Exploring Faces and Places of Makerspaces

At AACE review, we want to offer regular interviews with edtech researchers, as well as reviews and analysis of books, reports, tools and trends. We are excited to bring you a series of new posts, and many new voices: AACE Review is giving emerging leaders in the edtech field the opportunity to intern with us. This is the first in a series of posts by Angela Brown, Educational Designer and Developer at the Centre for Innovation in Learning & Teaching (CILT), Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia. ‘My desire to write about this comes from involvement helping in Maker Spaces and after school clubs around my higher ed work. There’s an interesting gap in terms of strategies that result in separated purpose-made teaching spaces for STEAM, but with a curriculum intending to integrate digital technologies into other curriculum areas’.

Angela’s writing adds an Australian perspective to AACE Review, while her insights on Makerspaces are informed by international research and steeped in practice.

Can makerspaces stay true to their emergent play-based and experimental tinkering roots? Angela Brown will explore this question in her writing for AACE Review.

How to get Started

A great way to gain an initial insight into the popular rise of maker-culture, as an educator, is to simply experience it for yourself by heading to any nearby maker event in your own community. (Hsu, Y.C., Ching, Y.H. & Baldwin, S., 2017). Maker Faires originated in the US in 2006. This year in my third year of attendance at my local Adelaide Maker Faire in South Australia 2017, I saw how it grew from a small community event in 2013 and became the first Australian city to host a featured  Maker Faire in 2016.  In 2017, the Adelaide Maker Faire clocked-in as the “largest Maker Faire in the Southern Hemisphere”.

Public Makerspaces

Alongside the popular maker-culture in Australia, maker events also perch comfortably on the edge of formal education spaces, within public libraries, museums and galleries, volunteer-led after school clubs, community centers, hacker-spaces, repair cafes, community gardens and free or fee-based school holiday programs.

The inclusivity of “making” is strongly characteristic of its rise as a diverse movement of space and belonging. Maker-culture in community and library spans the potential chasm between traditional skills ranging from fondly named “granny and grandpa making skills” of crafting and knitting, preserving and upcycling, adjacent to technology and maker expos to learn coding, programming and robotics.  Maker culture seems to fit comfortably into every corner of Australia, whether it’s arduino-powered aquaculture in rural community garden, knitting circles in an urban city cafe space or crafting intricate sand sculptures on a sandy beach.

“Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers.  They are of all ages and backgrounds.” (Maker Media Inc)

School and university Makerspaces

Seemingly parallel alongside the rise in popular interest of makerspaces, makerspaces are visibly on the rise in schools and universities across Australia.

Curriculum drivers

A recent survey of teacher education programs across the United States (Cohen, 2017) suggests that whilst there is little formal research on the impact of makerspaces in K-12 education, it was government funded infrastructure for makerspaces, grant competitions, and US national standards like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core ELA/Literacy Standards that assisted as a driver in rapid adoption.

In Australia, along a similar thread, the introduction into the Australian Curriculum of Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies strands for F-10 education and government funded competitive STEM education grants may signal a similar fast kick-start for new school makerspaces.

The key Australian government funded programmes encouraging school makerspaces are:

Inspiring Australia – Science Engagement Programme – Maker Project Stream

Grants to establish makerspaces in primary and secondary schools. and industry-partnered STEM events and activities for under 18’s in community.

STEM focused Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) pilot

Based on the US model,  P-TECH fosters industry collaboration for senior secondary certificate of education in years 10-12. Many of these pilot programs are yet to begin.  Some of these pilot school sites are investing the funding in purpose build STEAM spaces and labs.

Makerspaces that result from such funding, may be purpose-built spaces for STEM labs, space in a classroom or part of the school library.  Makerspaces in higher education may adapt and emerge from school makerspace experiences,  or instead lead the direction of school makerspaces. The dynamic is new and exciting.  The forthcoming years of educational makerspaces in Australia will be learning spaces for those learning and teaching within them in.

Learning with each other in Makerspaces

Australian schools taking their first steps into Makerspaces and STEM labs, even if they have gained ground with funding and have rooms packed with new technology, still face the significant challenge of how to maximise the potential of makerspaces as transformative places of multi-disciplinary convergence. Sharing practice between makerspaces beyond the practical start-up issues of locations, equipment supplies, and strategies to locally and nationally evaluate how students learn in these spaces, lay ahead.

One approach out of the US, has been a recent call for formal frameworks of best practice for makerspaces.  An example of an initial attempts at such a framework, referred to as “Makification” starts by breaking making into four modes  – Creation, Iteration, Sharing and Autonomy. (Cohen et al, 2017).

Some of the questions still to be answered in these spaces are:

  • Where are makerspaces in Australian schools?
  • Who are the individuals and groups drives school and university makerspaces in Australian education?
  • How do we know what learning happens in school makerspaces?
  • How are teachers supporting school makerspaces?
  • What contribution will school makerspaces have on national innovation agenda?
  • Can makerspaces stay true to their emergent play-based and experimental tinkering roots?

In future articles, I’ll seek to find and share the voices of Australian educators involved in Makerspaces and how they fit within education and the formalities of an education system of curriculum, best practice and evaluation.

About the Author

Angela Brown is a Learning Designer, in Adelaide, South Australia. She found a sunlit glade in higher education after wandering slightly off the path in the beautiful forest of librarianship and web development. She enjoys supporting the use of learning technologies alongside helping anyone of a curious disposition to discover the creative, imaginative and poetic side of coding languages. Angela is particularly fond of people making things together as learning experiences. When she’s not exploring ed-tech or maker spaces, Angela is out in nature, growing her own food in her backyard permaculture farm, camping in the wilderness and gazing at galaxies through telescopes.

Angela blogs about learning at unobservableuniverse.wordpress.com, sometimes at intothetwilight.wordpress.com or on Twitter @angela_brown.

References

Cohen, J. (2017). Maker Principles and Technologies in Teacher Education: A National Survey. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. 25 (1), pp. 5-30. Waynesville, NC USA: Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education.

Cohen, J., Jones, W.M., Smith, S. & Calandra, B. (2017). Makification: Towards a Framework for Leveraging the Maker Movement in Formal Education. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia. 26 (3), pp. 217-229. Waynesville, NC USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Hsu, Y.C., Ching, Y.H. & Baldwin, S. (2017). Physical Computing for STEAM Education: Maker-Educators’ Experiences in an Online Graduate Course. In J. Dron & S. Mishra (Eds.), Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2017 (pp. 602-610). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

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