bernadette Spieler1 , Vesna Krnjic2, Wolfgang Slany2, Karin Horneck3, Ute Neudorfer3
1 University of Hildesheim
2 Graz University of Technology
3 bits4kids OG

Much attention in learning about programming has focused on designing video games and supporting pupils to build playable artifacts. Gender differences in playing behaviour and game preferences raise concerns about possible gender inequalities when games are used as a motivation to explore coding. In contrast, if pupils learn to create their own patterns or geometric and artistic textile designs, they not only learn how to code but can also show the results of their code, i.e., patterns on their shirts and bags. All that is needed is a programmable embroidery machine, which is already available in many fashion stores and fablabs. This machine acts like robots and embroiders the stitches according to the programmed designs. 

In this paper, we present the Code’n’Stitch project (2018-2020) funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG/FEMtech) which introduces a gender-sensitive pedagogical framework for handicraft lessons in four Austrian secondary schools by using mobile visual pattern design with Pocket Code. For this project, the app was first extended to allow the creation and sharing of patterns directly on phones, which can be executed by programmable embroidery machines. This extension is very similar to the existing TurtleStitch project, which is only available as a desktop application. Second, we focused on the development of suitable learning material for teachers and gender-conscious materials for pupils which empowers all, especially girls, to engage in creative coding activities.

The target group of teenage girls was involved at a very early stage of the development cycle of the app and materials. The embroidery extension was developed on the basis of surveys, focus group discussions, and usability tests. Different personas of the target group were created on the basis of the collected qualitative and quantitative data. The first version of the stitching extension in Pocket Code was tested during the summer of 2019 with the aim of obtaining feedback on the app itself and possible difficulties in creating designs. The personas, as well as the findings of the usability tests, are part of this paper. Furthermore, we present initial results and insights of the case studies. For example, we explore how to effectively support non-Computer Science teachers in such coding activities with suitable materials, or the difficulties in transferring designs initially drawn on paper to programmed artefacts. 

The main methods used during the exploratory case studies include on-site observation notes, questionnaires, interviews with focus groups, and analysis of the pupils' artefacts. The results describe the atmosphere in the classroom and explore this approach more broadly by providing insights into the experience of learners and teachers. Our analysis shows that it is worthwhile to foster sensitivity and creativity of pupils in classrooms. However, our research also discovered some limitations. These limitations included motivating all pupils equally, the limited number of units available to teach coding in a school environment, and difficulties in guiding non-CS teachers in the coding disciplines to help them effectively and independently transfer CS content in their own classes without further support from a university or external trainers.