This is the first in a series of blog posts about Maker Ed’s Open Portfolio Project work during the summer and fall 2014. These posts are also written in conjunction with the Research Briefs being released throughout the fall and winter of 2014.
In July 2014, the Open Portfolio Project core team embarked on the beginning of 10 field site visits to learn more about what youth maker programs and makerspaces are actually doing in regards to portfolio creation, documentation, and associated practices. One of the first sites we visited was Digital Harbor Foundation, a youth tech center located near the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, MD.
In transforming an abandoned Baltimore City Parks & Rec Center into a space for youth to make and learn, DHF has provided not only a physical location for making but also a close-knit community of youth and families who share skills, stories, and inspiration. Digital Harbor’s main lab area is a big open room, filled with a mix of tables, stools, couches, and workspace. Its perimeters and walls are lined with tools (like an array of 3D printers), consumable materials, student projects (whether fully finished or still in-progress), and whiteboard sketches. When we visited, half of the room was full of campers focused on their Tinkercad creations, while in the other half, youth members and staff mingled, diligently working on their own projects.
During our 2-day site visit, much of which was centered around observations of the Mega Lab 3D printing summer camp for middle and high-schoolers, as well as a series of conversations and participatory design workshops with both staff and youth members, we were struck by the use and affordances of Tackk, an online tool that campers were using to document their 3D printing camp week and projects.
Digital Harbor has been thinking carefully about portfolios and documentation for a while now. They’ve prototyped numerous platforms already, having tried WordPress and Evernote. At the time of the visit, their year-round youth members and summer campers were using — with much success — an online tool called Tackk. Campers took photos and screenshots, wrote and reflected, and posted paragraphs daily about their individual projects to the group website for that week’s 3D printing camp. Camp counselors set expectations for campers to “Tackk” (a verb now!) at the end of every camp day. The interface is simple but customizable; youth mentioned that it’s easy to use, and importantly, the sites look good. Periodically, campers looked at the project sites of fellow campers, and some even tracked the number of views they were receiving. Youth were encouraged to work on their Tackks and projects outside of camp as well, setting a precedence for open development. Daily posts also innately showed the progress of and process behind visible project work — an automatic processfolio of sorts.
These observations, conversations, and participatory design workshops revealed a plethora of factors that both youth and staff deem to be critical for any portfolio tool or practice: visual appeal, simplicity of use, open and easy access, automated means of documentation, regularity of posts and reflection, individual and collective identities, and automatic feedback. Their actions also showed how they best interact and respond to the task (or opportunity) of documenting their work, whether in-process or as a finished product. As we continue with visits, these features become critical pieces of our research into what and how people capture for portfolios. Stay tuned for more updates on our other site visits!