This blog post is a transcript from a talk the author gave at the Educause Learning Initiative annual meeting. She describes the purpose of her talk, "...this talk hopes [to] make a case for schools looking to the Maker culture rather than markets to help them reinvigorate themselves, to help keep them relevant, to help students be engaged and to make their learning meaningful and empowered."
She begins by pushing back at the longstanding belief that the future of education is online by arguing that computers and the internet have been around for decades and we're still figuring out how to use online and digital tools to facilitate learning. She proposes we shift our focus from changing education through online learning to utilizing digital technology and the internet in our "face-to-face learning environments" where learning practices like project-based learning, experimentation, and play have shown to be successful.
Makerspaces have grown out of what the author calls the "Maker Movement" which continues to grow with help from Make magazine and Maker Faires. With so much momentum behind this movement, Watters suggests that those who work in formal educational settings should be asking themselves what the Maker Movement is getting right and what we can learn from it. Like the founder of Make Magazine, Watters argues that we should care about the future of manufacturing and that makerspaces are great places to engage in problem solving and designing for "low-cost and local manufacturing". She then says that makerspaces are not just places for people with engineering, computer science, and design backgrounds, but that they aspire to be "democratic and participatory". I wonder how these aspirations may be limited since most makerspaces require a monthly fee and those on campuses are not open to the general public. Other important questions to ask is who gets to be a part of this movement and what kinds of makers are being featured in this movement. Why do most of the Make magazine covers feature males? Are craftspeople a part of this movement or 4H clubs?
Watters then makes the case for makerspaces and the "maker ethos" on college and university campuses. She references John Dewey and how he was a proponent of learning by doing and then describes how makerspaces allow students to practice prototyping, problem solving, and design thinking, and exposes them to "cutting edge technologies" that could lead to "employment and entrepreneurial opportunities". She comes back to her argument about investing in face-to-face learning environments and how, at the time of this blog post, there were an estimated 60 makerspaces on college campuses which was more than the number of campuses partnered with Coursera, which hosts MOOCs. She also notes the "openness" to the public and the interdisciplinary-nature of makerspaces (many are not associated with one department). Like before, I think it's important to question just how open these spaces are to the public. She references the Garage at UW-Madison and having spent lots of time in the Garage, I know it's mainly made up of Physics and Engineering students.
Watters ends her talk by describing the "personalized" learning that takes place in makerspaces versus online learning environments, and how makerspaces move away from the idea of teaching as many people as possible in large lecture halls or online to promoting small and local learning. She leaves us with a set of questions that are important ones to ask,
What does it mean to create an informal learning space on a college campus?
Are the Maker culture and academia even compatible?
What sort of institutional support will students need -if any - to participate in makerspaces?
How can we make sure everyone feels welcome?
Will some students only want to "make" for a grade or for credit?
Does having "making" as a course requirement impact students' willingness to experiment?
Does the college campus itself alter the making?
Audrey Watters writes about educational technologies and some of her work has appeared in The Atlantic, EDUCAUSE Review, The Huffington Post, and Edutopia. She is a former teacher.