Making Sense of Makerspaces

Finally, I understand the move toward makerspaces. I’ve been concerned that they were evidence of what some critics regard as the diminishing role of the teacher librarian in the digital world. When discussing my teacher-librarian studies in conversation, I am frequently asked, “Are schools still employing teacher-librarians?” Without understanding,  makerspaces seemed to me to be a trendy, almost last-ditch effort to claim validity for the school library. They symbolised a perception by some in the community that the teacher-librarian just fluffs about, not really teaching much and just looking after the books. (Whoa, settle all you TLs!)

Image: Mitch Altman. MakerSpace Urbana, Feb-2012. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Image: Mitch Altman. CC BY-SA 2.0

The shift in thought came when reading Kay Oddone’s claim that makerspaces and libraries share similar characteristics.  I was particularly triggered by her observation that libraries inhabit the only space within the school that is not confined by the curriculum.

Image: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Image: 5chw4r7zCC BY-SA 2.0

Makerspaces are Knowledge Commons

The shift for me is in understanding that makerspaces acknowledge students’ learning, knowledge creation and meaning making on their own terms, outside of formal learning. They allow for multiple learning scenarios: individual, one-to-one, small group, whole class, peer-to-peer. In the library environment, the facilitator, or as Steven Kurti dubs ‘spacemaker’, can be present to scaffold learning as needed. Makerspaces can fulfill the some of the characteristics of participatory learning. They foster collaboration, creativity and by bridging students’ home and school life, make learning more authentic and stimulating. They encourage problem solving and allow for ‘mistakes’. They are a knowledge commons for kids.

From my experience, the implementation of makerspaces would need thoughtful planning to ensure support from administration, teachers, students and the broader school community. In order to secure funding for resources, including human resources and time, the spacemaker would be wise to make clear the educational validity of makerspaces. Schools are already extremely busy places, so support is crucial for the introduction and sustenance of school makerspaces.

In their small study, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas identify several important competencies of the spacemaker. Ringing most true for me is the observation that the spacemaker needs to be an advocate for the makerspace. The spacemaker needs to be able to assure/persuade/affirm stakeholders that the makerspace enterprise is of value. David Raths stresses the importance of showcasing the makerspace through avenues such as open days, blogs and videos. ‘Selling’ the idea of makerspaces and celebrating the achievements of a school makerspace will aid long-term sustainability.

Image: Wesley Fryer. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/17258563285. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Image: Wesley Fryer. CC BY-SA 2.0

Importantly, school makerspaces need to focus on the students. In seeking to outline essential competencies of the spacemaker, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas note the importance of understanding user needs, including the popular culture and technology relevant to the user group. I know this is where I need to pick up my game and become more attuned to students’ pop culture.

Maker Spaces and Digital Technologies

Makerspaces don’t need to involve digital technologies, but they certainly provide a ready-made environment in which to make best use of digital technology. Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas highlight the need for spacemakers to avoid including technology without understanding why, and which technologies are most appropriate to achieve desired goals.

I guess it’s the antithesis of makerspace philosophy, but because I’m a classroom teacher and bound by the curriculum, I can see potential for makerspaces to provide engaging and creative assessment opportunities. I am mindful, however, that the makerspace remain user-driven so I wonder if the marriage of assessment and makerspace can ever be authentic. I’d love to hear your opinions, ideas and experiences with makerspaces; leave a reply below.

For a variety of makerspace resources, including Makerspace Charter and real-world examples see my Makerspace Resources page.

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