Researchers at Georgia Tech and staff at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta will address the following problem: The growth of computing calls for increased teaching of basic hardware skills, but engaging students beyond those who are already interested in STEM fields is difficult. Emphasizing cultural context through personal expression has shown to attract new audiences such as women and minorities; however, balancing accessibility and educational effectiveness remains problematic. Current educational tools often use "black boxing" to simplify access, to protect the underlying functionality, and/or to stay commercially competitive. Innovations are needed where the basic skills of design and making, along with new educational models, can support students' exploration of everyday electronics and critical thinking. The team will test an after-school model that could be applied in cultural institutions and other venues that would provide students in 4 - 8 grades with multiple computer/electronics-driven puppet design and building workshops. These workshops will provide opportunities for basic hardware and electronics prototyping, personal cultural expression, and performance.
The exploratory research and development method involves three steps: the students develop a story-line (narrative) that will incorporate puppets; they learn and apply basic electronics and mechanical crafts to design, build and test their puppets; and they perform their shows to other participants and their families. Over the course of the project, there will be five workshops: two pilot tests (to test feasibility and design), one mid-project evaluation workshop (to evaluate and re-iterate), and two final workshops conducted by educators, where the research team only observes (to test for transferability). Data collection throughout this development cycle will include video and sound recording, still photography, field notes, pre- and post-questionnaires, and the production of puppet "artifacts" during the workshops. In addition to the data collected in the workshops, the project will produce design documents and educational guidelines, as well as other media (such as instructional video clips), which will be disseminated to educators and researchers.
The project has been successfully concluded. It included additional pilot workshops with puppetry experts and educators in addition to the scheduled development and final evaluation workshops. Overall, the project has led to publications in both educational as well as performance/ game- and interface-related events.
The project also published material on the puppet designs and their possible adaptation to educational settings on the project web site, which also include video documentation. More information is available at: http://dwig.lmc.gatech.edu/projects/prototypingpuppets/
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