Makerspaces are informal learning contexts that have become popular because they feature hands-on exploratory learning driven by interests rather than curricula. These learning spaces provide a rich context for collaboration, communication, and literacy development. This post explores three aspects of learning in Makerspaces intended to spark new thinking about instruction in classrooms and beyond.
Making as a culture is a learn-by-doing endeavor. As makers engage in making, they’re innovating—expressing creativity and problem solving. In these spaces, learners choose to make things they like, need, or could use, as they express creativity or artistry. The Maker Camp Projects gallery and Makerspaces Projects show a range of examples. The learning that surrounds making capitalizes on just-in-time learning as makers work together to figure things out or research ideas as the need arises. Engagement in learning is real, as is the desire to create. Achieving a goal is fed by a need to know or a desire to explore. In this way, making is perhaps the most authentic form of inquiry.
Makerspaces create an environment where learners of all ages come together to learn from one another. In making networks, the desire for sharing ideas that lead to improvements or hacks to make design better are paramount. In these networks, crowd-sourcing approaches are the norm; everyone contributes to make products and directions better for the whole community. Sharing encourages and empowers learners—other readers use resources, documents, and archives that have been posted to create/recreate what has been shared by others. Makers seek each other out online to share advice and mine specific expertise.
Makers are collaborative as part of the culture; sharing is part of process. Digital sharing involves writing and communicating with others on sites that makers commonly frequent (such as Instructables and Make:). Makers document their processes and share “in progress” work within networks to look for ways to use or improve a process or product or to riff on ideas shared by others (remix and make new things). Specific examples of making networks can be found in Making it Social: Considering the Purpose of Literacy to Support Participation in Making and Engineering, in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (JAAL).
Genres are social processes in maker spaces and digital platforms provide multiple ways of sharing ideas formally and informally. Makers often compose multimodal online how-to guides that are presented through a mixture of images, videos, and text based directions. These posts also include reviews of what’s made (i.e., directions for making, extensions or hacks). Face-to-face interactions are a critical part of the social interaction of making as well as learners working together to support one another as they learn new strategies and processes. Within community makerspaces, students often serve as apprentices who monitor maker spaces while serving in roles that build their identities as experts with tools and technologies. For more resources and examples, visit Maker Space for Education.
Instructional design choices that draw on the above principles can help youth develop agency, including taking charge of their own literacies and teaching others, in a community-oriented environment that treats individual learning as part of the greater, interconnected whole. Additional resources, readings, and reflections about how to facilitate learning within Makerspaces or similar environments are linked to Renovated Learning.
Jill Castek is an associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona. She co-edits the column Digital Literacies for Disciplinary Learning in JAAL.