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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

IU, Penn, MIT researchers seek creativity with new tech, old crafts

Presentation Saturday on "computational textiles"

Oct. 20, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A presentation on Saturday (Oct. 24) will examine how combining traditional arts and crafts such as embroidery with new technologies can spark creativity and learning for students. Leah Buechley, the "High-Low Tech Group" director at the Media Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will give a free program called "How Will Technological Artifacts Impact Society?" from 10-11 a.m. in room 102 of the School of Fine Arts, 1201 E. Seventh St., in Bloomington.

LilyPad Arduino

LilyPad Arduino

The presentation is provided by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation that is bringing together learning scientists, computer scientists and art educators from Indiana University, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania to study "computational textiles" and how they can creatively engage youth in afterschool and school settings.

Computational textiles embed computers into textile design, such as clothing. This corresponds to recent creative work in the field of fine arts that combines computing media with traditional and experimental art forms to create works that have an interactive element and embrace "Do-It-Yourself" culture.

The NSF-funded study headed by Kylie Peppler, assistant professor in the Learning Sciences program of the IU School of Education, will expose more than 400 youth to computational textiles, including youth from the Bloomington Boys and Girls Club, Chicago and elsewhere. Assistant Professor of Digital Art Leslie Sharpe has co-organized the presentation and workshop hosted at the IU School of Fine Arts.

Buechley, Peppler, and Yasmin Kafai, professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, are particularly focused on broadening opportunities for youth from disadvantaged communities to advance information technology skills.

"They might learn about physics; they might learn about engineering; they might learn about computer programming," Peppler said. "They might learn about the arts or about the craft they're getting involved in and hopefully a whole other host of things."

This weekend's presentation by Buechley is the public portion of a workshop for faculty and students. Buechley is best known for her creation "LilyPad Arduino," a microcontroller board designed for clothing and other textiles. The electronic parts can be sewn onto clothing (and washed) to create unique designs. Some previous examples include lights on a shirt in a creative pattern or a biking jacket with a built-in turn signal.

Buechley will speak about the creative possibilities of using LilyPad Arduino kits and the rest of her research combining high-tech tools into low-tech devices and objects. Peppler said the applications focus on blending worlds that seem at odds, the result being unique combinations such as a sewing machine that can be used as a printer to sew unique designs into fabrics.

Peppler and Kafai will take some of Buechley's concepts into youth settings to determine how effective they may be as teaching and learning tools -- "to really explore what these might mean for creativity, specifically," Peppler said, "and what might kids enjoy doing with some of these materials."

Students at IU will be manipulating the materials before field studies begin.

"We're hoping to learn about the creative possibilities with those types of media, but also what can we learn about creativity by studying this new field that's emerging, because most people haven't heard of these things," Peppler said. "As we see how a community might emerge, we might learn some things about how creativity operates."

After the public presentation, a smaller group of 30 -- mostly fine arts students from IU -- will take part in a daylong workshop. The students will sew together circuitries, program the "LilyPads" and begin creating new works. Other members of the IU School of Fine Arts faculty working with textiles and metals, as well as students from across campus and local artists in the Bloomington arts community, are expected to take part in the workshop. Sharpe will continue the use of LilyPad Arduino in her Digital Art classes, so students can expand on what they learned after the workshop to produce new creative projects.