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Introduction to the Book

Background Knowledge Probe

  • What is something that you have that you have used in a way it wasn’t meant to be used in order to do something you value?
  • What is a notable time when you have come together with others to struggle through a complex problem and come out on the other side with a workable solution?


Historically, women, people of color, and others experiencing systemic oppression have played very active, even leading roles in hands-on work, including essential creative endeavors. And yet, a vast majority of these remain hidden or lost from our memories, and in key ways this is an intentional work of oppression. These are endeavors of home, craft, and trade workers, and also of information, engineering, and design professionals. Meanwhile, research reveals ways in which the K-12 and higher education systems create hurdles to participation in emerging digital technology spaces for women and people of color. We’ll explore these points periodically throughout the book. This book seeks to advance a person-centered orientation to technologies in ways that enrich each of our functional diversities and capability sets, and this often starts with recognizing that we can do far more than we’re led to believe. Technology has absolutely no ability to help us. None. Let me repeat that: Technology has no capability whatsoever to do anything for us. It’s not a person. It’s a thing. Things aren’t alive; they don’t breathe; they don’t think. But they can, sometimes, be a useful tool in the hands of people. And the usefulness of that tool is determined directly and indirectly through the shaping of that tool by other people. People are creative, living, thinking beings. They fail. They screw up. They hurt themselves and others. But they also fail forward, learning to do better and better through application of a growth mindset. At least, people do if they are invited into communities of practice that incorporate diverse cultural wealth and knowledge through collective leadership, community inquiry, and critical pedagogy action-research cycles. Too often people are taught to be submissive, to consume things created by others, to be saved by the thing itself. And this is especially so for those not white and for those not male.

Most girls are taught to avoid failure and risk. To smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then jump off head first. By the time they’re adults and whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, men are habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it. It’s often said in Silicon Valley that no one even takes you seriously unless you’ve had two failed startups. In other words, we’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave. Some people worry about our federal deficit. But I worry about our bravery deficit. Our economy, our society, we’re losing out because we’re not raising our girls to be brave. The bravery deficit is the reason why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look. Reshma Saujani, “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection”

This book seeks to advance the fail-forward and growth mindsets of all, especially those who have been oppressed through works advancing the power of others over them. We will work together to discover ways to advance power, both power within and power with others. We will work to advance our technical skills, but also and even more, our progressive community engagement skills, our critical social + technical skills, and our cognitive, information, and social emotional skills. To do this, we will also work to advance our collective leadership through storytelling, and especially counterstorytelling, within a framing of reciprocity.

Overall Objectives

The general learning outcome objectives of this book are to help readers:

  • Develop a clear hands-on working understanding of the hardware and software layers of computers and networks. As learners journey through the units of this book, they will hopefully develop a growing comfort and competency: working with the basic nuts and bolts of computers and networks; appropriately integrating components to serve as tools for computational and information processing; and performing basic troubleshooting.
  • Evolve a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the artifacts we use as a daily part of our professional lives. The hardware, software, human, and social whole that is a digital artifact is greater than the sum of the parts. Beyond developing technical competencies, we need to develop an awareness of, and skillsets to influence, the emergent properties that come from specific combinations of the different social and technical building blocks of information systems.
  • Develop a critical approach to artifacts. Social systems are constructs of economy, politics, matters of race, class, and gender, social institutions, and other cultural dynamics. Design, diffusion, and implementation of technical innovations both reflect and shape these social systems. Critically examining social + technical information systems from multiple individual and societal perspectives opens up consideration of idealized expectations vs. actual positive and negative impacts within specific user communities.
  • Advance community agency in appropriating technology to achieve our individual and community development goals through a reconsidered digital literacy learning and practice. Far from being just passive adopters of different digital technology artifacts used to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, as Information Science professionals we have opportunities to initiate and lead communities of practice, leveraging the plurality of our community’s social and technical insights.

Humans are analog. We hear, see, and feel in a rich range of frequencies, hues, and senses. We actively create and use these analog circuits to network with others around us. We actively live as highly functioning analog networked information systems. And we do this quite well!

On the other hand, programming code and the computers used to run that code are primarily digital and binary—zeros and ones. Digital, too, is the Internet, cell networks, Bluetooth devices, and other inter-networking systems we generally think of when we speak of networked information systems.

