Monday, February 08, 2016

Makerspace Lessons

I’m quite taken with the concept of “makerspaces” on college campuses.  As I understand them, they’re dedicated areas open to members of a given community, with lots of both high-tech and low-tech tools and materials.  I think of them as piles of oily rags, waiting for the sparks that students or faculty could provide.  Except for the fire hazard, of course.

As a concept, makerspaces provide an enticing blend of project-based learning, open exploration, labwork, and even entrepreneurship.  They’re the well-equipped garages in which ideas are born, except that they’re open to people who can’t afford garages.  They can be the playgrounds in which tinkering leads to both skill development and actual ideas.

In my college days, the closest thing I had to a makerspace was the radio station.  Once I discovered the joys of audio editing, I had a blast putting together ridiculous show intros.  (My fave was the one for the community affairs show.  It opened with a piercing scream, followed by a voiceover saying “No need to be afraid. It’s only the community affairs show…” over “Baroque and Blue,” a bouncy little instrumental.  I like to think it told a story…)  But a makerspace could allow for far more than just low-end media production.  It could allow for prototyping, sculpture, and all sorts of stuff.  For example, this piece features a great discussion of the makerspace at the College of San Mateo, where it apparently serves as a proving ground for STEAM.

But it can’t be that easy.

The article mentions that it’s hard to assess the outcomes of a makerspace in the same way that you could of, say, a class.  That’s probably true, though gate counts could at least tell you something.  If the makerspace sits empty most of the time, it probably isn’t accomplishing much.  But I suspect that the assessment nut can be cracked.  I’m more worried about unknown unknowns.

This is where I’m hoping some wise and worldly readers can offer the benefit of experience.

When it comes to makerspaces, what’s the catch?  Alternately, what’s the easy-trap-to-fall-into-if-you-don’t-look-out?  What’s the unknown unknown that only become painfully clear when it became concrete?