Co-Construction Kits. The Transformative Potential of Interpersonal Connections for After-School Centres

Roger Meintjes (September 2017)

Zweitbetreuung: Prof. Dr. Bakhtiar Mikhak

Short Abstract:
How computational construction kits and the environments in which they are used can be designed to inspire and empower diverse groups of disadvantaged youth to invest in each other and their communities.

Detailed Abstract:
The last two decades have seen a steady growth in the number and variety of after-school settings promoting social inclusion and development through creative, playful and supportive learning activities.  Most of these initiatives have digital components in their programmes, which range from basic computer literacy classes (email, web browsing, word processing) to the the use of professional media production tools for self-expression.  Youth spend significant amounts of their free time together in these settings, which leads to friendships (and animosities), local cultures and communities.  One of the unique affordances of these settings is the rich diversity of interests, skills, perspectives and life-experiences found in these communities.

Communities of practice coalesce around the different tools and activities on offer in these settings.   A community of practice is a group of people who engage in some form of shared enterprise over time and learn from each other through the process [Lave & Wenger, 1991]. Novices start out on the periphery of the community and gradually move toward fuller participation as they become more knowledgeable practitioners.  There are often a number of these communities and individual niche interests within a single after-school setting, but these communities and individuals rarely have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other or use their combined knowledge to realize projects that would be difficult for any one community or individual.  In this sense the centre community is what Wenger calls a 'potential community of practice', 'people who are related somehow, and who would gain from sharing and developing a practice together' [Wenger, 1998: 228]

After-school settings represent a unique opportunity to empower youth living in disadvantaged communities to participate in the transformation of their societies, and communities of practice which invite broad participation across the many interests and skills found in these settings represent a unique means for leveraging what youth bring with them into the space to achieve this.  Harnessing this potential requires tools which inspire and enable youth to work together to shape their environments according to their tastes and needs; tools which engage them as actors in the social inclusion and development processes.  They need what Illich called 'convivial tools': tools which increase our abilities to use each of our special talents to contribute to our societies, and put these contributions to use in caring for and about others [Illich, 1973].   There are currently few computational construction kits which enable youth to do this (none of which are particularly well suited to the task), and limited cases of them being used in this way in these settings.

The aim of the research project is to investigate how computational construction kits and the environments in which they are used can be designed to inspire and empower diverse groups of disadvantaged youth to invest in each other and in their communities; in other words, how these tools can be made more 'convivial'.  To do this, we are developing a computational construction kit which supports group creativity in the computational crafts domain, and a design concept which fosters making and use of finished objects. Both are being studied in a single after-school setting over a four year period.