Makerspaces and other Maker-type environments are places to encourage people to gather together to create, invent, and learn. They are analog networked information systems first and foremost. Such spaces often serve as a counter to consumption and individualism. By their very nature, Makerspaces also embrace change. While you may certainly go to a Makerspace to attend workshops on traditional crafts, you may also find side-by-side ways to create using new digital technologies. But always the focus remains on personalization rather than assembly-line production.

As such, cognitive, socio-emotional, information, and progressive community engagement skills are as much or more important than specific technical skills within Maker-type environments. Cognitive skills include the ability to logically analyze and organize problems in ways that allow use of and tools to help solve them, and to generalize new processes to other problems. Socio-emotional skills include the ability to communicate and collaborate with others, along with personal confidence, persistence, and tolerance, in order to tackle complex, ambiguous, open-ended problems. Information skills include the ability to seek, evaluate, interpret, and apply relevant and trustworthy information across multiple media. Progressive community engagement skills advance our ability to work together in communities of practice advancing and making continued use of collective leadership and individuals’ unique cultural wealth and capability sets to help each member better achieve their valued beings and doings. Technical skills, then, become a response to needs identified using cognitive, socio-emotional, and information skills. They are just-in-time in-fill learning.

Combined, the intent of this book is not to exclusively provide technical skills as specific learning outcomes. Rather, the primary goal is to use exercises to teach the technical logic of electronics, coding, and networking in a way that can be generalized to various problems at hand and the unique technical skills needed within that context. At the same time, it is to expand our understanding of the social systems that have applied this technical logic to various design problems in ways that have positively addressed some issues while potentially negatively addressing others. The intent is to also help build up confidence and persistence to tackle ever-more-complex technology problems, while discovering that we are shaped by people, including the creators of this book, who worked to create these artifacts. And those who created the artifacts were shaped by other people who created earlier works. And you will begin shaping others as you innovate-in-use the artifacts associated with the book in a way it wasn’t necessarily meant to be used in order to do something you value.

Ultimately, the aim of the book is to prime the readers for a lifetime of co-exploring within Maker-type environments as information professionals. It is to recognize that at their best, these studios bring together diverse populations of people as a collective to address a key issue of shared interest in ways that maximize individual and social benefits and minimize individual and social harms. It is to identify what participation and inclusion mean within the contexts that are unique to each community of practice and each issue of shared interest. It is to begin to identify the everyday technologies that may be unseen and displaced because of an overly narrow definition of what should be considered appropriate, and the local innovators whose technologies might be championed if only they were made visible. And it is to clarify ways each person might serve in the moment as an innovator-in-use of the technologies to make it practical and appropriate for their functional diversities, that is, their ways of better achieving that which they most value being and doing within a given context.

Some Useful Working Standards and Frameworks

The best works in a Maker-type environment are works of community, in community, and for community. They combine active hands-on innovation with individual and corporate reflection — collective leadership with Paulo Freire’s action-reflection cycles and the community inquiry model developed initially by John Dewey and Jane Addams and further advanced especially through the works of Bertram “Chip” Bruce and Ann Peterson-Kemp. Combined, the outcome is development of a critical conceptual understanding of innovation-in-use from a person-centered perspective. This is a book meant to be done as part of a community of practice.

Community Inquiry in Practice is a virtuous cycle that includes asking initial questions, joining in active co-learning, reading the words and worlds of knowledges shared in a range of ways, internal reflection, group discussion, critical questions, and journaling.

To facilitate these works of collective leadership, action and reflection, and community inquiry, those working through this book are encouraged to test out a range of community of practice standards and frameworks that might apply within our professional practice moving forward. What follows is a short introduction to each. We’ll revisit and expand upon these frameworks as we go through the book.

Community of Practice

A core idea within the social constructivism of John Dewey and others as incorporated throughout this book is that learning is constructed by social interaction between an individual and the social environment. It cannot happen by an individual doing independent work. Sometimes this learning community comprises a range of people within a local community. At other times, it is a community of practice formed by a group of people engaging in a process of collective learning. While in both of these learning community examples the objective is knowing and learning so as to achieve a specific human endeavor, the means by which this objective can best be achieved varies considerably. As this book is written first and foremost as a textbook for use in classrooms, after-school sessions, workshops, and other Maker-type studio environments, the structure of, and activities within, the book are designed to especially facilitate communities of practice.

