A 3-part guide to successful maker spaces

Cohesion between purpose, people, and parts & pieces are key to a successful maker program say experts.

A recent panel hosted by The New Media Consortium detailed a framework for designing maker spaces and maker programs, allocating resources, and supporting making as a quality learning experience.

Learners as Creators” was the latest webinar in the NMC Beyond the Horizon series, and featured insight from panelists Tim Carrigan of the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) and Peter Wardrip from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

The webinar comes at an opportune time, as maker spaces and the maker movement are increasingly emerging in college and universities over the past few years (e.g. MIT’s maker admissions, these collegiate maker labs across the country). The maker movement has provided an important outlet for students to bring their ideas to life through actions like modeling, prototyping and creating using a range of technologies and tools, such as 3D printing.

However, important questions have risen about how to best facilitate these activities through professional development, their evaluation and sustainability, and differences in institutional philosophies on making. As a result, Carrigan and Wardrip focused heavily on presenting promising practices and opportunities, as well as detailing challenges.

“We’ve developed this framework by doing mini case studies around the country,” said Carrigan. “We’re really hoping these resources and continued professional development will be useful to all practices, new or old.”

(Next page: Important tips for makers)

“Many programs don’t always have the luxury of having a dedicated maker space,” explained Wardrip, “so when we say ‘space,’ it also means program, or whatever space is available. But what are the key factors one needs to consider when developing?”

A Model for All

The framework for supporting learning in library and museum maker spaces, which both experts agreed can be applied to any learning-centered maker program, was developed with the help of 75 library and museum professionals. It is focused around three central areas that should all work together cohesively: purpose, people, and pieces & parts.

Purpose is all about creating a clear intention in the formation of a maker space or program. A program must define goals, identify an audience, and consider what the desired learning outcomes or successes would look like. Engaging experiences that put learning at the center and allow participants to get hands-on with their interests must be a focus for every program.

“Maker spaces can become hotbeds of entrepreneurial action and help participants foster many new skills,” said Carrigan.

People obviously play a vital role in any maker space. A program needs to define the roles that people will serve, develop a staffing structure, and decide upon a model of facilitation. The framework also advises programs to use their maker spaces to transform themselves into key community anchors.

Finally, pieces and parts are needed for any creation to take place in a maker space. Programs must decide what tools and materials are important, what physical architecture is vital, and what role digital technology is going to play.

“We saw in many spaces that a very thoughtful connection between tools and materials and the mission of a maker space created a cohesive experience,” said Wardrip. “They don’t need to be the most expensive tools. The places with all three factors have an identity of who they are and what they’re about.”

Even amidst continual innovation across the country and world, the panelists believe the framework could be of help to any maker space. They have been striving to share the framework through an upcoming e-publication featuring numerous case studies, providing advice along with tools and resources, and hosting workshops and MOOCs to help as many maker programs as possible.

“I think the biggest challenges we’ve seen in getting started is focusing on the potential bigness of a maker space or program,” said Wardrip. “The key is just to get started.”

“Often times, there’s this notion that if we don’t have a space, we can’t be makers,” added Carrigan. “Space sorts itself out over time once you have the buy in from patrons and visitors that this is something they want to be doing. Sometimes we’re really quick to want to buy a bunch of really expensive equipment like 3D printers or laser printers. But you have to consider potential and limitations. Just start making.”

Finally, the webinar concluded with the panelists sharing some of their favorite maker resources:

“Vermont Libraries as Makerspaces” on Google Groups

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