Makerspaces are slowly gaining popularity at schools, colleges, and universities across the globe, thereby substantially improving the learning experiences of students by providing them with an opportunity to develop their creative capacities and building skills in a hands-on environment (Fourie, I & Meyer 2015 Smay & Walker 2015). This paper aims to review the current literature on the use of makerspaces as learning hubs in academia and to explore their application in developed countries.
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A makerspace or a hackerspace is a physical or virtual location that allows people to gather, work collaboratively on projects, share information, and resources (Savage 2013). Makerspaces have been inspired by the hacker culture associated with self-directed unscheduled gatherings of like-minded individuals for technological experimentation, idea development, and prototyping (Sheridan et al. 2014). Therefore, makerspaces are often associated with computer science and STEM fields. However, despite its acceptance by tech-oriented students and professionals, the concept of learning through an unstructured hands-on approach has grown in popularity among self-directed learners outside academic communities. The last decade witnessed the creation of cross-disciplinary zones of inquiry-based learning and a wide-range application of makerspaces in art, music, and cooking projects (Sheridan et al. 2014).
Students around the world have embraced the maker movement. Virtual spaces and libraries have become the location of choice for the majority of students wanting to learn the twenty-first-century skills (Loertscher 2015). There is no surprise that libraries that hold a unique position in academia, are capable of providing learners with shared spaces “that foster making and active learning” (Purpur et al. 2016, p. 132). By giving students easy access to a wide range of resources and technology such as 3D printing and electronic instruments, libraries foster the creation of learning environments that are far superior to those created by other means.
Despite grooving popularity of the maker movement, the number of libraries in the U.S. providing students with maker learning spaces is still extremely limited. However, if the current trend continues and attitude toward the new method of education changes, even further libraries with makerspace facilities will soon become a commonplace occurrence. If this is to happen, “libraries at the school, public, and academic level” (Moorefield-Lang 2015, p. 107) have to engage in the creation of a vibrant atmosphere for learning that comes with patron training and resource allocation.
A recent article written by Oliver (2016) reveals that makerspaces preferred by students are categorized according to the specialty areas they represent. The most common activities conducted in makerspace locations across the world fall in the following groups: circuitry and electricity, textiles and soft circuits, robotics and mechanics, rockets and flight, carpentry and architecture, construction and deconstruction, programming, and 3d printing (Oliver 2016). The basic understanding of 3D digital models can be gained with makerspace applications such as Meshmixer or 123D Design (Saorin et al. 2017). SnapCircuits and LittleBits are physical platforms that provide students with instruments for building FM and AM radios, doorbells, and voice recorders, among others (Oliver 2016). Software developed by companies such as Arduino, Scratch, and Raspberry Pi challenges learners with basic engineering and programming tasks necessary for creating mini robots and computers (Oliver 2016).
3D modeling software is another instrument that is being used by students interested in a fabrication domain of the maker movement. The University of La Laguna helps its students acquire 3D generation and visualization skills with the help of Blokify (Saorin et al. 2017). Lego Designer, Leocad, and Tinkerplay are other platforms that allow the construction of new 3D models using pre-designed units (Saorin et al. 2017). The oldest makerspace for individuals interested in programming and computer science is called Crashspace. Launched in 2010, the program allows like-minded people to share equipment, knowledge, and experience (Horvath & Cameron 2015). It has already been called an incubator of innovation for its groundbreaking projects such as “the Kickstarter-launched 3D printer company” and “LED-laden wearables” (Horvath & Cameron 2015, p. 60).
It should be mentioned that even though professional development activities can be categorized in narrowly-defined specialty areas, “no two makerspaces are alike and should not be” (Oliver 2016, p. 161). Every student can find a platform that is best suited to their knowledge levels, skills, learning styles, and preferences. Moreover, modern makerspaces dissolve disciplinary boundaries creating multidisciplinary projects that combine a wide range of activities. Interdisciplinary features of maker learning spaces, along with their non-linear structure, make them perfect for the inclusion in the pedagogical process. By providing students with an ability to solve real-life problems in a process-driven and collaborative manner, teachers can “engage students both academically and intellectually” (Becker, O’Connel & Wuitschik 2016).