In “Communities of practice: a brief introduction,” Etienne Wenger provides this nutshell description of the term:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.[1]

Members of a community of practice are people with a shared domain of interest that distinguishes them from other people as it applies within this context. This may be a multigenerational gathering of people all living within a specific local neighborhood, a gathering of people living within different neighborhoods of a diverse city who all are part of a local club, a gathering of professionals from across the nation or world meeting using online technology, and so many other communities of practice. They are people who engage in joint activities and discussions to share information and help each other, whether in a specific physical location at which they meet on a daily basis, or via an online forum in which they meet synchronously periodically with other asynchronous meetings as infill. In so doing, they commit time and effort to work as formal or informal practitioners so as to develop a shared body of resources. Your past and future interests may vary greatly, but for a time and for a specific purpose as related the contents of this book, you may find it of great value to become a community of practice within this context.

Collective Leadership

When people gather to mobilize human, cultural, and technological resources in ways that address opportunities and challenges of common interest and for the common good, then bidirectional learning, joint action, shared responsibility, and mutual accountability have an opportunity to blossom. This shift away from prioritizing individual change agents to instead emphasize collective leadership serves to facilitate the crossing of boundaries of all types, including age, race, gender, income, culture, and religion. Through a cycle of preparation through trust building, of co-constructing a purpose and strategic plan, of implementation through allyship and collective action, and of sustaining of the work as part of the community fabric, robust strategies and partnerships come together to advance long-term impact.

Collective Leadership is an informal, distributed process where the responsibilities for leadership is shared among team members. By employing a framework of collective leadership, digital innovation moves beyond consumption of digital literacy techniques; fosters critical selection of co-creation of technologies among multiple stakeholders; prepares stakeholders to contribute their unique knowledge, skills, and abilities when and where needed to advance community goals; and engages stakeholders in the process of increased sustainability. Goals of digital literacy training use a three-prong strategy: access to a mobile Fab Lab as a digital tech hub; increase the number of individuals within communities with digital literacy skills; and advance capacity building to assure communities sustain digital literacy programming and ongoing education.
A Collective Leadership Model for Library Engagement presented at the 2016 Association for Library and Information Science Educators conference. Poster by Kristin C. Phelps, used with permission.

As your community of practice work together through the units, you’ll find various “Do Something New!” innovation-in-use/remix prompts encouraging you to make use of collective leadership to mobilize the sessions of a unit in ways that may address opportunities and challenges of common interest, even if just as a small prototype of a larger collective leadership cycle down the road as you enter into other communities of practice.  There’s an International Leadership Association interview of leadership educator and practitioner Kirstin Phelps and textbook author Martin Wolske further highlighting digital leadership development through technology education.[2] And the Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development and the Kellogg Leadership for Community Change provide a useful starting guide on collective leadership for community change.

Community Inquiry

Inquiry-based learning is open-ended, democratic, participatory engagement connected to people’s values, history, and lived experiences. It builds from John Dewey’s framing of logic as the theory of inquiry. Community inquiry as framed in this post by Bertram “Chip” Bruce further emphasizes collaborative activity and knowledge creation conducted of, for, and by communities as living social organisms. This book and the readings and videos linked within transmit information to others. The various prompts and comprehension checks add a starting level of interactive communication that hopefully grows with in-person question-and-answer opportunities and workshop/course feedback for improvement. But as Bruce notes in his newest book, Beyond the Classroom Walls, what is conveyed through the transmission and interaction modes of communication is a partial message. The expertise and lived experiences of the sender may assure that this is solid data and information based on reliable research and practice. But it is essential that we continue to bring together the work of the mind and of the body, of the classroom and the lab of that which comes from lived real-world experiences.

