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Drexel's ExCITe Center releases first national study of K-12 education makerspaces

Report reveals troubling lack of attention to combating gender bias amidst encouraging signs for building a 'maker-mindset' and benefits to non-traditional students.

Drexel University

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IMAGE: Drexel University's ExCITe Center released Making Culture, the first in-depth examination of K-12 education makerspaces nationwide, revealing the significance of cultural aspects of making that enable learning. The research highlights... view more 

Credit: ExCITe Center, Drexel University

Drexel University's ExCITe Center released Making Culture, the first in-depth examination of K-12 education makerspaces nationwide, revealing the significance of cultural aspects of making that enable learning. The research highlights how makerspaces foster a range of positive student learning outcomes, but also reflect some of the gaps in inclusion common in the STEM fields. The ExCITe Center is sharing its findings as part of National Maker Week to increase awareness of the importance of culture in makerspace design and sustainability.

"The majority of public discussion regarding makerspaces to date has focused on particular projects, skills and equipment, as opposed to collaboration, student agency, and broadening participation, which ultimately have a greater impact on learning and life outcomes. They form the foundation of a program, and neglecting these cultural elements may have unintended consequences, such as excluding young women and other groups underrepresented in science and technology" said ExCITe Center Director Youngmoo Kim, PhD, a co-author of the study. "To develop the next generation of innovators, makerspaces must be welcoming and inclusive to all students".

The report was co-authored with Drexel School of Education researchers Kareem Edouard, PhD, Katelyn Alderfer, and Professor Brian Smith, PhD.

Making Culture, part of the ExCITe Center's Learning Innovation initiative, is the product of a year-long investigation visiting 30 K-12 education makerspaces across 12 metropolitan regions. Through in-depth interviews with students, instructors, and leadership alongside observation and study of each space and its programs, the researchers found encouraging indicators for increased student engagement with learning through makerspace participation and development of a "maker mindset" (creation, iteration, agency and collaboration) through a range of different projects, curricula, and practices.

The study also revealed troubling inclusivity indicators, particularly regarding gender. Student participation rates change dramatically from K-8 (nearly equal participation by gender) to high school (male students outnumber females by a factor of 3), and program leaders and instructors remain predominantly male. Language analysis also revealed evidence of implicit (likely unintentional) gender bias, in instruction and recruitment.

"The implicit bias revealed in Making Culture confirms for the education community that access to makerspaces is not enough to meet our goals of equity and inclusion. More work must be done to support diverse and broad participation." said Kareem Edouard, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow at the ExCITe Center and a co-author of the report.

Among the recommendations the ExCITe Center made as a result of the report were:

  • The culture of a makerspace has a direct impact on student learning. Rather than choosing equipment or specific projects, designers of new makerspaces should first consider the kind of learning culture they seek to create for their students.

  • Makerspace participation can positively impact a broad range of students, including English Language Learners. But school leaders must be mindful to recruit inclusively, for both for instructors and students.

  • Within school makerspaces, hosting unstructured open hours (outside of class time) encourages greater exploration, positive risk-taking, and collaboration for a wider range of students.

  • Students frequently use skills learned in makerspaces to improve other aspects of the school and local community, such as student government activities, classroom maintenance and sports facilities.

"The Making Culture report on education makerspaces is a fantastic resource for everyone grappling with the potentiality of changing how education is occurring and students are making sense of their world with authentic work. Not only does it identify potential 'rocks' in the stream it provides suggestions for thoughtful integration of this K-12 concept. Truly a useful guide for educational practitioners and leaders." said David Baugh, PhD, superintendent of the Centennial School District (Pennsylvania).

The full report, available at this link, includes specific recommendations for those considering or planning an education makerspace and how to create a supportive culture from the outset.

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About the ExCITe Center at Drexel University

The Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center at Drexel University is a unique research institute that explores the intersection of technology, design and entrepreneurship. The Center brings together faculty and students from across the University to enable new opportunities for discovery, disruption and innovation through collaboration, while fostering creativity, curiosity and personal expression. ExCITe is known for its novel projects combining disciplines, such as smart "functional" fabrics, video game displays on skyscrapers, performances with augmented musical instruments, and STEAM education efforts, which further the Center's mission to inspire transdisciplinary research and discovery connecting technology and communities. For more information visit: http://drexel.edu/excite

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