So-called “maker spaces” are proliferating in campus libraries, but truly effective ones require much more than a 3D printer and some shiny new toys. This week, Ken Steele chats with Kerry Harmer, the Maker Studio Specialist at Mount Royal University, about the potential connections between academic makerspaces and undergraduate curriculum and pedagogy. Makerspaces are creative spaces for thinking differently, Kerry explains, “a place for students to make a mess, to be creative, and a safe environment to get things wrong.”
MRU’s Maker Studio is a bright, glass-walled space on the main floor of the Riddell Library & Learning Centre. (#ICYMI, check out “A Library for the 21st Century“.) The Maker Studio has 3D printers and scanners, laser cutters, 7 kinds of sewing machines, and a full suite of electronics and robotics from Little Bits to ADA Fruit, Raspberry Pi, Arduino and more. (For an inventory of equipment and software see https://library.mtroyal.ca/teaching/makerstudio/resources ).
Mount Royal’s Maker Studio is “completely barrier-free,” open to students, faculty, staff and the external community in Calgary, free of charge. Because material costs can cause users to second-guess themselves, all materials for 3D printing are offered completely free as part of the pilot year, to help build digital literacies and see how the technology gets used.
So why do Makerspaces so often wind up in campus libraries? Meagan Bowler, Dean of Libraries at MRU, explains that “a library collection is not just a collection of books. It can be a collection of software, of tools. It aligns with our mission to collect the things our users need to create new knowledge and get it out there into the world.” Moreover, Kerry Harmer emphasizes that locating new technologies centrally on a campus removes barriers, inspires interdisciplinary collaboration, and democratizes the technology. “There’s a real kind of magic and synergy, peer learning and self-directed learning” when students from across the university work beside each other in the space.
A big part of Kerry’s job is working with faculty across many disciplines to develop unexpected curriculum connections for their students and class projects. Science and technology faculty and students actually seem to be using the Maker Studio less than students in the Arts and elsewhere. So far, more than 24 courses from all faculties have done coursework in the Maker Studio, from Math, Child Studies, and Interior Design, to Social Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship classes. Makerspaces are increasingly part of the learning commons in primary and secondary schools, so it’s really important that MRU’s pre-service elementary school teachers get familiar with the technologies that will be in the K-12 curriculum they will teach. In addition to working one-on-one with faculty across the university, Kerry is developing a full-day faculty workshop to expose them to the design thinking process, and the resources of the Maker Studio. Then faculty can better consider how to incorporate making experiences into their curricula, and how to assess the learning that lies behind student creations.
Maker spaces are about much more than 3D printers, which “can only output as good as you put in.” The key, Kerry explains, is to understand that the learning in a makerspace “is not necessarily about the making; sometimes it’s about the thinking,” from problem definition and human-centred design to design thinking. The ideation process is similar, for a 3D print or a traditional essay: “The tools are just the output for the thinking that happens in the Maker Studio, which is creative, which is innovative… it’s about making change.”
Special thanks to Mount Royal University for hosting our visit and providing the videographers for this episode.
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