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Textile Messages

Dispatches From the World of E-Textiles and Education


Leah Buechley, Kylie Peppler, Michael Eisenberg and Yasmin Kafai

Textile Messages focuses on the emerging field of electronic textiles, or e-textiles – computers that can be soft, colorful, approachable, and beautiful. E-textiles are articles of clothing, home furnishings, or architectures that include embedded computational and electronic elements. This book introduces a collection of tools that enable novices – including educators, hobbyists, and youth designers – to create and learn with e-textiles. It then examines how these tools are reshaping technology education – and DIY practices – across the K-16 spectrum, presenting examples of the ways educators, researchers, designers, and young people are employing them to build new technology, new curricula, and new creative communities.
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9 Bringing E-Textiles into Engineering Education



In the still-very-young history of educational e-textiles, most of the discussion to date has revolved around either K-12 students or adult hobbyists. We talk about how e-textiles can spark interest in computing, electronics, and design among teenagers—often with a specific emphasis on females—or we talk about the creative uses of e-textiles among various subcultures of the burgeoning “maker community” of DIY enthusiasts. In these conversations, the assumed role of e-textile education is typically geared toward the non-professional: the student who has yet to become a real practitioner of computing or electronics, or the hobbyist who may create beautiful artifacts but who often does so in his or her spare time. E-textiles, as seen through these lenses, are just a touch un-serious, like building with Lego bricks: yes, amazing and compelling things can be done in the medium, and yes, it’s a great way to get started, but by and large it’s not the sort of thing that real professionals do.

There’s nothing at all wrong with focusing on the K-12 and DIY communities (in our own research, it’s what we do for a living). Nonetheless, it’s just possible that in our enthusiasm for e-textile education, we’re failing to see the larger potential of the medium by ignoring its role in higher and professional education—especially, engineering education. After all, e-textiles can be seen as a material substrate for learning engineering—a substrate that can take its place beside, e.g., breadboards, concrete, woodworking, and metalworking....

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