Equity, Literacies, and Learning in Technology-Rich Makerspaces

Equity, Literacies, and Learning in Technology-Rich Makerspaces

Wen Wen, Jill Castek
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0246-4.ch007
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This chapter uses an equity lens to examine learning in makerspaces with a focus on the role that literacies and technologies play in these spaces. The authors examine ways that makerspaces bridge formal and informal learning and serve as important contexts for community building and mentorship. This stance on makerspaces centers equity and inclusion as driving forces that must become central to the design of these innovative learning spaces. The piece includes a review of the literature aimed at building a deeper understanding of the principles that underlie literacy practices, collaboration, and learning engagement. The authors offer principles and recommendations for designing, organizing, expanding, and sustaining learning-through-making opportunities for all learners.
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Looking into a community-based makerspace is like opening a door into a world of full of possibilities. Victoria, an adult learner, works with e-textiles to create a cultural pattern that reflects her indigenous roots. Her creation process taps into a multigenerational and cultural influences that highlight how making is, and has always been, central to her family’s roots. Freedom, the makerspace’s facilitator, reflects on the equity and inclusion journey the makerspace’s leadership team took to get to this place. This group engages in asset-mapping, a process through which a community identifies existing strengths and resources. The makerspace’s leadership team, which includes both Victoria and Freedom, debrief about ways to deepen maker culture. Their conversations dig deeper into the values, mindsets, and knowledge that community members possess to can work to extend to other participants. Discussions build stronger and deeper community connections that bring to the surface key values -- that learning is grounded in learning from and with others, that learning occurs through problem-solving, and learning happens by creating and sharing artifacts that are made with pride and effort.

This introductory vignette illustrates how learning practices in makerspaces create a culture of collaboration and community with participatory processes and co-creation as shared values. While each makerspace is unique with characteristics that are specific to the place, purpose, and participants who inhabit it, makerspaces share some common features. They are adaptive learning environments that represent a hybrid between formal and informal learning. Many are built on community principles of collaboration and cooperation among learners of all ages and knowledge levels. Makerspaces are known by many different names including fablabs, innovation labs, tinkering hubs, and other creative monikers that signal cooperatives, studios, and community workshops. They are designed to be safe and supportive contexts for setting goals, working with others, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes through problem-solving. In the process, learners develop agency through learning-by-doing.

Makerspaces have evolved to be interdisciplinary centers that personalize learning for diverse learners. When designed well, makerspaces create communities around participants’ goals and invite multidisciplinary learning in a dynamic and integrated way. However, makerspaces struggle to create a sense of inclusivity for women (Hynes & Hynes, 2018) and other diverse groups. Noel, Murphy & Jariwala (2016) observed four barriers to full participation including: anxiety due to lack of experience, a lack of information regarding equipment and usage, a fear of alienation, and a pre-existing notion that makerspaces are only for engineering.

This chapter examines the rise of makerspaces and offers critical perspectives related to equity within these spaces to address participation, access, and inclusion of all learners. The authors distill from research literature five guiding principles for equity and inclusion in makerspaces. Five recommendations are offered to guide design and implementation. In sum, this piece offers new perspectives that address sustaining and expanding the impact of makerspaces across learning contexts including schools, libraries, museums, and community-based organizations.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Literacies: The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information; encourages wider access to texts and information, creativity in self-expression, and collaboration within a globally networked world; involves the nimble use of skills, strategies, and mindsets to navigate, communicate, and collaborate online across multiple contexts; can be view as a self-directed or collaborative process for constructing knowledge.

Equity: Educational opportunities and paths that are open to all; not foreclosed on the basis of one’s racial, ethnic, and otherwise underrepresented group affiliation; includes providing opportunities for high quality learning experiences across the lifespan and in multiple spaces.

Problem-Solving: Flexible processes by which people or groups define problems, generate new ideas, identify and implement solutions, and evaluate the results.

Pedagogy: Methods and practices that mentors, facilitators, or instructors implement in their teaching which may include instructional design or program design; involves the flexible use of learning materials, learning environments, and resources.

Collaboration: The act of working together toward the co-construction of knowledge; fostering peer learning and supportive communities.

Multiliteracies: Meaning making through social practice; highlights multiple ways that people communicate, learn, and interact within learning environments and communities.

Technology: Tools, machines, instruments, equipment that people use to solve problems, and achieve goals; can be seen (1) as pieces of the infrastructure within physical environments, (2) as tools that learners use in a makerspace to acquire digital literacies and (3) as catalysts for encouraging engagement and supporting learning.

Inclusion: Removing barriers to participation toward fostering a culture of increased (ultimately universal) agency and participation among as many individuals as possible. Creating a culture that embraces everyone into a group or an organization.

Agency: A learner’s internal motivation to be in charge of their own learning, develop dispositions as an active learner, and to make plans to carry out learning actions centered around their own goals.

Community: A group of people who come together and share common values to understand and build on the practices, values, and expertise of the collective; fosters both independent learners and interdependent relationships among learners. A sense of belonging is developed under this condition.

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