Researching documentation practices in makerspaces

Summer 2019
8-10 weeks

Qualititative Data Analysis
Co-Design Workshops
Design + User Research

PI: Marti Louw, Daragh Byrne
with Talia Stol, PhD. Senior Research Scientist, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
NSF Project: Smart Spaces for Making

Documentation plays an important role in scaffolding reflective learning in the context of informal, makerspace education. The project Smart Spaces for Making examines how IoT devices/digital tools can support documentation practices in maker-space education and other informal learning spaces.

Documentation helps learning; how can IoT devices help documentation?

I worked with an interdisciplinary team of researchers and designers, as a bridge between learning science and design. Based on the research team’s needs and purposes, I designed artifacts used to pull out insights during co-design workshops, and analyzed and coded transcripts from interviews and workshops to identify and synthesize themes, informing the future direction of the project.

Jump to: Co-Design Materials | Qualitative Research

01. Research Framework

Research was focused on Design Embodiment, looking for implications for design + tech in future product development.

Co-Design Materials

Designing the research methods...

I worked with the research team to develop a learning moments timeline based on student milestones over the course of the summer. I designed this canvas to map out key documentation moments over the course of the summer program, for participants to create a shared understanding of what the program deliverables would be, and to pinpoint opportunities for documentation.

As a supplement to the timeline, and to have a more in situ real-time record, I created a tool to support experience sampling, where we asked the mentors to reflect and report on the deliverables and successes/outcomes of each week.

Qualitative Research

...and then doing the Research.

We partnered with Startable (out of AlphaLab Gear), working closely to observe how documentation is used at one of their locations in their 2019 summer entrepreneurial innovation program for underserved youth in the Pittsburgh region. Over the course of the 8-week program, including preparation and post-program reflection, we followed three mentors through their teaching process.

Prior to the start of the program, alongside Talia, I interviewed each stakeholder to get a sense of what documentation means to them, both in their own practice and in the classroom, before we introduced the tools and teaching models that we were researching later on.

Initial Interview Takeaways:
  • The background of each stakeholder shapes their understanding of documentation
  • Interest in students using documentation for self-curation, and expression of identity︎ social experience
  • Documentation is a means to a final product︎ documentation for the sake of ‘process,’ and not necessarily because it is valued as a practice

Co-Design Process

Before the program started, we brought in the three stakeholders together for a workshop. We asked each participant to draw a concept map for ‘documentation,’ as a way to illicit participant perceptions and understanding of the role of documentation and documentation practice. These conversations were later transcribed, and I analyzed those transcripts and looked across them for similarities and themes.

Preliminary Themes:
  • Documentation is a memory and curation tool
  • A need to create a welcoming and supportive environment for documentation
  • Documentation in relation to fear, vulnerability, self-identity
  • Learning to fail, and iterate and grow from that process
  • What is ‘good’ documentation?

To understand how our IoT devices could be incorporated and embedded in the classroom, we had a second co-design workshop where we asked participants to place speculative devices in their actual teaching space. The specific context of each device, along with synthesis I did from their audio transcripts, helped frame general uses and attributes against very personalized use cases.

︎ Which devices would prove useful in which spaces?

  • Tools as a means to support social development and communication ︎ celebrate, empower and share success, capture and self-curation
  • Connections with different devices, ie. using a camera to display onto a wall, or a camera connected to a little printer reminder
  • Concerns about mobility and flexibility ︎ room is multi-purpose, and tech has to be sturdy and adaptable

The next step from these insights is creating devices that fit the needs of the stakeholders, but could also be implemented in other research sites. From this work combined, I gave the research team initial foundational themes for documentation within different classroom environments to inform the rest of the project.

Personal Takeaways
I learned from this experience the difficulty of working within the out-of-school learning space, especially in a community that has seen the benefits in access to programs like Startable, but not in participating in research projects. Internet of Things, in theory, sounds like a great idea for integrating technology into learning spaces, but is not universally accessible. Limitations in resources—wifi, up-to-date browsers and computers, mobile phones—present a challenge to the ubiquity of IoT. Being able to talk to people invested and passionate about the community around makerspaces and in teaching kids valuable skills reminded me that designing for learning is about learning, and that technology is a supplementary (but potentially very valuable) tool.