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Entrepreneurial Education Based on Physical Computing and Game Development

Authors Christian Voigt Elisabeth Unterfrauner Margit Hofer

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                                 Entrepreneurial Education Based on
                              Physical Computing and Game Development

                        Christian Voigt1 [0000-0001-8378-5568], Elisabeth Unterfrauner2 and Margit Hofer3
                                           Zentrum für Soziale Innovation, Vienna 1150, Austria
                                          {voigt, unterfrauner, hofer}

                           Abstract. This paper presents a pilot evaluation study, focusing on a variety of
                           mechanisms to successfully integrate the learning of physical computing, entre-
                           preneurship and game development. First, we introduce a workshop design
                           framework developed as part of the European project DOIT (Entrepreneurial
                           skills for young social innovators in an open digital world). We then reflect on
                           the implementation of the workshops over the course of two months, including a
                           group of 24 youths between 15 and 16 years old. The workshops are evaluated
                           by measuring students’ changing self-efficacy in a pre-post design. The interpre-
                           tation of these changes is further complemented by interviewing the workshop
                           facilitators. While we can find a small increase in students’ self-efficacy, our
                           findings also show the importance of facilitating students’ ability to thrive in a
                           project-based workshop setting, where part of their learning experience hinges
                           on their ability to establish their own learning goals and making design decisions
                           in the face of uncertain outcomes.

                           Keywords: Physical Computing, Entrepreneurship, Game Development, Entre-
                           preneurial Learning, Self-Efficacy, Games with a Purpose.

                   1       Introduction

                   According to the annual Horizon report, forecasting trends in education, experiential
                   learning facilitated through making and hands-on projects will gain in importance over
                   the coming years [1]. In this paper we investigate how students’ self-efficacy changes
                   when learning about game development and making prototypes [2], involving open
                   source hardware. Maker education, just as making [3] combines a huge variety of tech-
                   nologies such as low-tech tools (hot glue, cardboard or rubber bands) and more ad-
                   vanced components such as programmable micro-boards, sensors capturing changes in
                   the environment (noise, temperature, air particles, etc.).
                       This short enumeration of possible components for a prototype already reflects the
                   inherent complexity due to the sheer number of technologies and their possible combi-
                   nations. One strategy is to teach basic skills first and prepare learners systematically for
                   more complex tasks [4]. The ‘basics first’ approach relies on the hope that learners will
                   fill in the gaps more easily when having a broader overview of related materials. Alter-
                   natively, rather than having dedicated courses for physical computation, there is the

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                   suggestion to integrate this knowledge in established subjects such as computer science
                   [5]. In this paper we propose that physical computing could also be integrated with art
                   or entrepreneurship subjects and combine our argument with the analysis of a pilot and
                   the resulting evaluation of a workshop series for learners (15 to 16 years old) in a higher
                   vocational-technical school, specializing in business and commerce. The pilot we pre-
                   sent is part of the European project DOIT (Entrepreneurial skills for young social inno-
                   vators in an open digital world). This project runs for 3 years until October 2020 and
                   includes 13 partner organizations from 11 countries.
                      The overall objective of the DOIT project is to develop and test a program frame-
                   work for early entrepreneurial education. Hence on a pilot level we designed a series of
                   workshops to develop an entrepreneurial project addressing a societal challenge related
                   to either healthy lifestyles, better living conditions or environmental protection. These
                   umbrella topics were derived from the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) with
                   a particular emphasis on turning comprehensive SDGs into concrete actions [6]. En-
                   trepreneurship education has many objectives including the development of a diverse
                   set of skills, attitudes and knowledge ranging from increased self-efficacy, self-aware-
                   ness, resilience in face of uncertainty as well as creativity [7]. There is little doubt about
                   the worthiness of pursuing these objectives, however, many facets of educational sys-
                   tems such as highly structured and packed curricula, reliance on grades as ultima ratio
                   for enticing sufficient effort on students side, the message that failure is a loss of time
                   rather than a necessary part of learning or the focus on individual performance rather
                   than team results make it difficult to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among youths [8].
                   However, there are already many formats such as problem or project-based learning in
                   ‘maker education’ [9, 10] that can serve as a starting point for combining physical com-
                   puting and other subject matters. The pilot presented in this paper combines open source
                   hardware programming, game development and an entrepreneurial project, planning
                   for the transformation of the prototype into an actual product. Technologically, the pro-
                   totypes developed by the students involved a system on the chip (SoC), sensors for
                   environmental data and user interface elements indicating the status of the gadget
                   (LEDs and a small displays 3 x 2 cm).

