Makerspaces: What are they?
“Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a Makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: making.”
“What is a makerspace?”
This is a question I encounter frequently and it’s not always easy to define. Here’s why: each makerspace is uniquely designed to meet the needs and interests of the community that created it. Another reason for the difficulty with defining makerspaces is that they are found in such diverse environments. For example, there are community makerspaces established in warehouses, garages, churches or community centres. There are museum makerspaces, hospital makerspaces, as well as makerspaces located in public, academic and school libraries. Each one has its own unique environment, atmosphere, clientele and purpose.
However, in spite of these differences, research has shown that even diverse makerspaces share unifying themes. In a comparative case study of three unique makerspaces by Sheridan et al. (2014), the authors found that in spite of the distinct nature of these spaces, they “share an ethos that allows us to categorize them as the same kind of a space” (p. 526). Among the key themes that emerged from their study, Sheridan et al. (2014) identified the following key makerspace features as being shared by all of the spaces they studied:
- Makerspaces are multidisciplinary in both approach and in the products created and this “multidisciplinarity fuels engagement and innovation” (p. 526).
- Makerspaces are a blend of both formal learning environments and “informal communities of practice” (p. 526). This hybrid learning arrangement “includes many of the ways of seeing, valuing and thinking, and doing found in participatory cultures, yet incorporates pedagogical structures found in more formal, studio-based settings” (p. 527).
- The nature of learning in makerspaces is “deeply embedded in the experience of making. These spaces value the process involved in making – in tinkering, in figuring things out, in playing with materials and tools” (p. 528).
This video explains the nature of an educational makerspace from both an educator’s and students’ perspectives.
This video from the New Media Consortium (NMC), an international community of experts in educational technology, provides in indepth look at what Makerspaces are and what value and importance they have for teaching and learning.
In order to gain clarity and develop a fuller picture of the nature and function of makerspaces, it’s useful to examine a variety of makerspace definitions and related terms. What follows is a series of definitions that I have gleaned from my readings on makerspaces and participatory learning in libraries.
As my research is focused on makerspaces in school libraries, one of the best and most thorough descriptions of an educational makerspace is from Loertscher, Preddy and Derry (2013), authors who represent the various fields of librarianship:
“A Makerspace is an evolutionary step in library facilities’ design and programming. It is a destination for thinking, learning, doing, creating, producing, and sharing; a space that takes advantage of multiple learning styles. It is a place to reinvent old ideas with new conceptual frameworks, utilize advancements in thinking and doing, and investigate and construct a hybrid of fine arts, sciences, crafts, industrial technologies, foods, inventions, textiles, hobbies, service learning, digital media, upcycling, STEM/ STEAM, and DIY (do it yourself) and DIT (do it together) concepts. In this space, which can be physical and/or virtual, the intersection of formal and informal learning can include designing, playing, tinkering, collaborating, inquiring, mentoring, experimenting, problem solving, and inventing. Through actively engaging in the Makerspace, patrons take command of their own learning, with the potential for demonstrating entrepreneurial behavior. Through the development of a Makerspace, the library can expand and extend connections to community and learning organizations, businesses, families, and mentors throughout the world. These connections can provide teachers, partnerships, sponsors, donors, and volunteers. Every library Makerspace is unique and always in transition. A Makerspace has the potential to transform a patron from a consumer to a creator.” (Loertscher, D., Preddy, L., Derry, B.,2013, p.48).
Laura Fleming, author of Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School, and one of the pioneers of a high school library makerspace, defines the concept in this manner:
Fleming further explains the function and purpose of the school library makerspace:
Sheridan et al. (2014), who studied an adult makerspace, an all-ages community makerspace, and a children’s museum makerspace defined such spaces in the following manner:
John J. Burke, principal librarian and director of the Gardner-Harvey Library of Miami University of Ohio, describes Makerspaces, hackerspaces, or fab labs in the following manner:
Leslie B. Preddy is a school librarian and author of the book, School Library Makerspaces, Grades 6-12. Preddy defines school library makerspaces in the following manner:
Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, authors of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom share their definition of a makerspace in their book:
Heather Michele Moorefield-Lang, Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina in the School of Library and Information Science, defines makerspaces in the following manner:
Chris Anderson, author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution and editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, shares how the maker movement is influencing education, explaining how this influence is currently manifesting in schools. His definition explains another purpose for makerspaces in educational communities:
Anderson, C. (2012). Makers: The new industrial revolution. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart
Burke, J. J. (2014). Makerspaces: a practical guide for librarians (Vol. 8). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Fleming, L. (2015). Worlds of making: Best practices for establishing a makerspace for your school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
GcaaVideos. (2013, August 31). What is a Makerspace? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NUjR9l6vyE
Hlubinka, M., Dougherty, D., Thomas, P., Chang, S., Hoefer, S., Alexander, I. & McGuire, D. (2013). Makerspace playbook: school edition. Retrieved from:http://makered.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Makerspace-Playbook-Feb 2013.pdf
Loertscher, D. V., Preddy, L., & Derry, B. (2013). Makerspaces in the school library learning commons and the uTEC maker model. Teacher Librarian, 41(2), 48-51.
Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing modern knowledge press.
Moorefield-Lang, H. M. (2015). User agreements and makerspaces: A content analysis. New Library World, 116(7), 358-368. doi:10.1108/NLW-12-2014-0144
Preddy, Leslie B., (2013). School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Sheridan, K., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B., Brahms, L., Jacobs-Priebe, L., & Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505-531.doi:10.17763/haer.84.4.brr34733723j648u