In contrast with the transmission and interaction models, the transaction model does not assume that we even have a message to communicate, or that one party could hold such a message. Utterances are not just shared, but co-constructed, and out of that, meaning is constructed. […] It is the norm for human conversation that an utterance initiated by one person can be completed by another. Speaking overlaps so that it is unclear even what each individual has heard. The initial speaker may alter meaning by stopping mid-sentence, shifting their gaze, or changing intonations. Other participants show their assent, interest, or disagreement only partly through words, using also facial expressions, gestures, or eye glances. The content, such as it is, emerges only as the talk proceeds; it does not exist a priori. (Bruce, “Models of Communication”, pg. 13.[3])

The classroom and formal learning remain important, but must be complimented by the informal learning of life in practice. Readers of this book hopefully have the opportunity to come together with other readers taking on transactional communication co-constructing information and knowledge—information that has become actionable—through community inquiry. And as you collectively work through the social and technical aspects of each session, you inquire together about—that is, ask probing questions with regard to—your opportunities and challenges in bringing this learning to action in your lives. As you enter into collaborative investigation and creation, you also will need to regularly set aside time for individual and collective reflection and discussion, leading to a new cycle of asking, investigating, creating, reflecting, and discussing. These cycles don’t always happen in a set order. But the best community inquiries strategically incorporate each of these into their works, even when they sometimes seem out of place or of lesser value at a given moment. This community-driven inquiry can also lead to inquiry about the nature and meaning of the community itself, and the webs of privilege and oppression that shape and are shaped by the community and those impacting that community.[4]

The Community of Practice framework above is presented as a likely starting understanding of the type of learning community many users of this textbook may be joining into as they travel through the book. The Collective Leadership framework then highlights the importance of crossing boundaries of all types to better achieve collective action in a way that advances the community fabric. Community Inquiry is a framework that further emphasizes the social organism that is community. While this book is an outcome of two decades of work bringing digital technologies and literacies into diverse communities, especially focusing on those historically marginalized, key to each has been the community inquiry practitioner dialogue in community, with community, and for community. This book, then, is intended to help advance an understanding of the nuts and bolts of analog and digital hardware, software, and networks, while also questioning the underlying assumptions of specific sociotechnical artifacts so as to facilitate the deepening of the community fabric. In exploring the book using the frameworks of Community of Practice, Collective Leadership, and Community Inquiry, the intent is to help the learning community consider the ways in which the social and technical chapters within each session of the three units of this book may serve as effective infill to advance the additional, community-specific learning outcome objectives.


Paulo Freire was an adult educator and philosopher from Brazil, who in the 1960s worked to develop educational projects and went on to significantly inform and advocate critical pedagogy. He not only taught reading and writing to illiterate adults, but at the same time worked to help raise awareness of the agency people had to bring a new reality into existence. He used techniques that would be familiar to us today: show a picture, show a word, help people to pronounce the word and associate it with the picture, connect the syllables of the word with specific sounds, generalize to other words. But as Freire went through these steps, he also encouraged learners to combine syllables in unique ways to create new words. And he encouraged them to see how the old word was often associated with objects that served to oppress the learner (for instance, moving from learning the word brick to considering that the learner manufactured for elites who paid them a sub-living wage and then used the brick to build walled fortresses that kept wealth in and others out). At the same time they made connections of syllable sounds with new words, they also made connections between creating their own new words with creating new, more just realities.

While Freire developed his approach to link together small group reflection with positive action for change and development within an adult literacy context, he and many others after him have taken this action-reflection critical thinking approach into many different arenas, including the sociotechnical realm. We first must move away from a “banking” model of education in which expert teachers deposit their knowledge into passive students. Instead we must enter into a problem-posing educational process that launches a dialectic approach to knowledge combined with abductive logic to facilitate a work of conscientization, that of perceiving in new ways the social, political, and economic contradictions within existing social reality and then taking action against the oppressive elements to bring about a new reality.[5]

Core to each unit of the book are cycles of critical reflection and hands-on action. During the reflective inquiry phase of the cycle, we first learn the words and concepts underlying technologies, and the social contexts that have shaped and are shaped by these technologies. Individual notetaking is an essential aspect of this inquiry—jot down several key points from the readings and videos, a couple insights that emerged from these, and a question or two still lingering in your mind. Individual inquiry provides a critical contribution as a session moves to a second level of reflection using community inquiry in which diverse perspectives bring forward a more holistic investigation of text within context—words within worlds. Each session incorporates hands-on activities within learning communities to help each person identify with key technical aspects of these sociotechnical artifacts. In so doing, we more fully sense the nuances of the situations being covered in the unit by sharpening existing, and introducing new, understanding of the specific sociotechnical artifact and the broader sociotechnical systems around us. In this way, the initial codification of the words and concepts under exploration that have now been contextually decodified are recoded. Our increasingly nuanced understanding these structures comprised of interdependent social and technical elements reveal relations and properties which uniquely emerge by their function as a whole. Only in such critical action and reflection as part of community inquiry using collective leadership can we advance a more liberated community fabric. Capturing these through journal reflections to conclude the inquiry cycle for a session provides a snapshot that can be taken into subsequent action and reflection inquiry cycles throughout the book and into our broader work as information professionals.