                   2       Related Work: Entrepreneurship Learning, Game
                           Development and Physical Computing

                   For our research we conceptualized learning as a self-regulated, project- and problem-
                   driven activity [10]. Based on this understanding, we aim to analyse learning activities
                   triggered by the needs of students’ projects, being interdisciplinary and collaborative in
                   nature [11–13]. Figure 1 (left) displays how the context of an entrepreneurial project
                   defines roles and activities for developing a game as a product, which is then imple-
                   mented as a first prototype using physical computing. Hence, learning about hardware
                   becomes a means to an end, embedded in prototyping an entrepreneurial game. Overall,
                   we find that combining different areas of expertise is also a way to engage youths with
                   different interests, degrees of previous knowledge as well as different support structures
                   at home [14], an important aspect if learning technologies are to be inclusive.

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                               Fig. 1. Knowledge domains required (left) and flow of activities (right)

                   The right side of the figure presents the more dynamic aspect of the learning process,
                   where there is a continuous back and forth between new ideas, game concept, technical
                   feasibility and economic considerations. Making development decisions subject to eco-
                   nomic considerations is important since entrepreneurship in itself is based on explora-
                   tive value creation, opposed to routine value creation [7]. Hence it is not always fore-
                   seeable how much investment needs to go into materials and development time. Once
                   more, this highlights the multifaceted range of skills future entrepreneurs develop when
                   facing the uncertainty inherent to messy problems.

                   2.1     Entrepreneurship Learning
                   There are different ways of conceptualizing entrepreneurship education, emphasizing
                   either entrepreneurial attitudes or entrepreneurial knowledge. Combining both,
                   Lackeus [15] suggests a progression from experiential learning (i.e. going through an
                   entrepreneurial learning process), to more cognitively oriented learning about entrepre-
                   neurship (e.g. learning about business canvas, risk management, pricing strategies) and
                   finally, specializing in a particular task (e.g. learning for project controlling, innovation
                   management etc.). In our pilot we were mostly interested in changing skills and atti-
                   tudes but found it necessary to outline concrete task areas for the students, such as
                   working on game ideas, the technical implementation of the game, elaborating a busi-
                   ness and marketing plan. In some teams ‘product packaging’ emerged as an additional
                   area due to the related effort in terms of time for designing and crafting the product

                   2.2     Learning through Game Development

                   The importance of gaming for learning or problem solving has been widely reflected in
                   the literature on serious games and games with a purpose (GWAPs) [16, 17]. Gaming
                   and game development helped to make computer science more accessible to a diversity
                   of learners [18] who would otherwise perceive programming as a rather dry content.
                   GWAPs combine the appeal of game interfaces with the power of human interpretations
                   to accomplish that have no automatic solution yet, e.g. image recognition or capturing
                   subjective perceptions of noise or air quality. GWAPs are also increasingly used for
                   environmental data collection tasks as envisioned in our pilot.

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                   Time spent in games has been steadily on the raise. In 2019 mobile devices have been
                   the primary gaming device and the average gamer played about seven hours per week
                   [19]. The question is whether this time can, at least partially, include learning compo-
                   nents. However, the idea that gaming can be repurposed for learning needs has to be
                   taken with caution, since most people engage in GWAPs because they wish to be en-
                   tertained and not so much because they desire to solve problems or improve the avail-
                   ability of data [ibid.]. Hence, it is necessary that game mechanics prompt players to test
                   their knowledge or to reflect upon their actions, while still preserving an entertaining
                   experience. Gros [16] lists 15 game mechanics and their equivalent learning mecha-
                   nisms. For example, typical game strategies can be based on role playing, collection of
                   tokens, answering riddles, managing resources or striving for the next level or a higher
                   status. Finally, evaluation studies have shown that game development contributes to
                   several literacy competencies (e.g. computer, media and information literacies) or skills
                   such as creativity, self-confidence and empathy [20].

