Making learning: Makerspaces as learning environments

Thursday, January 1, 2015
Resource Type:
Doctoral Dissertation | Research Products
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Making and Tinkering Programs, Museum and Science Center Programs, Library Programs
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | General Public | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
Education and learning science | Engineering | General STEM | Technology
University of Wisconsin, Madison

The maker movement is fundamentally changing the way educators and educational researchers envision teaching and learning. This movement contends making — an active process of building, designing, and innovating with tools and materials to produce shareable artifacts — is a naturally rich and authentic learning trajectory (Martinez & Stager, 2013). Makerspaces are places where making happens in community. I craft my dissertation to explore these two defining characteristics of makerspaces through a comparative case study (Stake, 1995) and a design experiment (Brown, 1992). In the comparative case study, I investigate three youth makerspaces as learning environments and the communities within as learning communities. I employ the design experiment to examine making as an activity that demonstrates learning. With these two complementary studies, I seek to answer the question: how is learning demonstrated in makerspaces? I ground my study in the convergences of new literacies and constructionist learning theories. From the intersections of these two learning theories, I develop an activity-identity-community framework, which I use as my analytic frame. My goal is threefold: 1) to compare three types of youth makerspaces (museum, afterschool, and mobile/library), highlighting design affordances and constraints of each; 2) to build a comprehensive understanding of how experienced young makers approach and complete activities in makerspaces, and 3) to realize implications for design and assessment of makerspace-inspired learning environments (e.g., classroom making activities). Findings expand the limited empirical research connecting making and learning by directly informing our understanding of youth makerspaces as learning environments and assessment of making activities — two key gaps identified earlier this year at the National Research Meeting on Learning and Making. I discuss implications for practitioners and designers of informal learning environments, the emerging field of making in education, and learning scientists more broadly.

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