MAET: Circuit Design through Networked Learning

Education, Electronics, MSU MAET

Circuit design is a popular type of project in the maker movement. During our time creating Maker Faire projects, we experimented with creating circuits using conductive thread, play-doh/squishy circuits, copper tape, conductive ink, and littleBits that use magnetic connections. Having all these different approaches for lighting up LEDs, activating  motors, or powering any other component makes circuit design accessible to students of many different levels of ability and interests. Yet if we are to encourage students to move towards becoming expert learners, it would be useful to have a path available to students who would like to pursue circuit design further. Teachers may not be experts in this field, so allowing students to turn to their personal learning network is an attractive choice. Since circuit design lends itself well to open inquiry, a wealth of resources would be needed. As I pursued my learning project on circuit design through CAD  programs and printing inexpensive circuit boards through OSHPark, I found there was a plethora of videos and forums available on just those topics. This process of learning from people with similar interests, including taking part in what Gee (2013) calls an affinity space was well suited for my learning goals, as my video on networked learning explains.

As I went through the process of using resources such as YouTube videos, I found myself becoming more comfortable with the format of learning. Rather than needing to pause to make sure I heard every step, I would listen to longer lengths, then go back for details, much like skimming before reading for meaning.  Help forums were also very useful, but there can be an initial hurdle to overcome when getting used to terminology and users who would rather discuss topics with those with similar experience levels. Overall though, the posts I read were very open to explaining ideas for beginners, which I view partly due to the satisfaction of being able to speak like an expert. I do think there are limitations to using a slice of my learning network, since if I chose a more specific topic, such as creating a Raspberry Pi photobooth, I would have a much harder time since the experience is limited to a much smaller group who may not use those means of communication.

I was very excited to receive my first package of printed circuit boards, since it came with the satisfaction of knowing that I created that design. Certainly by standing on the shoulders of others, but learning how to create a circuit board design can be so convoluted that having as many modes of learning available as possible is a definite advantage. I see engaging in creative processes like this as becoming more and more accessible, but without repeated practice or being in a place of work where you are surrounded by resources, can be frustrating as well. I think that certain types of learners, particularly good self-learners, would do well by learning this way, but how to support those that may have trouble in less structured environments is an important consideration to make. As I’ve learned more about flipped classrooms, I see having educators as part of students’ learning networks, both in person and online, as a valuable approach. Finding the balance between sending students out to find their own resources and providing a structured framework to learn within will be needed. In my work context of museum outreach, I would like to try producing videos that can extend learning before and after our programs and provide a starting point for finding out more on topics, as we often have students eager to extend their learning beyond what we provide in person. I will also have to choose carefully in how to make our resources available, as the types of learning networks our students have can be quite different when comparing rural and urban students.

The fact that I want to continue to learn more about circuit design, and can do so by continuing to use my network of resources, is a testament how powerful this method of learning can be. In a year’s time, I hope to create my own original circuit design that would allow students to be creative just as the Drawdio has done. I look forward to contributing back to those who consider me as part of their learning network by sharing what I’ve learned, to be fully engaged in a learning community.

References

Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Macmillan.

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