                   2.3     Physical Computing and Learning
                   Similar to digital game development, designing and programming physical computing
                   systems has been mainly researched in the context of engineering or computer science
                   education [5]. There is a huge variety in how physical computing can be understood,
                   ranging from programmable bricks in the 1980s (e.g. LEGO/Logo) to more sophisti-
                   cated systems such as the Lilypad, Arduino kits for e-textiles or Computer on a Board
                   products such as the RaspberryPi. This trajectory has been analyzed by Blikstein [21],
                   the author highlighted a number of important developments in how learning with and
                   through physical computing was approached over the last 40 years. First, understanding
                   the ‘medium’ was always part of learning the ‘message’ in that choosing a medium
                   would inherently enhance learners’ expression in some ways while limiting them in
                   others [22]. For example, programming on a PC is limited to the peripheral devices of
                   that PC; keyboard, mouse, camera etc., whereas the programming experience of micro-
                   boards is more readily enhanced by connected sensors, LEDs or motors. Blikstein
                   [ibid.] makes the point that physical computing provides learners with a new way of
                   expressing themselves; learners design their own devices. Katterfeld et al. [23] argue
                   that digital fabrication and physical computing contribute strongly to the development
                   of self-efficacy, creativity and the experiential unity of body and mind, much like we
                   need to ride a bike rather than hear about riding a bike. Similar to Blikstein, these
                   authors emphasize the facilitating nature of an ‘object-to-think-with’.

                   3       Research Objectives and Methodology

                   In line with our focus on integrating various field of knowledge (entrepreneurship, mak-
                   ing and game development), our research objective was to explore the effects of multi-
                   disciplinary project work on entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. Our project looked into
                   eight evaluative dimensions: self-efficacy, creativity, teamwork and collaboration

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                   skills, dealing with uncertainty, perseverance, empathy with others and their needs, mo-
                   tivation and sense of initiative and planning and management skills. The first two were
                   assessed quantitatively following a pre-post data collection design and the remaining
                   six were evaluated qualitatively. Similar dimensions are also assessed within the entre-
                   preneurship competence framework [24].
                       Since reporting on all dimension would go beyond the space available in this publi-
                   cation, we focus on the analysis of self-efficacy, measured before and after the work-
                   shop series through a survey. For the complementary analysis of changes in learning
                   processes over time we used the transcripts of facilitator interviews.
                       The survey was constructed based on published scales [25–28] with adaptations on
                   the item level. Self-efficacy was conceptualized as students’ judgements of their own
                   capabilities, their problem-solving capacities and how they saw themselves in compar-
                   ison to others.
                       The interviews took about 45 min and focused, among other things, on how well the
                   overall workshop structure (presented in the next section) supported the elaboration of
                   a socially relevant problem statement providing the foundation for prototyping a solu-
                   tion. These interviews provide valuable insights on workshop dynamics (‘How would
                   you describe the motivation over the course of the workshops?’, ‘How would you de-
                   scribe teamwork among students? Or ‘How well did students deal with roadblocks and
                   persevered in their efforts to overcome them?’ etc.).
                       Overall, we followed a case study evaluation method, where a single site provides
                   the data as described above. Case studies are suitable methods when the phenomenon
                   to be researched, is complex and the number of potentially relevant variables is prohib-
                   itive for an experimental design or when there is value in obtaining a more fine-grained
                   understanding of the phenomenon under research [29]. Next we describe shortly the
                   design and implementation of the workshop series and present then our findings eval-
                   uating changes in self-efficacy as well as related qualitative remarks.

                   4       Designing the Workshop Series

                   Physical computing education has been researched in a variety of contexts; one distinc-
                   tion often made, is the degree of embeddedness and interdisciplinary perspectives taken
                   when learning through physical computing [30]. This distinction has also framed the
                   design of our workshop series, combining entrepreneurship, game development and
                   physical computing. Since most youths have an emotional link with playing games,
                   making a game was a suitable context to present workshops involving entrepreneurship,
                   environmental thinking and physical computing in a compelling way. The entrepre-
                   neurship dimension of the workshops was already a relatable topic for them, since they
                   were attending a school with an orientation on commercial subjects, so that product
                   design and marketing were tasks where they could benefit from skills they already had
                   gained. As outlined in section 2.1, our workshops are based on Lackeus’ [7] model of
                   early entrepreneurial education, adapted in Table 1. The table presents each step by step
                   its objectives and some example activities, specific to our pilot study.