The popularity of the maker movement is associated with the act of creating actual physical models that are essential in the design process. The building is beneficial from both academic and economic standpoints: it allows us to reinforce creative thinking and eliminate sunk costs caused by the development of flawed models. The focus on building and prototyping in makerspace locations has allowed overhauling a learning process at the University of Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Washington (Barrett 2015, p. 3). The curricula in these universities have been changed to place more emphasis on design and manufacturing, which are core activities of the Learning Factory model (Barrett 2015, p. 3). The model allows students to spend more time in makerspaces, thereby significantly improving their cognitive functions and strengthening their understanding of the material covered in classrooms. Physical representations of real-life concepts help young learners to “find new design requirements and design features” (Barrett 2015, p. 3).
The maker movement has pushed forward the acceptance of multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) and their use for learning (Wang & Burton 2012). MUVEs allow their users to interact with each other in virtual environments via complex graphical representations seamlessly. Indiana University has spent millions of dollars to develop Quest Atlantis—a virtual environment for learning. North Carolina State University and Harvard University have followed suit and created their MUVEs—WolfDen and River City (Wang & Burton 2012). Active Worlds, Second Life (SL), and AppEdTech Zone are the most popular platforms used by students interested in learning facilitated through an open-end virtual world (Wang & Burton 2012).
The phenomenal growth of MUVEs’ popularity has pushed for the use of Second Life by teachers to supplement their classes. Students prefer using the platform as a communication medium. Educators, on the other hand, prefer exploring it for “delivering lectures, making presentations, and conducting discussions” (Wang & Burton 2012, p. 3). The technology has made possible teaching entire courses in the computer-mediated virtual environment of SL (Wang & Burton 2012). Unlike conventional makerspaces and learning environments, SL allows its users to navigate media content, browse documents in virtual libraries such as Second Life Medical, and develop social skills. In addition to featuring text chat, SL also provides students with a realistic voice chat. The productive potential of such an environment to create engaging learning experiences has been explored by the company called Moodle that has created course management system Sloodle that makes it possible to conduct virtual world conferences and lectures (Wang & Burton 2012).
The first public library that expanded its services to provide accommodation of makerspaces for the by local communities was Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) or FabLab that is located in New York (Slatter & Howard 2013). The recognition of the significance of fostering collaboration and creation has led to the spread of FabLabs across the globe. A study exploring the use of maker locations in Australian public libraries suggests that even though physical representations of makerspace facilities might significantly differ, they all are centered around similar goals Slatter & Howard 2013). The common objectives of makerspaces include: to expand library services, promote community engagement, facilitate “equitable access to tools such as 3D printers, that would otherwise be off-limits” and “to transform traditional understanding of libraries as places of consumption to places of creation” (Slatter & Howard 2013, p. 273).
The makerspace movement is also on the rise in China (Savage, 2013). The first shared studio for exchanging knowledge, software, and hardware was opened in Shanghai in 2010 (Lindtner & Li 2012). According to a study exploring Chinese hackerspaces, “as of April 2012, there are more than 500 active hackerspaces” (Lindtner & Li 2012, p. 19) in China. Another regional study dedicated to the growth of makerspaces in Asia shows that the creation of the first hackerspace in Tokyo was inspired by similar initiatives in Singapore and India (Kerra 2012). Kerra (2012) argues that “hackerspaces appear to be gaining momentum in Southeast Asia” with the most recent opening of makerspace facilities in Bandung, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, and Medan (p. 7). The maker movement’s growth in popularity became possible due to the existence of a significant number of Fablabs and other small-scale workshops in the region. While the makerspace locations in Asia are similar in their structure and function to those in the U.S., many new facilities have been inspired by the EU hackerspaces such as HONF (Kerra 2012). Following the example of Hungary and France, the Asian makerspaces organize workshops for local artists and academics to solve problems of their communities.
A makerspace or a hackerspace is a physical or virtual location that allows people to gather, work collaboratively on projects, share information, and resources. The maker movement has been embraced by students, artists, academics, and professionals around the world. The growing popularity of makerspaces has extended their application to the following fields of artistic and scientific endeavor: circuitry and electricity, textiles and soft circuits, robotics and mechanics, rockets and flight, carpentry and architecture, construction and deconstruction, programming, and 3d printing (Oliver 2016). The maker movement has pushed forward the acceptance of virtual learning environments that can significantly facilitate the exchange of tools and information. The maker spaces movement is also on the rise in the Middle East and Asia. Numerous Australian and U.K. public libraries have opened their doors to individuals willing to collaborate towards the creation of artistic and scientific projects.
Barrett, W, Pizzico, M, Levy, B & Nagel, R 2015, A review of university maker spaces, American Society for Engineering Education, Seattle.
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