The Maker Movement- Research connecting it to the Reggio Emilia Philosophy
Guiding principles and pedagogy of makerspaces
Makerspaces, also referred to as hackerspaces, fablabs, and innovation labs, can be found in community centers, libraries, schools, and specialist laboratories. Regardless of where they are located, they are united by their common objective to provide a space that emphasizes a ‘do-it-yourself’ philosophy while promoting inquiry-based studies that promote a rich engagement and curiosity for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) disciplines (Dougherty, 2013). Similar to the Reggio Emilia approach, makerspaces are learner-centered and encourage participatory and collaborative learning through experiential and hands on learning that results in the creation of a product.
An essential aspect of the maker movement (Dougherty, 2013; Martin, 2015) is the values, beliefs, and dispositions of the maker. Dougherty (2013) describes the maker mindset as a growth mindset that encourages students to believe they can learn to do anything” (p.10). Martin (2015) builds on this definition and identifies play, fun, and interest as critical elements in the value of educational makerspaces. Martin (2015) also further links the maker mindset to Dweck’s (2000) theory of a ‘growth mindset,’ that views learning and intelligence as not predetermined, but rather as talents and abilities that are developed through effort and persistence. Students with a growth mindset embrace challenges and see failure as an important part of learning and the creative process. Failure is embraced in maker culture and seen as a way to deepen understanding and problem solving skills. Martin (2015) states that although this 'failure positive' element seems incongruous to school settings, as most traditional educational approaches avoid failure at all costs, he argues that it is this growth mindset advocating persistence, and challenge that validates making as a valuable learning activity.
Making as relationship building
As with the Reggio Emilia approach, learning in makerspaces often happens in a collaborative, participatory manner and involves students sharing ideas and building upon the ideas of others rather than learning directly from a teacher. Martin (2014) suggests that maker participants create a "community infrastructure" by exchanging information, educating each other, asking for feedback, and feeling connected to each others' projects. This is a sharp contrast to the often competitive and repetitive nature of traditional classroom learning where the goal is often to memorize facts and outdo one’s classmates. In one of the few case studies, Sheridan et al. found that members of a making community often took on leadership and teaching roles in the course of their making. Litts (2015) conducted a study on three youth makerspaces in library, museum, and mobile settings and concluded that makerspaces are "heavily rooted in and shaped by the community within which they are situated" and that this freedom leads to fluidity and flexibility when designing and establishing a youth makerspace (p. 350). Like a Reggio-inspired classroom, there is no one way to create a makerspace. The communities and members of both Reggio-inspired spaces and makerspaces create something uniquely theirs as students build a relationship with each other and the materials. The role of the teacher/ facilitator in makerspaces is also flexible and open to interpretation, as the constructivist nature of makerspaces does not advocate for a specific method of teaching, but supports a variety of "progressive, child-centered, open-ended, project-based" models that, as with the Reggio Emilia approach, place the learner at the center (Martinez & Stager, 2013). Martinez and Stager (2013) point out that constructivist makerspaces are at odds with the predominant teaching theory of instructionism, or direct instruction, they claim is underlying most educational institutions. They argue that educators in the 21st century will need to 'unlearn' their preference for lecture and testing approaches, that do not encourage critical thinking and creativity, and embrace an approach that situates teachers as "ethnographers, documentarians, studio managers and wise leaders" (p. 76). Although much literature is available that supports this outlook, there is little evidence-based research on the educational approaches used in these institutions or on its effectiveness.
Making as a way to learn
As making in a school setting is a relatively new phenomenon, research is just beginning to be published on the benefits of makerspaces in the learning process. The few research studies that have been done (Sheridan, Halverson, Brahms, Priebe, Owens, 2015; Halverson & Sheridan, 2013) focus on the engagement, innovation and relationship building aspects of the movement. Sheridan et al. (2015) conducted a comparative case study looking at the learning opportunities provided in three makerspaces in community settings and, despite differences in location and participants, found unifying characteristics that created a making 'ethos.' All three spaces were found to fuel engagement and innovation, have a marked diversity of learning arrangements and have a focus on the learning process rather than the product. The researchers found educational value in the makers finding problems and projects to work on; iterating through designing and problem solving; collaborating as members of a community; taking on leadership and teaching roles; and sharing inventions and new skills with a wider world (Sheridan et al., 2014). Bevan et al. (2014) also documented dimensions of learning in a museum makerspace and concluded that tinkering and making are potentially powerful contexts for learning but although they are rooted and supported in pedagogical theory, tinkering and making often challenge traditional ideas of what good learning looks like as it is often messier and noisier than traditional passive learning. Martin (2015) further adds to the discourse on the educational benefits of makerspaces and concludes that “bringing making into school settings has the potential to bring the creative, playful, engineering- and design- relevant learning activities of making to a wider and more diverse audience than ever before..[to the] benefit [of] both the Maker Movement and to the schools and classrooms that embrace making” (p. 37).