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                            Table 1. Program elements of early entrepreneurial education (EEE), based on [9]
                       EEE           Objectives               Short description

                       1. Sensi-     - build up confidence    - learners were shown working prototypes from pre-
                       tize (Do it     among youths           vious workshops
                       because       - showcase possibili-    - discuss the use of games outside the entertainment
                       you can)        ties                   and leisure sector
                                                              - students analyze existing games in a holistic way
                                                              (ease of learning the game, target market etc.)
                                                              - build and test a first open hardware setup on a
                                                              breadboard, flashing the microcontroller (MCU)

                        2. Ex-       - explore links be-      - brainstorming exercise (e.g. quantity over quality,
                       plore           tween sensor data      no criticism, speculations are welcome)
                       (Do what        and social or envi-    - mind map with a problem statement at the center
                       matters)        ronmental problems     and related keywords and dot points
                                       (e.g. noise or air     - identify different rules for winning a game (i.e. de-
                                       pollution)             fining the winning conditions)
                                     - explore basic types
                                       of games

                       3. Work       - structure the teams’   - clarifying different possible roles within a team,
                       together        internal collabora-    working on game ideas, technical implementation,
                       (Do it to-      tion                   business plan and marketing as well as packaging
                       gether)       - integrate the          - as external experts we had a professional game de-
                                       knowledge of exter-    signer and a game producer joining some of the
                                       nal experts            workshops

                       4. Create     - make a first proto-    - at the core of this step is the testing of the game
                       & Iterate       type and aim for       with specific hypotheses in mind (flow, functionali-
                       (Start it       multiple revisions     ties, engagement, duration etc.)

                       5. Reflect    - reflect upon experi-   - sharing information, i.e. synchronizing the status of
                       (Do it bet-     ences                  the product in its various dimensions (business as-
                       ter)          - improve future de-     pects, new features, marketing etc) at the beginning
                                       sign- and collabora-   of each workshop
                                       tion decisions         - continuously aligning students’ expectations with
                                                              the time they had left to finish the product

                       6. Scale up   - test the assumptions   - present final prototypes and associated business
                       and share       behind the business    plans at the school
                       it (Inspire     model                  - collect feedback from potential users, e.g. regard-
                       others)                                ing game idea, features and envisioned price

                   There were six workshops in total. Steps 1 and 2 were addressed in the first two work-
                   shops, steps 3 to 5 (collaborate, iterate, reflect) were simultaneously addressed in
                   workshops 3 to 5 and the last step (sharing) was part of a school presentation during

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                   the last workshop. Although attempting to scale a solution is an important part of en-
                   trepreneurship education, this last step was little addressed due to the limited time avail-
                   able for the workshops. The following two sections provide a more in-depth account of
                   game and gadget development.

                   4.1     Game Development
                   Starting point for our game development were mobile and social game concepts [31].
                   The mobile aspect refers to the wearable nature of the game gadget which allows play-
                   ers to move outside the classroom and the social aspect is given by developing a col-
                   laborative game that is played in a group. Furthermore we also opted for ‘social play’
                   since the group experience provides a more positive, fun experience, compared to solo-
                   play, where more competitive game concepts dominate [32]. For our purpose we kept
                   all the data on the game device, however sensor data and associated locations could
                   have been shared with a cloud application so that the data as a by-product of gaming
                   could be visualized and interpreted by players. Students were introduced to various
                   game mechanics (cf. section 2.2) and could adopt elements that fitted best their initial
                   game scenarios. Together with the support of a game developer, students discussed how
                   they wanted to go about four game elements:
                            (1) Roles: A role describes a personality within the game that symbolizes a
                                core aspect of the game (e.g. roles associated with light or clean air).
                            (2) Behavioral modes: ‘Behaviors’ describe possible actions attached to a role.
                                Behaviors included attacking, defending, escaping or changing the status
                                of other players.
                            (3) Datafication: Since the game was to make use of sensors, eventually lead-
                                ing to the collection of environmental data, player activities should gener-
                                ate data or be influenced by data. For example, one group used the amount
                                of solar energy captured by a device to determine the speed of the catcher
                                when playing tag.
                            (4) Winning condition: The ultimate goal of the game is described by the win-
                                ning condition. For example, in a game of tag the game is over when there
                                is nobody left to be caught.

