Karen Brennan Thesis Defense

October 4, 2012


MIT Media Lab, Building E14, 6th Floor


We live in a computational culture—a culture in which we are surrounded by computational systems and interfaces, from social networks to banking infrastructure, to entertainment platforms, to transportation systems. This culture introduces new expectations and new opportunities for learning, creating new demands for what to learn and offering new possibilities for how to learn.

In this dissertation, Karen Brennan adopts a predominantly qualitative approach to exploring learning in computational culture, studying how the Scratch programming environment and online community are employed to support learning both in and out of school. To this end, she conducted interviews with 30 kids working with Scratch at home and 30 teachers working with Scratch in K-12 classrooms to develop descriptions of computational creation in these two settings.

Using a theoretical framework of agency and structure, Brennan analyzes how the at-home and school-classroom contexts enable—or constrain—young people's agency in computational creation. Despite assumptions about at-home learning being low-structure/high-agency and at-school learning being high-structure/low-agency, she argues that structure and agency need not be in opposition. Designers of learning environments should explore intermediate possibilities that draw upon the best of both settings, finding ways to employ structure in the service of learner agency.

Host/Chair: Mitchel Resnick


Barry J. Fishman,  Ethan Zuckerman

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