Importance of the learning environment and materials
One of the most discussed and readily identifiable features of the Maker Movement is the celebration and emphasis placed on the use of a wide variety of materials and digital tools. Three-dimensional (3D) printers, laser cutters, and other computer controlled tools figure predominantly in community maker settings while educational makerspaces often focus on student interest and smaller scale computing such as lego robotics, Makey Makeys, Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s. Although, as new technologies come down in price and become more readily available they (3D printers in particular) are showing up in many educational makerspaces. As with Reggio Emilia inspired spaces, many makerspaces also include textiles, reclaimed and recycled materials, lego, and outdated or damaged hardware that can be deconstructed. According to Martin (2015), makerspace learning environments give youth substantial say in what and how they make and this free choice “can soften deficit based views of youth that emphasize what they cannot do rather than their competencies” (p. 35). By giving students autonomy and control over their learning and tools, Martin’s research concludes that students are more motivated, engaged, and demonstrate increased levels of persistence and resourcefulness (Martin, 2015). While tools are an important aspect of making, Martin (2015) warns that tool-centric approaches to integrating making into education will fail if the elements of community and mindset are not also present. Just as the environment is seen as an important, but not stand alone, piece of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, creating a meaningful learning environment in a makerspace is about much more than just providing materials.
The role of documentation in makerspaces is a largely unresearched and unexplored area that bears consideration. As maker culture grows in educational settings it makes sense that educators will need to have some way to make visible the learning that they see occurring during maker activities in order to justify inclusion into the regular curriculum. This is an area that could benefit from a melding with the Reggio Emilia approach with its history of insightful pedagogical documentation. Currently, makers share their ideas and experiences informally through conversations, YouTube channels, web sites and at local and national maker events. Sheridan et al. (2015) describe how skills and knowledge are treated as tools that allow makers to build on each other's ideas, and access new communities and learning opportunities. Martinez and Stager (2013) recommend the use of digital cameras or video cameras as ways to record the story of a makerspace project and state that documentation, such as that used in Reggio Emilia-inspired programs, should be used as much more than simply a grading tool but as a way to “make private thinking public or invisible thinking visible” (p. 162). Documentation of project work can serve as a way to inform teaching practice, commemorate significant moments, communicate learner activities to a wider community and invite others to engage (Martinez & Stager, 2013). While documenting learning is an important educational component, Sheridan et al. (2014) warn that although it might be easier to design, teach, and study making in a more 'constrained' or defined manner involving specific making activities, the learning that they observed in their study went far beyond a checklist or rubric. They noted that to truly understand the learning benefits of a makerspace one needs to consider and create a feeling of self-empowerment, a strong supportive community and a sense of identity as a maker. Educators who try to document projects in a step by step manner, without considering these aspects, will be missing the crucial constructivist underpinnings of the maker movement. The tension felt between traditional testing methods and student initiated learning experiences could become an obstacle to the implementation of makerspaces and will be an important area for future study.
Both the Reggio Emilia approach and the maker movement seem uniquely positioned to address the transformation that is occurring in education today. The changing flow of information, from individual, wise elders to global knowledge databanks and the ubiquitous use of digital devices able to access that information, have resulted in a change in the learning profile of students entering school. People of all ages have made technological devices part of their day to day world and have filled their homes with a variety of gadgets that did not exist a few years ago. Many children of today grow up with an unparalleled access to media and now come to school with a learner profile that is unique to their generation and with a different set of literacy skills than did previous generations (Alper, 2011). Twenty-first century learners are digital natives who have grown up immersed in technology and, more than ever, they are globally aware, creative and innovative as they take on a new role in this knowledge age. They are not only consumers but also creators and distributors of media, tools, and technology (Alper, 2011). Just as teachers need to adjust to a new role regarding information-keeping so do they need to adjust their perception of their students and their needs.