Making Connections - Challenging the perceived homogeneity of Making
This research paper critically explores the common definitions and perceptions of Making that may potentially disenfranchise traditionally underrepresented groups in engineering. Given the aspects of engineering design that are commonly integrated into Making activities, the Maker movement is increasingly recognized as a potentially transformative pathway for young people to developing early interest and understanding in engineering. However, “what counts” as Making can often be focused heavily on electronic-based and computational forms of Making, such as activities that involve 3D printers, Arduino processors, and robotics. While these activities will appeal to certain audiences, traditionally underrepresented groups may have less access to – and possibly interest in – these tools and materials. Considering the promise of Making to broaden participation in engineering by providing accessible and relevant engagement with STEM, the perceived “homogeneity” of Making as being defined by a limited set of activities is increasingly problematic.
Of course, all communities have culturally-embedded practices of making that include a) the creation of artifacts and b) the processes by which those artifacts are generated and developed. Many of these making practices take place in the everyday contexts of homes and workplaces. Often, these artifacts and processes require the same types of complex problem solving, creativity, and innovative thinking as those commonly associated with the Maker movement. However, because these making endeavors typically use low-tech materials, they tend to be excluded from the current big-D Discourse (Gee, 2005) around Makers and Making. This exclusion is unfortunate and should be addressed by the engineering education community; it may be that these types of activities have the greatest potential to engage groups commonly disenfranchised by traditional definitions of engineering and STEM.
The Making Connections project is research and development partnership between a large Midwestern science center and several nearby communities of color. In this paper, we present a small study that explores the following research questions: 1) How are the types of familiar making activities identified by project participants aligned with the types of activities commonly associated with the Maker movement? 2) How do the types of activities created during Making Connections align with the types of activities commonly associated with the Maker movement? 3) What funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005) were included in the activities developed as part of Making Connections?
Findings from focus groups suggest that examples of making identified by community partners and collaborators have little overlap with examples commonly associated with the Maker movement. Analysis of the making activities co-created by community partners and museum staff also suggest minimal overlap between the types of making showcased in the activities and those commonly associated with the Maker movement. Finally, an analysis of the specific funds of knowledge used in the development of the Making Connections activities suggests that three types of funds were used: familiar/interesting categories of making, common making processes, and examples of specific cultural artifacts. This work has wide reaching implications for the design of Maker programs and activities, particularly for those programs that seek to engage underrepresented audiences.