Recognised as a Leading Innovation by the European Commission, the H2020 eCraft2Learn project has done an outstanding job empowering learners and teachers to become power users of technology by bringing highly advanced technology to their fingertips.
The world we live in is becoming increasingly digital, and technology is everywhere around us. Despite this reality, STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are struggling to attract the interest of learners. Girls’ enthusiasm for STEM subjects is lower than boys’ to begin with, but recent studies show that boys, too, are losing interest. This is why finding new ways to motivate children is very important. Responding to this challenge, the eCraft2Learn project has created a learning ecosystem for digital fabrication, facilitating the integration of arts into STEM, and relying on a solid pedagogical framework that is based on constructivism, constructionism and design thinking.
“We wanted to bring all the benefits of digital fabrication, tinkering and making into the education arena. The idea is to empower children to see technology in a new light: instead of being the users of technology, we wanted to make them the makers of technology,” Dr Calkin Suero Montero from the University of Eastern Finland explains. She is the coordinator of the eCraft2Learn consortium comprising 12 partners from the realms of academia and industry.
eCraft2Learn starts from the idea that technology is not just for geeks and nerds: it is for everybody and there is nothing to be afraid of. The goal is to foster personalised learning paths and to put learners at the centre of the learning experience. Moreover, digital fabrication is not limited to STEM subjects, but can be introduced across the school curriculum, including in subjects that don’t have an obvious connection to technology.
“Tinkering is not just for kids who are bad at school and good with their hands: it’s for everyone. Digital fabrication is not about using fancy new technology and new stuff – it is ultimately about learning. Every country in the world is interested in this, everyone wants to make school better for kids,” said Author Sylvia Libow Martinez, external project advisor, in her keynote lecture in an eCraft2Learn workshop in Joensuu last November.
“We have overvalued learning with one’s head. The future requires learning with one’s heart, head and hands,” said Dr Gary S. Stager, external project advisor, in his a keynote in the same workshop.
The pedagogical framework developed in eCraft2Learn includes five stages that are highly interrelated. Learners engage in ideating, planning and creating artefacts as solutions to problems or tasks. They also program the artefacts and share their outcomes and insights with others. The idea is not for one child to be an expert on everything the group is working on. Instead, each child has something to learn from the process.
“We promote a strongly collaborative approach. It is important for children from different kinds of backgrounds to work together and see what everyone can bring to the table. Moreover, sharing is vital, because it allows children to self-reflect. In order for them to tell others what they have learnt, they have to understand it first,” Suero Montero explains.
“I’m amazed at the lengths we go to in order to create fake experiences for children, even when real ones are available. Science education is like Bigfoot: everyone is talking about it, but nobody has seen it. We have moved agency from teachers, and we need to break that cycle,” Stager continues.
The role of the teacher becomes that of a coach, scaffolding the process of learning within eCraft2Learn. Teachers are not expected to provide solutions, but to facilitate the learning process. eCraft2Learn has implemented pilot projects in regular classrooms in Finland and Greece, and the results have been very positive.
“The beginning can be slow, but once everything takes off, it is just wonderful to see things develop! The teachers participating in our pilots were interested in seeing how they could teach their subject in a different way, using different didactics,” Suero Montero says.
Although eCraft2Learn deals with complex ideas, everything is very streamlined, showing teachers that they don’t have to be afraid of trying out new things.
“We have good manuals for how to implement this in the classroom in different settings. We support each step of the way and show teachers how to tackle challenges that may arise, for example if learners struggle with ideation. We also understand that not everyone has access to the same resources. If you don’t have a 3D printer, that’s fine: let’s work with what you have. We also make our digital platform available offline, as not everyone has access to the internet,” Suero Montero continues.
The outcomes of eCraft2Learn are open source, available to everyone free of charge, and the project has been identified as a Leading Innovation by the European Commission. Future projects arising from eCraft2Learn will focus on disseminating the results and on further improving the ecosystem. Training services for teachers are also being planned.
“We have also established a community of practice for teachers within CREATE Education, Ultimaker. The community can now use what we’ve created as they best see fit: they can make changes and make the ecosystem even better,” Suero Montero concludes.