Library as Makerspace

Makerspaces are frequently found in libraries. A makerspace is a place where people come together to design and build projects. Makerspaces typically provide access to materials, tools, and technologies that individuals probably don’t own (such as a 3D printer and scanner) and allow for hands-on exploration and participatory learning. They are also known as fablabs (as in fabrication), hackerspaces (but don’t think only of computer code) or tech shops.

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement goes back a lot further – maybe centuries back. Your grandparents were probably DIY’ers out of necessity. But makerspaces strive to be more than workshops with tools.And libraries have evolved to be more than just collections of books. Libraries as community centers for people to gather and work together makes them a natural place for makerspaces. Those spaces are being reconfigured around broader learning and research needs and less around the management of a print collection.

As The Makings of Maker Spaces: Space for Creation, Not Just Consumption says “Maker spaces in libraries are the latest step in the evolving debate over what public libraries’ core mission is or should be. From collecting in an era of scarce resources to curation in an era of overabundant ones, some libraries are moving to incorporate co-creation: providing the tools to help patrons produce their own works of art or information and sometimes also collecting the results to share with other members of the ­community.

The maker movement rose out of hacker and DIY cultures and moved into community centers, church basements and libraries. But as the maker movement migrates into higher education, engineering schools have been a natural place for maker spaces, but in the best cases colleges are taking a more multidisciplinary approach. The space can be a meetup for artists, musicians, writers, engineers, architects, entrepreneurs and computer scientists to exchanges ideas.

Makers might be writing and illustrating a e-zine, using an Arduino to program a robot, screenprinting t-shirts, or creating model houses with a 3D printer. Besides offering tools and equipment that are too expensive or specialized for most people to own, these spaces also provide a gathering place for like-minded makers who can mentor and collaborate.

Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

My wife, Lynnette, and I contributed a chapter to the new book, Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future

Our chapter is titled “MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution.”

This chapter introduces the evolution of the MOOC, using narratives that are documented by research generated from the educational community. It concentrates on the history and progression of distance learning and its movement toward online education. The authors’ perspectives focus on their own anecdotal evolution, from traditional classroom teaching, infusing distance and online learning, to designing and teaching in a MOOC setting. In examining whether the MOOC is more of an evolution or a revolution in learning, they explore questions that have emerged about MOOCs including what distinguishes this model from other online offerings, characteristics of learners who succeed in this environment, and debates regarding best practices. Critical reaction and responses by proponents of this learning format are presented and acknowledged. The research, perspectives and debates clearly impact what the future of the MOOC appears to offer. This continues the discussion within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,’ aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.’


Because it is a big (and expensive) book (tell your librarian to order it!), I did a 3-part article about some of the ideas in our chapter on my Serendipty35 blog.

In Part 1, I write about the MOOC as revolution and an evolution.

In Part 2, I cover some of the path Lynnette and I followed in teaching and learning face-to-face, then online and finally in a MOOC environment, which probably parallels many other educators development.

The third part covers the pre-history of the MOOC, which is a backstory that encapsulates how distance education developed into online learning.

Do We Need Learning Engineers?

Do we need learning engineers? Most people would answer that they didn’t even know there was such a job. Currently, I don’t think anyone does have that job (though I could imagine it being on someone’s business card anyway.)

Wikipedia defines engineering as “the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design, build, and maintain structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. It may encompass using insights to conceive, model and scale an appropriate solution to a problem or objective. The discipline of engineering is extremely broad, and encompasses a range of more specialized fields of engineering, each with a more specific emphasis on particular areas of technology and types of application.’

From that I could imagine many teachers, instructional designers and trainers feeling like they might be “learning engineers.”

I have read a few articles that suggest that we consider using the title.

One of those articles is by Bror Saxberg who is chief learning officer at Kaplan Inc. On his blog, he wrote:

The creative educator or instructional designer can and should draw inspiration for tough challenges from everywhere and anywhere, if there isn’t evidence already available to guide him or her. Unlike many challenges faced by an artist or author, however, instructional designers and educators also need to be grounded in how the real world actually works. (Even artists have to battle with the chemistry and material properties of the media they choose, it should be noted – you might want glass to be strong enough to support something in a certain way, but you may have to alter your artistic vision to match the reality.) Simply imagining how learning might work is not enough to build solutions that are effective for learners at scale – whether we like it or not, whether we get it right or not, how learning works in the world is going to affect the outcomes at scale.

A few years back, I heard the term “design thinking” used frequently in education circles. The graduate program I teach in at NJIT is still called Professional and Technical Communications, but “design” has become part of many of the courses.