Pair/Triplet Programming

Pair programming is increasingly common in software development. Two programmers collaborate on design, coding, and testing, with qualitative evidence suggesting the subsequent design is better, resulting in simpler code that is easier to extend. Further, whether the pair programming occurs between two novice programmers, between a novice programmer and a more experienced programmer, or between two experienced programmers, people learn significantly more about the system and about software development as both participants bring in unique insights, as long as what is being done is not a repetitive task. Conversation between the programming pair can occur at many levels as the driver working at the keyboard takes charge of all changes made in the program and the navigator observes all the code that is entered, considers coding options, works to spot and address problems, considers and recommends simplifications, helps with programming style, and designs and verifies testing.[6]

Extensive testing of the hands-on activities throughout this book have indicated the substantial value of collaborative programming in small groups of two or three people. Further, while pair programming is specifically associated with computer programming environments, small group collaborations in which one drives the specific hands-on work and the other(s) navigates has also proved very useful in doing the electronics and networking exercises as well. Throughout, it is essential that participants switch roles regularly from driver to navigator and back. This technique is not about the expert doing while the novice observes. It is about collaboration that recognizes the unique expertise each brings to bear, including bringing in new sites when this is a person’s first time doing something.

The Toolkit

In working through specific hands-on activities in this book, we’ll make use of a range of items, from individual components like light-emitting diodes and switches, to complex circuit boards like the Circuit Playground Express microcontroller and the Raspberry Pi microcomputer. There are many variations of these components and the supporting electrical conductors and tools that may shape how you can or should work with various parts to achieve hands-on activities. As a carpenter, general contractor, and overall tinkerer, I make regular use of both general- and special-purpose tools. However, the focus of this book is to foster development of a more holistic and nuanced understanding of the hardware, software, human, and social whole of our sociotechnical devices, an understanding that is greater than the sum of the social and technical parts. The tools we’ll use for the exercises in this book, then, are general-purpose ones specifically chosen in support of a range of different activities that have proven solid in promoting this holistic and nuanced educational work advancing a broader sociotechnical mindset. These tools have also proven adaptable by a range of audiences as they work to strengthen those aspects of their technical, cognitive, socio-emotional, informational, and progressive community engagement skills which need honing to implement this mindset as part of collective action and reflection cycles for social good.

As selected portions of this book are used in my various other courses and workshops and have proved useful as standalone sources for use around the globe, the tools have been selected as ones that can also be available in a drawer or cabinet for use when a specialized need requires. Many of the exercises in the Rainbow Unit, for instance, could be done on any GNU/Linux computer, and potentially also on Mac OSX and Windows computers. Multiple parallel input and output data pins are likely not available on such computers. But the introductory and key takeaway parts of the chapter may still prove of value, as they have for my own community workshops and progressive community engagement classes, which have used computers available within the spaces. But even here, I sometimes bring along some Raspberry Pi’s, as they’ve proven of value given the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s educationally-motivated design of the computer and its huge catalog of projects whose origins also come from an educational person-centered focus.

The steps and diagrams of activities in this book are based on components purchased through Adafruit industries, a one hundred percent woman-owned manufacturing company. Founded in 2005 by Limor “Ladyada” Fried, the company’s goal is to “create the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels.” [7]

These lists of recommended items were last updated August 2022 and may be further updated on occasion to match revisions made to the technologies of the day.

Orange Unit Items

The following are used throughout the Orange Unit of the textbook. The main package is also used for exercises in session one of the Rainbow Unit.

Blue Unit Items

The following are used throughout the Blue Unit of the textbook. They are also used for exercises in session one of the Rainbow Unit.

The Raspberry Pi Kit

The following Raspberry Pi kit is used in the fourth sessions of both the Orange and Blue Units, and as the base of the Rainbow Unit. To keep overall costs down, one kit can serve multiple participants.

