Dispatches From the World of E-Textiles and Education
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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