That is enough of a trend that you can hear others asking if  design thinking is the new liberal arts. One example is the “d.school” at Stanford University (formally, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design)  which considers itself a training ground for problem-solving for graduate students. Rather than stress the typical design path of making products, they look at  design thinking as a way “to equip our students with a methodology for producing reliably innovative results in any field.”

Perhaps, “learning engineer” is more of a way of rethinking how teachers and academics design instruction. Maybe it is another way to look at engineering.

A few years ago, Bill Jerome wrote about the engineering side and said: 

Imagine a more “traditional” engineer hired to design a bridge.  They don’t revisit first principles to design a new bridge.  They don’t investigate gravity, nor do they ignore the lessons learned from previous bridge-building efforts (both the successes and the failures).  They know about many designs and how they apply to the current bridge they’ve been asked to design.  They are drawing upon understandings of many disciplines in order to design the new bridge and, if needed, can identify where the current knowledge  doesn’t account for the problem at hand and know what particular deeper expertise is needed.  They can then inquire about this new problem and incorporate a solution.

I think that there is a place for design thinking in engineering and also an engineering approach to designing instruction.

Design thinking as an approach to problem solving is often described using some basic principles:

  • Show Don’t Tell
  • Focus on Human Values
  • Craft Clarity
  • Embrace Experimentation
  • Be Mindful of Process
  • Bias Toward Action
  • Radical Collaboration

Those could be viewed as five modes that fit easily into engineering and education: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.

Saxberg gives the example of needing someone to design a new biotech brewing facility. Do you want a chemist or a chemical engineer? He says the engineer – someone who “deeply understands modern chemistry… but is also conversant with health regulations, safety regulations, costs of building, and thinks in an integrated way about designing things for scale.”

Do we have “learning engineers” now that understand the research about learning, test it, and apply it to help more students learn more effectively? Are they teaching or are they doing research? Do all teachers need to be learning engineers?

I somewhat fear that if the title becomes used that it will end up leaning heavily towards educational technology. That’s something I see happening to many “teaching and learning” and “teaching excellence” center at colleges.

Technology can help. I have spent the past fifteen years working with that. But there is no guarantee that instructors using technology will somehow be better instructors. We know a lot about how people learn, but most of that isn’t being used by those who teach.

When I started at NJIT in 2000, I was hesitant about telling seasoned instructors “how to teach” (pedagogy). But I was pleasantly surprised by two things. First, the people who came to me or to our workshops were open to learning not only about new technology but about pedagogy. I was also surprised by how many of them were willing to say that no one had ever taught them “how to teach” and that they were always a little unsure about running only on intuition and their personal experiences with learning. “I try to teach like the good teachers I had and avoid being like the bad ones,” was a sentiment I heard fairly frequently.

Having come from teaching in a secondary school where everyone had a split educational background of subject matter expertise and educational pedagogy with continuing professional development in the latter, it took some transitioning for me to settle into the higher education setting.

Being that NJIT is very much an engineering (and design) institution, the idea of learning engineers might have been a good approach to take with that faculty.

The ABD Club

ABD stands for “all but dissertation,” which is a description of a student who has finished coursework and perhaps also passed comprehensive exams, but has yet to complete and defend the doctoral thesis. It is a kind of club, though you don’t really see people putting the ABD bumper sticker on their car.

Last weekend, I wrote about “The Art of Procrastination” and rethinking what is and isn’t true procrastination. That led me to think about why so many doctoral students, myself included, give up on that degree.

I had read an article by Rebecca Schuman  about the Ph.D. Completion Project. It estimates the ten-year completion rate for the degree. For STEM disciplines, it is 55–64 percent. It’s 56 percent in the social sciences, and 49 percent in the humanities.  So about half of those in these doctoral programs don’t make it after a decade of working at it. Some of those people don’t even make it all the way to the dissertation phase. I am in that particular club.

David D. Perlmutter wrote a series that focused on the “getting it done” aspects of the document accepts that there may be factors beyond your control but pushes the completion agenda.

The Ph.D. Completion Project graphs start leveling out around year 8 and since the dissertation begins in Year 3 or 4), we can assume a lot of these folks are into the dissertation phase before they bail out.


ABDs live in an odd parallel universe of academia. They clock up years of research and tuition bills, but come away with nothing to show but three scarlet letters they can wear.

Some of them can get teaching jobs at 2-year colleges, or with some impressive job experiences or big publications might get a position (non-tenure, probably) at a 4-year school.  It has been suggested that a new kind of degree between an M.A. and a doctorate might be offered — an “MFA” in other areas.

I attended a party for a friend last summer who has finally completed the dissertation and degree. He is in his late 50s. He started late and plowed ahead because he enjoyed learning. He is an adjunct professor at a nearby university and I doubt that he expects to pick up a full-time position at this stage of his life. That’s a good place to be because the odds are against him.

