An educator’s guide to trying maker ed learning

By Ron Bethke, eCampus News Assistant Editor, @eCN_RonB
September 23rd, 2015

With maker education, educators need to emphasize a student’s independent learning; bolster applied theories through invention.

maker-education-learningGive practical context, allow for failure, and for heaven’s sake, get out of the way!

These were just some of the main takeaways in a recent edWeb webinar, “Re-inventing the Wheel: A Fresh Look at Maker Ed.” Presenter Steve Kurti, CEO and Chief Maker for Table Top Inventing, provided tips on this increasingly popular movement to help faculty gain a better understanding of the maker education concept, as well as present the best strategies for helping students to become “makers.”

A Brief History

Many of the ideas behind the maker movement stem from the master-apprentice system that began in the later middle ages, where mentors would help their apprentices to master a craft in return for labor. This system largely evolved into today’s technical and vocational colleges.

However, unlike vocational schools, mainstream education has veered away from personalized instruction and a focus on the creation of a final project to demonstrate mastery in favor of teaching all students more general knowledge.

The maker movement, in contrast, explained Kurti, is all about a return toward helping students develop the skills that are most suited to their interests, with a focus on hands-on learning and bolstering creativity.

A move back towards these principles, said Kurti, makes sense in an era where information is readily available to anyone through services like Google, Wikipedia, and social media. With the advent of the internet, actual application of information becomes the most important thing, even before retention.

A Brain Playground

According to Kurti, when students are able to solve problems that they can contextualize and care about, they are able to take charge of their own education and continually engage in independent learning.

Kurti gave the example of building puzzles: certain puzzles have greater external meaning than others based on the level of satisfaction from the end result. Similarly, it is important for educators to always strive to show their students the greater meaning in a given lesson, such as why it is interesting or how it can help other people or the community as a whole.

This really helps to inspire students and allows them to more personally engage with material–a lesson that applies not only to maker ed, but course learning in general, said Kurti.

No time has it been better for educators to exemplify the meaning of a lesson than now, he elaborated, thanks to new innovations such as 3D printing. Instructors are able to present math, engineering and science concepts to students who are then able to apply what they have learned into physical applications.

“Inventing is a playground for unscripted mental processing,” said Kurti. “It’s hard to quantify, but crucial to the development of synthesizing and creativity skills.”

Moreover, the process of inventing highlights what Kurti thinks needs to be changed in the culture of education; namely, that failure is not terminal.

Instead, students should be taught that successes are just steps towards a goal, while failures are merely insufficient progress towards that goal but still indicative of commitment. Rather than giving up after a failure, Kurti argued, students should merely adopt a mindset of, “it didn’t work…yet.”

3 Steps to Effective Maker Ed

There are three major steps that supercharge maker-inspired independent learning, noted Kurti:

1.Create an environment for exploration. Doing this means not only teaching students that their failures are not terminal, but, as instructors, say yes to pretty much any idea a student has with as few exceptions as possible. Just helping students to get going when they have an idea and encouraging them can often mean a lot to them. Kurti also mentioned how important and helpful it can be to reach out to experts in the community in order to assist in the learning process, allowing for instructors to directly highlight the marketable skills that  industry leaders are looking for.

2.Give students the tools they need to succeed. Kurti argued that in his experience, students often step up to a challenge when they are given the tools to succeed. Though maker spaces can often get messy, providing tools within an organized system goes a long way.

3.Get out of the way. Though it can be hard to simply sit back and watch students go about a project in their own way, it is important to simply let students explore whichever methods and ideas they are most interested in. Educators should strive not to force pre-planned learning progression, and shouldn’t adhere toward one way of doing something too rigidly.

“The endgame of maker education is inspiring independent learning,” Kurti concluded. “And the best way for students to discover the learning process for themselves is through inventing and making things.”

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