Virtual STEAM: Asynchronous Online Learning

The face-to-face Cyborg Prototyping workshop

In the evenings, after my day job ends I’ve been teaching cyborg prototyping via Google Classroom for three weeks and there are three more weeks to go. This work is part of Dramatic Results Virtual STEAM program. The students are from middle schools around the Long Beach, CA area and each group in a series meets for one hour three times during the week. Last week, I also facilitated a two-hour professional development session for CA arts educators.

Design thinking though concept mapping — for teacher PD

At Lindbergh Middle School in late February I had around 20 students. Online I have 4–5 students and at least one other adult moderator. I had to adjust some things for online instruction. Initially, for the first session, I encouraged students to practice using Tinkercad on their own and didn’t introduce the final activity — making a physical prototype — until the end of the second session (out of three). I set up a Tinkercad classroom and monitored the students’ progress… except I didn’t see much progress in between sessions.

This is a remix of “Color Bionic Eye” by Heewon Yang.

By the end of the first week, few students had completed any of their prototypes. For the next three-session series, students got into Tinkercad on the first day and looked at examples by other designers such as the “Color Bionic Eye” (see above). I gave them more time to work during the live sessions. I noticed that students got more 3D modeling/prototyping done but they did not get to finish their physical prototypes.

Onyx Ashanti’s “Beatjazz” system
GZA’s “Liquid Science” program

During the final session I showed students examples of cyborg prototyping in the world such as Onyx Ashanti’s “Sparkfun” interview and Wu Tang Clan’s GZA in Liquid Science, a video series that introduces people to innovators who are changing the world. This includes cyborg musicians at Georgia Tech, my alma mater. Like with Tinkercad, the students were able to create and share their physical prototypes before the final session ended.

Student shows their final project in Cyborg Prototyping (series)

For the third series/week, I used the same approach to the physical activity as I did with Tinkercad. Instead of assigning them “homework” I gave them time to work during the live session: 20 minutes scavenging for materials and 20 minutes making their physical prototypes. The last 10 minutes of the final session was presentation time.

One of the student’s final Tinkercad prototypes

Encourage students to return to Tinkercad to improve on their initial 3D designs. I explain how prototyping is iterative and designers often go back and make modifications based on others’ feedback.

This has some really good suggestions to include in your online sessions
First session in Google Classroom

Takeaways include giving students more than one way to receive information (ex. virtual classrooms, live sessions, online media channels). For cyborg prototyping students are given a design brief. Students bring their own knowledge/skill ‘capital’ into the sessions, so help them find relevance using prior knowledge. Use the home environment as a classroom. Because of the pandemic students can’t leave their homes, so allow them to use whatever they have on hand to make things. Web cameras are intrusive, so only use them when necessary (e.g. introductions, presentations). Finally, be willing to model creative failure and change for students.

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.