Tinkering and Thinking with Maker Kylie Peppler

Some enthusiasts of digital media in learning and inclusion of making/tinkering as a learning activity — including myself — believe that talking about tinkering while doing it, in person and online, can enhance social contexts for peer learning and for learning thinking skills.

Although the contemporary availability of resources such as YouTube and Arduino seems particularly suited to an emphasis on social learning and tinkering-thinking, the pedagogy goes back (at least) to the early 20th century Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. A few key Vygotsky ideas about learning seem particularly applicable to connected learning, whether or not digital media are involved: talking with peers about knowledge and problem-solving is essential — social learning is a uniquely human power; learning is not just about accumulating knowledge or even understanding, but also about developing a set of thinking skills; working from what is already known to new knowledge by manipulating concrete objects is a powerful route to deep learning that includes acquiring knowledge, understanding, and new ways to think.

Vygotsky’s century-old theories, and contemporary constructivists who build on them, are worth looking at. If you want to see these learning principles in practice, I recommend looking at the work of Kylie Peppler, assistant professor of learning sciences and director of the Creativity Labs at Indiana University in Bloomington: “An artist by training, I engage in research that focuses on the intersection of arts, new media, computation, and informal learning. My current work examines the media arts practices of urban, rural and (dis)abled youth in order to support literacy, learning, and the arts in the 21st century.”  

E-textiles, puppets combined with digital and electronic learning simulations, electronic music-making, the Scratch programming language and media arts, are a few of the ways Peppler and The Creativity Lab explore the intersections of tinkering, art-making, technology, peer learning, and thinking skills.

Peppler and her colleagues are also practitioners of the Vygotskyian idea of “scaffolding” by supporting teachers and students with a range of materials to contextualize, explain and build up to the use of learning tools like the ones used by The Creativity Lab. The Lab’s website explains the projects, the results, and the ideas behind them, and Peppler and a raft of other educators have collaborated with Sparkfun, a purveyor of electronic hardware and learning, to publish a series of books for MIT Press: a book about games and systems thinking, another about digital storytelling in a visual programming environment, one about “e-Puppets” in a DIY environment,  and another about “e-Fashion.” In our 8-minute video, Peppler and I talk about — and Peppler shows us — how all the elements of “tinkering to think” work together.

Banner image credit: Chattanooga Public Library