I have written about procrastination on another blog of mine, and it’s not that I don’t get things done. Part of my problem has always been putting too many things on that never-ending “To Do” list.

The things undone on those lists are a constant cause of stress and a sense of failure. I lay a lot of guilt on myself about all the things I do to avoid doing the things I really need to do – like making and drinking a few cups of coffee while staring at the sky on the deck, taking the dirty laundry downstairs, writing a blog post, watering the plants, taking a walk.

But of late, I have been rethinking procrastination, and I’m not the only one doing that. Scientists who study procrastination find that most of us are lousy at weighing costs and benefits across time. For example, we might avoid doctor and dental appointments, exercising, dieting, or saving for retirement. We know they have benefits, but the rewards seem distant and we may even question those benefits. What if that money is not there when I retire? What if we don’t live long enough to retire?

Most of us prefer to do things with short-term and small rewards. The benefits of that coffee break, watering the plants or writing a blog post may be small or even dubious, but we see an immediate result. I like the coffee and it might give me some energy. The plants need me to survive, and I enjoy looking at them, I like completing things, even if it’s a post that take me only an hour to finish. It is finished. Checking things off the To Do list. gives me a wonderful feeling

Friends tell me I am very productive. And some articles I have read say that productive people sometimes are very poor at distinguishing between reasonable delay and true procrastination.
Reasonable delay can be useful. I will respond to the request for information from my colleague tomorrow after I talk to someone about it and gather more information. But true procrastination – not responding to the colleague for no reason, or watering the plants and making coffee just to avoid the inevitable – is self-defeating.

It is a way to rethink blaming yourself. I don’t mean that you’re off the hook. I’m not giving myself a free pass on procrastinating in all cases. I’m rethinking the why of the delay.

Do I regret not finishing that doctorate? the time when it would have benefited me is now past, so I don’t regret it now. I found alternate paths to what I wanted to do and I really did not enjoy the work required to get the degree.

Now if I can just find out when the next meeting of the ABD Club occurs. I have a lot to talk about with that crew.

Makerspaces

Makerspaces (AKA hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs) are creative, do-it-yourself (DIY) spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. A large number of them have been opened in libraries and more recently in public spaces and on campuses. The makerspace may contain 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools that most individuals can’t afford to own but want to learn to use.

I read an EDUCAUSE “7 Things” sheet back in 2013 on makerspaces that had predicted that “As makerspaces have become more common on campuses and have found their place in public libraries and community centers, their influence has spread to other disciplines and may one day be embraced across the curriculum. Eventually makerspaces may become linked from campus to campus, encouraging joint project collaboration.” They even went as far as to say that the work done there “may one day be accepted and reviewed for college credit in lieu of more conventional coursework.”

From my observation, they seem to have made more inroads in K-12 than in colleges. This month, there will be a Makers Day here in New Jersey (March 21 – see http://njmakersday.org) which I will unfortunately miss as I will be at another conference. I’d like to see what people are doing in NJ because I am working on a presentation that involves makerspaces for another conference in May.

The benefits of having a makerspace in an academic setting or available to students offers many opportunities. Providing the space and materials for physical learning works because it can be cross-disciplinary, provide technical help for work they are undertaking. It seems more STEM, STEAM or suited to engineering and technology but if you look at the projects in some of the links below there is a lot that id outside those areas. If you see students work in these spaces, you have to be impressed how students take control of their own learning with projects they define, design and create.

Although I work in higher education, anyone who teaches at any grade level knows that students love hands-on projects. I think that these spaces are a very fertile ground for work that bridges ages – a great place for K-20 work and a way to connect parents and the community to schools.

FIND OUT MORE

http://makerspace.com is probably the world’s largest community of Makers, from Maker Faire and Make: Magazine

Watch Makerspaces in Libraries youtube.com/watch?v=hOqTcQedDrw and an example from the Westport Library  youtube.com/watch?v=nurj3zBlfIg

A list of makerspaces in libraries   http://library-maker-culture.weebly.com/makerspaces-in-libraries.html

Make it at your library   makeitatyourlibrary.org http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/
Makerspaces in K-12 schools   edutopia.org/blog/creating-makerspaces-in-schools

Some of the tech tools and resources used are very sophisticated, such as a 3D Printer http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-printers or an electronic cutter http://cucfablab.org/book/electronic-vinyl-cutters, but they might be much more familiar, such as the Xbox Kinect 3D scanner http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-scan-and-print-yourself-3d or a computerized sewing machine http://www.brother-usa.com/Homesewing