  • Raspberry Pi 3, 4, or 400 microcomputer
  • Wall outlet to 5V power supply with appropriate microUSB (Raspberry Pi 3) or USB-C (Raspberry Pi 4 and 400) adapter
  • Adafruit PiOLED 128×32 display
  • A keyboard, mouse, and monitor will briefly be needed, but can be shared amongst multiple Raspberry Pi’s.[9]
  • A 40-pin GPIO extension cable has proven helpful to provide a safe connection point when multiple different breadboard prototypes are tested using one shared Raspberry Pi. Attaching the ribbon cable from a cobbler or T-cobbler to this extension cable helps prevent wear and tear on the GPIO pins of the Raspberry Pi itself.

Toolkits and Their Contexts

I grew up, literally, in the family sawmill. I don’t remember far enough back to remember being carried into the mill by my mother, or my first ramblings through it as a toddler. But I remember that at age five, I was paid fifty cents an hour by my parents to sweep up. And I remember that as an apprentice, wanting to do so much more but being instructed to just sweep and listen, I started discovering the music of the sawmill. The most alarming of sounds didn’t cause a flinch in my parents, but a quiet change in pitch would send them around, rapidly turning everything off.

And I slowly learned the trade in ways that I can’t, even now, tell you I know. Some are pretty straightforward, such as how to build a basic toolbox. But some, like how to fix an electronic circuit to keep a light or a power tool up and running, have just become second nature—hidden knowledge that’s hard to share with others.

What might be some of your hidden knowledge? How can you each provide support to the others to help rediscover that hidden knowledge, as so many have done in support of my rediscoveries? How, as a community of practice, can we work to bring these gems of knowledge into a transactional communication to co-create new understandings?

When I was thirteen, the logger who brought us the logs we used in the sawmill to build pallets for local businesses was severely injured. He ended up healing almost completely, but at the time he didn’t think he would. As a result, he sold his logging equipment to us at a bargain. And my dad bought it because he figured I was now thirteen, and advanced enough as an apprentice to partner with him in cutting down and preparing trees for use in the sawmill. So I became a lumberjack as well. Many of the tools of the sawmilling trade matched those of the logging trade. But others were unique given the changing contexts of working with felled versus standing timber, of working indoors versus out, of working to do more precision cutting versus approximate ones. I began to learn the importance of general purpose versus dedicated purpose tools. Still today, whether in doing carpentry, general contracting, or broader tinkering on projects, I’ve learned the importance of choosing the right tool for the right job at the right time, given the evolving context.

Take a minute to bring to your mind a project you’ve done recently. Any kind of project—big or small, personal or professional—will do, just so long as it’s something you took a leadership role in doing. What tools did you use? Why those tools? What other tools might have been a better fit for the job at that time within that context?

As you go through this book, keep reflecting back on your own projects as a starting context for considering the toolkit being used for the projects of this book, within the time and contexts within which you are doing them. Why these tools? What other tools might have been a better fit for the job, in this moment and within this context?

I was in junior high when we started the logging portion of the family business and I was also just learning how to write computer programs—it was the mid-seventies after all. For a class presentation, I tried adding in digital tools to measure the board feet of the logs. It proved an early discovery of how the old standby analog tools can be so much better in the field than digital tools at times. The formal learning in the classroom showed me the possibilities, while the learning in the field provided essential informal learning regarding the importance of focusing on people first. I was fortunate to have a diverse group of teachers, mentors, community, and culture in which to experience this model of interactional communication, in which the two are unified through collective leadership and community inquiry.

As you gather within a community of inquiry, be sure to regularly pause to identify those who identify as “students” who are actually the right “teachers” at this time, in this place, and within this context. Work to lift them up as you each work to advance the collective leadership of all. Especially work to cross boundaries of race, class, gender, and other identifiers that so often leave us othering those different from us. If we are to truly advance a more holistic and nuanced person-centered understanding of networked information systems, diversity isn’t a nicety but a necessity.

