Designing Makerspaces for Learning

Makerspaces are a big trend in libraries right now. That’s a good thing because they do offer new ways of supporting critical 21st century skills (e.g. critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, design thinking). However, when makerspaces aren’t intentionally designed with learning in mind, they risk becoming more fad than trend. You know what happens to fads? They eventually fade away. I really don’t want that to happen to makerspaces!

How do we keep makerspaces alive and well? My solution: Apply instructional design principles to them. Here are some elements that should be included in the makerspace planning process:

  • Accessibility. All learners with all abilities should feel welcome in a makerspace. This goes beyond ADA compliance (which of course is important). Maker activities should also appeal to all types of learning preferences. Think about creating a space that connects the physical with the virtual. Have open tables for tactile activities along with computer tables. Include access to both wired and wireless devices. People working on non-digital activities may need access to digital resources. For example, someone working on a craft may need to view an instructional Youtube video.
  • Broad Appeal. Think about the community you serve. Will your makerspace appeal to a broad range of users? Or only a certain type of user? Makerspaces should try to include something for everyone — activities that appeal to many different interests. For example, a public library that serves a large population of senior citizens might consider maker activities related to genealogy, such as family tree making. School libraries should make sure their makerspaces appeal equally to boys and girls (e.g. game modding, jewelry making, LEGO building).
  • Guidance. While the idea of ‘making to learn’ is a nice one, not everyone learns that way. Randomly trying different things may very well result in a successful outcome, but if you can’t explain how you got there or why it worked, you really haven’t learned much. Add to that the fact that some people simply have a low tolerance for frustration or are afraid of failing at something new. Everyone benefits from some level of guidance; it improves understanding and can boost self-efficacy. In a makerspace, that means providing access to guides (e.g. people, materials) to ensure some level of learning is taking place. Manuals, cheat sheets, tutorials, guest experts, templates, idea guides, etc… Cheat sheets are especially useful for digital maker activities because it eliminates the need for someone to toggle back and forth when working on a project. (Consider creating a set of laminated cheat sheets for each maker tool.)
  • Feedback. Feedback motivates learning. In a makerspace, feedback can come from self-correcting programming tools, tutorials, peer feedback and expert feedback. Self-correcting tools are tools that only work when the correct actions have taken place (e.g. Scratch, Mozilla Webmaker). Tutorials should include practice and/or quizzes for feedback. Peer feedback comes naturally from the collaborative atmosphere of a makerspace. Expert feedback creates opportunities for deeper learning to take place (i.e. learning “why,” not just “how”).
  • Inspiration. Inspiration sparks creativity. Use exemplary works of art or literature or crafts or video games (or anything else you can think of) to inspire maker activities. For example, you could create a Project of the Day (PoD) spun from a popular novel or video game. Or you could create a series of maker events based on an inspirational project such as Inanimate Alice. The most important thing to remember is that some people need to ‘see creative to be creative.’
  • The Right Tools. Every library community is different and the tools in your makerspace should reflect that. Make sure you do a needs assessment and a learner assessment at the beginning of the planning process. Who makes up your community (demographics)? What are your community’s interests (circulation data)? What would they like to see in a makerspace (survey)? What needs are currently not being met (survey, observation)? Only then will you know what tools to include in your library’s makerspace. You may be surprised, and you may find that the one thing that people seem to define as a must-have makerspace tool (3D printer) is really not necessary after all!

Sources for maker activities and tools: Makezine, Graphite (from Common Sense Media), Mozilla Webmaker Resources

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