                   4.2     Gadget Development

                   For developing the gadget, we chose a mix between instruction and experimentation:
                   (1) we used two introductory sessions on open source hardware components and the
                   Arduino IDE; and (2) each team had access to a tutor they could approach for specific
                   hard- or software related changes they wanted to make. Additionally, during the first
                   session, students got to play first with fully assembled gadgets (involving distance sen-
                   sors, microphones and smart LEDs). The purpose of seeing finished gadgets was to set
                   some expectations about what would be possible throughout the workshop series and
                   what not. They then learned about changing code snippets in the Arduino IDE and
                   flashing the gadget, which would show a different behavior as a consequence.

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                   During the second workshop student groups would then assemble their own gadgets in
                   small teams and at this stage they were also introduced to voltages and currents and
                   why some of the components had to be protected by resistors. Later on, the tutors guided
                   student groups in their approaches to specific developments, i.e. if a desired change was
                   unlikely to be finished in one workshop, the team had to decide whether this was worth
                   it and what consequences this delay might have on other tasks to be accomplished.
                   Hence the teams would often attempt to find a simpler approach or drop the desired
                   feature altogether. The facilitators’ task was then to moderate that process as part of the
                   entrepreneurial learning experience, i.e. the management of human resources and time
                   as a limited input variable to every entrepreneurial project. However, beyond facilitat-
                   ing entrepreneurial learning, facilitators had also an important role in presenting them-
                   selves as partners in a dialogue rather than as a source of authority, cutting short the
                   explorations of youths.

                   5       Evaluation Results: Self-efficacy and Learning

                   Our workshop series included 6 events over the course of 2 months. 25 students partic-
                   ipated (38% male and 62% female) and 24 students gave their consent to use their data
                   for research purposes. The workshops took close to 3 hours with the exception of the
                   fifth workshop dedicated to testing and iterating the game, which took 5 hours. All
                   workshops were supported by three to four facilitators. The self-efficacy survey (cf.
                   section three) was handed to the students during the first and last workshop in order to
                   measure any changes in the perception of their self-efficacy. The result was a very
                   moderate increase by 0.95 of the sum of means and a decrease of the standard deviation
                   by 0.95. A paired sample t-test showed that the difference of pre- and post means was
                   not at a significant level. Figure 2 shows the individual means of the items asked in the
                   self-efficacy survey. Numbers 1 to 5 on the y-axis indicate the level of (dis-)approval
                   with the statements listed on the x-axis. The ‘3’ indicates the ‘undecided level’, every-
                   thing above means approval and every value below implies disapproval.

                                         Fig. 2. Items on the self-efficacy questionnaire (N=22)

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                   The small changes are also reflected on the item level. The largest changes of 0.4 and
                   0.3 can be observed for the first and the penultimate item, referring to a decrease in ‘not
                   being afraid of new things’ and a less pronounced disapproval of ‘rather not having to
                   learn many new things’. Although these are positive developments as they go in the
                   right direction of becoming a self-confident, skilled entrepreneur, we would have hoped
                   for a more distinct showing of differences. Further analysis is needed to better under-
                   stand the multitude of influencing factors. One hypothesis we have is related to the
                   number of successful experiences students have had, i.e. actually mastering the chal-
                   lenge of the workshop in a way they felt satisfied with.

                   5.1     Facilitators’ Critical Reflection on Student’s Self-efficacy
                   Both facilitator interviews were transcribed, and their content was analyzed according
                   to a set of emerging categories such as ‘Prototyping’, ‘Embracing new things’, ‘Perse-
                   verance’ or ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Co-design’.

