“Communities of practice” (CoP) is a popular concept in the humanities and social sciences. First introduced by Lave and Wenger (1991), it describes forms of apprenticeship in which members of a community, with varying skill levels, have a common interest or goal. It is common to associate communities of practice with both skill sharing and community building .
As part of the 3Helix research on Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) ethnomathamatians and ethnocomputer scientists engage CoP in the kente craft village of Bonwire and adinkra craft village of Ntonso to learn what algorithms are embedded in the designs and practices of these traditional arts. The notion of “embedded” refers to the design practices that extend cognition between individual, community, tools, and materials. For example, the carving of the Sankofa Adinkra stamp requires intimate knowledge of where to begin and end the log spiral that makes up the birds neck in relationship to the available surface area and width of the carving tools. The development of these skills are situated in the craft villages themselves, learned across generations.
Translating this knowledge from the craft design to the design of CSDTs for classroom use is no easy task. Hours are spent developing codelets or blocks that try to simulate the math and computational affordances of the local craft. This process is never pure, never 1:1. There are always compromises to the situated practices of the craft that must be made during the software design process. For example, the Kente Computing software has students use all four quadrants of the Cartesian plane to design kente patterns. However, from a weaving point of view only one quadrant is required.
While much of the research and development process is spent on working through these translation issues, another challenge, one that goes often unnoticed during R&D, is the translation of situated CoP into the classroom implementation of CSDTs. Specifically, where in the design, development, and implementation of CSDTs should these considerations of translating CoP from craft villages to classrooms begin? While this is a question to be debated across the social worlds of collaborating crafts people, ethnographers, computer scientists, and teachers, I have a few observations about what these translations of CoP may look like to begin the discussion.
During the summer of 2014, I had a chance to study how CoP that surround passing Adinkra carving and stamping knowledge from old to young can be translated into the best practices of implementing CSDT Adinkra Computing lessons into Ghanaian junior high school classrooms. Working side-by-side with both junior high school ICT teachers and Adinkra craftsmen provided me with an opportunity to compare and contrast how knowledge in each setting is scaffolded; where do novices begin, where are they expected to go?
Interestingly enough, the process of stamping is an appropriate starting point for both people learning the Adinkra craft and ICT students learning basic computing through the computational significance of Adinkra. While there are many steps and sub-steps to the production of Adinkra stamped cloth (making the ink, carving the stamp, weaving the cloth, stamping the cloth, etc.), I learned that one of the best places for Adinkra craft novices to begin with is learning to stamp. Stamping requires a steady hand and spatial knowledge to appropriately vary stamps across the cloth. These skills are important for any person hoping to sell or use Adinkra for personal reasons; the right aesthetics is important for meeting the demand of using Adinkra for ceremonial purposes. In other words, the way the stamp looks on the cloth is an extremely important part of Adinkra since it is the part that people will notice when looking at the final product.
Adinkra Computing simulates two main stages of the Adinkra production process: carving stamps and stamping. While carving stamps lends itself more to teaching/learning mathematics, stamping is suited well for learning computing in a visual programming environment due to the affordences of looping (repetitive use of stamps) and storage (of the carved stamp itself) in the production process. This can be translated into Adinkra Computing activities in ways that make sense for novices of CSnap (the visual programming environment used in Adinkra Computing activities). More importantly, beginning with stamping can be translated into introductory ICT lessons for 7th year students in Ghanaian junior high schools.
One ICT teacher suggested that mapping the Adinkra Computing CSDT on to the official curriculum makes most sense when students are first introduced to using computers via the program Paint. Paint helps students learn the basics of controlling the curser, navigating menus, and artistic production. Learning to stamp Adinkra symboles using the Adinkra Computing CSDT also includes these features, as students navigate through menus of rule and function blocks, drag and snap blocks together, and input values all for the sake of Adinkra design.
Adinkra Computing deepens computational engagement through requiring students to stamp various combinations of symbols using the complex computational processes of looping specific symbols and the storage of those symbols as costumes (costumes is the term used for any image that is stored within a CSnap project). This suggests that unlike Paint, the CSnap software is designed for computational teaching/learning. However, this also highlights the computational thinking embedded in the Adinkra CoP itself. In Paint students could certainly create similar Adinkra designs, but the knowledge required to scaffold those designs is computationally less significant. Therefore, beginning to learn about computing and computers using the stamping process in Adinkra Computing is better than Paint in translating the algorithmic complexity found in the CoP context of stamping cloth.
While materially and contextually different, the epistemological beginnings of stamping in both Adinkra and computing provides an exemplar for how CoP found in Ghanaian craft villages can be translated into Ghanaian classrooms. Though, this is just one example that fills up only a small portion of the overall ICT curriculum. More research on the CoP in Bonwire and Ntonso are needed to develop a full understanding of how to translate CoP from craft villages to classrooms.