Learning not only included formal learning in the classroom and informal learning within the work of the trade, either. Changing communities, cultures, and contexts further enrich our learning in the wild. Our family was invited to log amongst farms seeking to preserve the woods because my dad strove to carefully and selectively fell trees in support of the ecosystem for both environmental and economic goals. And we started saving more and more of the premium lumber for use on projects around the house as gifts of the trees. The trees were more than just things to be bought and sold. They were “more-than-human people,” as Robin Wall Kimmerer shares in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. Even after death, trees gift us so much if we take the time to discover it. And, as Kimmerer notes, I began to understand that we need to learn to “remember to remember … to pick up what was left for us: the stories, the teachings, the songs, each other, our more-than-human relatives that were scattered along that path.”[10]

Sometime in my late teens or early twenties, through many physical experiences and through spoken and written words, I increasingly discovered how the tulip poplar, or whitewood, has been a central resource for the creation of North America. Even before the landing of the first white Europeans, residents of this land used whitewood in support of their valued beings and doings. And this fastest growing and easiest working of the hardwoods gives itself willingly if we wisely choose which trees to cut down, and to cut it carefully and with respect. And as I learned more, I also discovered it was a “more-than-human” tree. To this day, when I’m feeling low for some reason, I might discover that on a dime I begin feeling better. And if I look around, I’ll often discover close at hand a tulip poplar, silently singing its song of support to me. While this is my personal story, over the years I’ve come to find similar stories told by people from different histories and cultures as well.

In 1997 I began teaching the Library and Information Science course Introduction to Networked Information Systems. In 2000, a service-learning component was added in answer to a call by residents of East St. Louis, Illinois, to provide infill assistance building and upgrading computer labs in support of the community work addressing the digital divide in local neighborhoods. Throughout, at the start of each semester, the following quote by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is referenced:

We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[11]

I’ve continuously searched for ways to put into practice these words from Dr. King as part of all my teaching, research, and broader community engagement works. Over and over, I’ve joined into communities of practice going out to address the digital divide and to advance digital inclusion and equity, only to find that I have remained too thing-oriented. And so this book is being created as part of an ongoing search for better ways to become increasingly person-centered.

For that reason, I’ve built a toolbox using tulip poplar, in which I put the tools used for activities in this book as a reminder that all we have has been gifted to us by nature. While for most, you’ll use containers on hand to store your toolkits, I encourage you to bring your creative side—or that of a willing friend’s—to bear in personalizing the container, to keep this connection to people and to nature front and center in your minds as you work through the book. Whether in practice or in spirit, I hope that such a visualization serves you, as it has me, as inspiration for this person-centered mindset, by sharing counterstories of wisdom and knowledge the Tulip Poplar brings as one of the most noble of trees.

Layout of the Book

To help us advance our full range of skills—social and technical—needed to achieve our works as craftspeople each session in this book includes two thematically linked chapters, one more social-oriented and one more technical-oriented, devoted to a particular set of activities and associated learning outcomes.

  • The social chapter includes a lesson plan with essential works to be reviewed, along with question probes to be incorporated into a professional journal reflection response.
  • The technical chapter includes a number of hands-on exercises and short quiz.
  • A third element is highly recommended through your creation of Reading Notes, helping you to bring your own lived experiences and knowledge into conversation with the chapters, associated readings, and videos. As you proceed through each, jot down several important points that especially stood out to you from that text or video, a couple of insights that emerged from these points, and the major questions that still remain.

Each of these thematically linked chapters, along with the various activities, group discussions, and your Reading Notes and Professional Journal Reflections, form one session. Sessions are brought together into several larger units:

  • Orange Unit: This includes social chapters introducing the book, the underlying perspectives and mindsets, and broader skill sets underlying the framing of a person-centered guide to demystifying technology. The technical chapters introduce the electronics, circuits, and prototyping tools we’ll use through the remainder of the book and beyond.
  • Blue Unit: The Blue Unit is comprised of four social and technical sessions. This includes social chapters exploring the histories of race, gender, and technology, and the mutual shaping of sociotechnical information systems by innovators, innovators-in-use, and those in between, including Adafruit Industries and the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The technical chapters move from individual electronic components to complex circuit boards such as the Raspberry Pi microcomputer and the Circuit Playground Express microcontroller, and explore how these can be used to bring together electronics and programming code so that individuals and communities of practice can shape digital tools in ways that better serve those things they value being and doing.
  • Rainbow Unit: The four sociotechnical sessions within the Rainbow Unit seek to tighten our growing holistic and nuanced understanding of the tools and technologies we use as a daily part of our professional, community, and personal lives, which has been building within the Orange and Blue Units. This includes social chapters exploring the broader history and design of the Internet, the guiding forces and principles that have shaped and reshaped it, and the new movements and design principles leading to counterstories and person-centered products. The technical chapters explore and prototype ways to network together a range of circuit boards and operating systems, to create a more just networked information system as we use collective leadership community inquiry, transactional communications, and action-reflection praxis across diverse stakeholder groups to identify digital inequalities.

