Makerspaces: An Alternate Path to Educational Research

I had the pleasure of meeting Stefania Druga of Hackidemia fame yesterday. When you have the chance to spend time with someone who left a promising career to follow their passion, do so! She is spreading joy, wonder, and empowerment to children as they discover they can be Makers, shaping their environments as well as their futures.

During the tour of Las Vegas’ own hackerspace, SYN Shop, conversation turned towards a possible collaboration between UNLV and SYN Shop. At which point Stefania pointed out that the university system was a dinosaur on its last legs (I loved how she would follow such statements with the fact that she was from Romania and so always spoke her mind – no need to ever apologize for that!).

Obviously over the last year and a half this is not the first time I’ve heard or read this sentiment. Ever since Dr. Thrun and Dr. Norvig appeared on the scene with their massively open online AI course, many have claimed to hear the beginning death knell for brick-and-mortar higher learning institutions. However, I have spent the last couple of years in graduate school and have at least two more years to go, with the goal of becoming part of this “dinosaur”. My reason for doing so is that I am fascinated by educational research and educational technology, and I want to put my skills to use to help shape best practices in that area for both teachers and students. So my question to Stefania was “what about research”? I have not always been in education; my first degree was in Environmental Conservation. I remember being captivated by my professors when they would describe their past and present research and how it related to the course concepts. If universities no longer existed, where would this fascinating research come from?

Her reply was immediate – that research is currently being conducted in the realm of makerspaces. Which made me wonder, what would this new paradigm of research look like? One answer to the question was provided by Stefania herself when she sent me a link to The Journal of Peer Production. This online journal publishes content that reflects “commons-based and oriented production in which participation is voluntary and predicated on the self-selection of tasks” (found on home page). One of the articles contained on this website, “Hackerspaces and DIYbio in Asia: Connecting Science and Community with Open Data, Kits and Protocols,” is an excellent description of merging science, accessible technology, and community participation to investigate issues and develop solutions.

Pairing researchers with various hacker and maker communities might be one way to fill the void that would be created. However, unless these communities become much more sophisticated, I do not see how they would be able to conduct work similar to, say, Harvard University’s cancer research. Experimental physics would also probably prove to be a stretch. But I do believe they could prove fertile ground for educational research. Given the social nature of makerspaces as well as the critical pedagogy that appears to be embedded within the construct, I feel that Vygotsky and Freire would approve as well.

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About Cynthia Clark

I hold a doctorate in curriculum & instruction, with an emphasis in educational technology and science education. I work for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as the Evaluation and Assessment Specialist for the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment. My current research interests include qualitative responses to course evaluations, both the development of open-ended items and their subsequent analysis.
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