EXP: Learning in the Making: Studying and Designing Makerspaces

PIs: Erica Halverson, Kimberly Sheridan
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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This project takes an ethnographic and design-based approach to understanding how and what people learn from participation in makerspaces and explores the features of those environments that can be leveraged to better promote learning. Makerspaces are physical locations where people (often families) get together to make things. Some participants learn substantial amounts of STEM content and practices as they design, build, and iteratively refine working devices. Others, however, simply take a trial and error approach. Research explores the affordances are of these spaces for promoting learning and how to integrate technology into these spaces so that they are transformed from being makerspaces where learning happens, but inconsistently, into environments where learning is a consistent outcome of participation. One aim is to learn how to effectively design such spaces so that participants are encouraged and helped to become intentional, reflective makers rather than simply tinkerers. Research will also advance what is known about effective studio teaching and learning and advance understanding of how to support youth to help them become competent, creative, and reflective producers with technology(s). The project builds on the Studio Thinking Framework and what is known about development of meta-representational competence. The foundations of these frameworks are in Lave and Wengers communities of practice and Rogoff’s, Stevens et al.’s, and Jenkins et al.’s further work on participatory cultures for social networks that revolve around production. A sociocultural approach is taken that seeks to understand the relationships between space, participants, and technologies as participants set and work toward achieving goals.

Engaging more of our young population in scientific and technological thinking and learning and broadening participation in the STEM workplace are national imperatives. One way to address these imperatives is to engage the passions of young people, helping them recognize the roles STEM content and practices play in achieving their own personal goals. Maker spaces are neighborhood spaces that are arising in many urban areas that allow and promote tinkering, designing, and construction using real materials, sometimes quite sophisticated ones. Participating in designing and successfully building working devices in such spaces can promote STEM learning, confidence and competence in one’s ability to solve problems, and positive attitudes towards engineering, science, and math (among other things). The goal in this project is to learn how to design these spaces and integrate learning technologies so that learning happens more consistently (along with tinkering and making) and especially so that they are accessible and inviting to those who might not normally participate in these spaces. The work of this project is happening in an urban setting and with at-risk children, and a special effort is being made to accommodate making and learning with peers. As with Computer Clubhouses, maker spaces hold potential for their participants to identify what is interesting to them at the same time their participation gives them the opportunity to express themselves, learn STEM content, and put it to use.

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