The grouping of thematically linked chapters within specific units builds from two decades of participatory design in and with community, and from the teaching of these concepts and practices in courses and workshops. However, the use of colors rather than numbers for the units, and the lack of chapter labels for each web page, is in recognition of the value of flexibility in how these materials are covered in a specific context and moment in time.

Lesson Plan

As you travel through the lesson plans for each session within the three units, think of these as pre-season training activities within a sports metaphor. Each is meant to strengthen a different aspect of ourselves and ourselves in relation to others. As with pre-season training, by the end of the Rainbow Unit we will have not reached the finish line, but rather the end of pre-season training. It will then be time to enter into the start of a new season of our information science lives with a clearer and stronger person-centered community inquiry mindset and muscle memory facilitating new levels of action-reflection collective leadership as professional taking on the sociotechnical challenges of the day.

Essential Resources:

Professional Journal Reflections:

  1. What social and technical contexts do you bring with you into the reading of the written, spoken, and visual texts shared in this book? Share a remembered story or two.
  2. Why might Robin Wall Kimmerer’s talk be an essential resource for this chapter? How might it relate to the other texts in the chapter, and to the remainder of the book?
  3. Where might you be in the development of a fail-forward and growth mindset? Why?
  4. Where might others around you be in the development of a fail-forward and growth mindset? Why?

  1. Wenger, Etienne, “Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction,” October 20, 2011, 1.
  2. Phelps, Kirstin and Wolske, Martin. “Pause for Pedagogy: Perspectives on Digital Leadership Development from Technology Education.” International Leadership Development Interview, June 13, 2018.
  3. Bruce, Bertram C. Beyond the Classroom Walls : Imagining the Future of Education, from Community Schools to Communiversities. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022.
  4. One detailed look at community inquiry in practice can be found in Youth Community Inquiry: New Media for Community and Personal Growth, eds. Bertram C. Bruce, Ann Peterson Bishop, and Nama R. Budhathoki (New York: Peter Lang, 2014).
  5. pg. 35, Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition. 2000, Continuum International Publishing Group
  6. For more on pair programming, see: Jeff Dalton, “Pair Programming,” in Great Big Agile (Berkeley, CA: Apress, 2019) 199–200. Franz Zieris and Lutz Prechelt, “Does Pair Programming Pay Off?” In Rethinking Productivity in Software Engineering, ed. Caitlin Sadowski and Thomas Zimmermann (Berkeley, CA: Apress, 2019), 251–59. Eric Snow, Carol Tate, Daisy Rutstein, and Marie Bienkowski, “Assessment Design Patterns for Computational Thinking Practices in Exploring Computer Science,” (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International) 2017.
  8. For example, the Kingston Canvas Select Plus – flash memory card – 32 GB – microSDHC UHS-I was selected for the fall, 2023, toolkit.
  9. The Raspberry Pi operating system includes an installation of the Real VNC server which can be enabled through the Raspberry Pi Configuration software. However, initial setup and configuration of the operating system is generally best done using a standard keyboard, mouse, and monitor attached to a Raspberry Pi. Once complete, the Adafruit PiOLED can be used to provide the IP Address currently assigned to the Raspberry Pi, allowing a Real VNC viewer installed on a participant’s computer or mobile phone to connect to the Raspberry Pi running “headless”, that is without a keyboard, mouse, and monitor attached.
  10. Kimmerer, Robin Wall “Mapping a New Geography of Hope: Robin Wall Kimmerer Keynote,” July 27, 2015.
  11. pp. 157-158, King, Martin Luther. “Beyond Vietnam.” In: Carson, Clayborne and Shepard, Kris, eds. A Call to Conscience, 139-164. Grand Central Publishing, 2001.


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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology, 2nd Edition Copyright © 2023 by Martin Wolske Copyright © 2023. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. Copyright “Storytelling in the Information Sciences” © 2023 Yingying Han and Martin Wolske. This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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