                   Embracing New Things. Although students had experience with board games or play-
                   ing catch in general, none of them had previous knowledge with the Arduino IDE,
                   MCUs or systematic game development. Still, with support, they made amendments to
                   their game gadgets and produced their own game accompanying play cards (Figure 3).
                   However, in light of the results on self-efficacy in figure 2, open source hardware and
                   game development can be complex so that students might have perceived their work as
                   small contributions compared to what experts could do.

                             Fig. 3. Game gadget with solar shield (left), gadget with wind sensor (middle)
                                                       and game cards (left)
                   So, in some instances the facilitators needed to stop ongoing work on one component
                   (e.g. game design) so that there was enough time left for actually testing the game and
                   get a first affective feedback. The students were continuously seeing things they could
                   improve further, however, the facilitators stressed that the actual testing of their game
                   prototypes, even though still very raw, would help them to prioritize which shortcom-
                   ings had to be addressed and which ones could be postponed.

                   Perseverance. There were several points in the development of the gadget where we
                   realized that a change was needed. For example, they only found out in practice that
                   the air quality sensor did not work reliably if moved or that the noise sensor had only a

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                   very limited range within which noise levels could be captured meaningfully. As a con-
                   sequence, we replaced the air quality sensor with a wind sensor and the team working
                   with the noise sensor had to keep in mind that their game should only make use of close
                   range sources of noise (e.g. a motor, speakers in front of a shop or air conditioning
                   units) rather than aiming at ambient or background noise. Figure 4 (left) shows two
                   students taking notes on the energy absorption of the solar shield under different light
                   conditions. According to the amount of energy caught by the device, players were al-
                   lowed to switch from walking to running and hence be more efficient catchers. How-
                   ever, finding suitable thresholds took a number of iterations: updating and testing the
                   new game modalities (Figure 4, right).

                               Fig. 4. Exploring the solar gadget (left) and testing game modalities (right)

                   Entrepreneurship and Management Skills. During the first workshop students
                   started with drawing a mind map in order to catch the ‘every day meaning’ of the data
                   they were collecting with the device. For example, in the case of sunlight, the mind map
                   resulted in the following concepts: sun supports the generation of vitamin D, light is a
                   precondition for oxygen production via plants, sun lets evaporate water and causes rain,
                   too much sun can cause skin cancer or solar cells transform sun light into electrical
                   energy. These thoughts had an immediate impact on the emerging game structure, with
                   students postulating (1) monsters thrive in dark places such as parking houses, tunnels,
                   subways or narrow alleys; (2) monsters’ power growths or shrinks according to expo-
                   sure to light, (3) the equivalent of exposure to light is the sun light captured by the game
                   gadget, only available to hunters of monsters.
                      From the facilitators’ point of view, it was important that students also became aware
                   of using games not just for entertainment but also as a vehicle to create social awareness
                   of a societal challenge. They also recognized that game development is a whole industry
                   and that some of the business skills they had learned at school could be applied there.
                   Towards the end they also understood various ways in how data can be valuable in
                   themselves, as a side-product of the game.

                   6       Conclusion

                   With this paper we emphasized the importance of embedding even simple things such
                   as the basics of electronics or programming in a meaning-providing framework such as
                   an entrepreneurial project or developing a game with a purpose. We started our paper

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                   arguing that if 21st century skills (critical thinking, creativity, communication and col-
                   laboration) and an entrepreneurial spirit are core objectives of today’s education, then
                   this needs to be reflected in the way education is conceived and facilitated. This is not
                   necessarily something new, since project-based learning has heralded interdiscipli-
                   narity and a focus on practice since its beginning. Our experiences confirmed that the
                   bigger picture of a project is more motivational than an isolated skill or fact. However,
                   in practice this bears the cost of losing a useful structuring mechanism when a system-
                   atic introduction to the foundations of a technology would be a natural scaffold for
                   teaching physical computing. Implicit to changing the way we introduce youth to new
                   technologies is the need to support learners in using their own evolving problem under-
                   standing as a guide to self-organize their learning.
                      For future work we are looking into further optimizing the workshop experience by
                   experimenting with what Blikstein [21] calls ‘selective exposure’, i.e. consciously de-
                   ciding which aspects of a technology to show or to hide and thereby managing the
                   growing complexity of multi-level systems such as physical computing gadgets.


                   DOIT has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and in-
                   novation programme under grant agreement No 770063.


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