A Space to Create

Creativity, Education, MSU MAET

Hackerspaces, such as i3Detroit, are community-driven places that not only foster creativity, but also the related ability to innovate. In a previous class, I explored the relationship between creativity and innovation as seen in the graphic below. Two needed ingredients for innovation stood out to me when considering this space: resources and culture.

The initial appeal of these spaces is simply the space and tools available, both valuable resources. I joined while still living in an apartment, so some projects were simply not possible without a larger area to work within. i3Detroit is housed in a converted warehouse, with different zones such as the woodshop, electronics, welding, crafts, 3D printing and computing workplaces. Each zone is set up so that there is space for several people can collaborate and keep project materials within the area until the project is complete. For creativity to flow, barriers need to be removed, just educators try to do for their students. Tools such as laser cutter and 3D printers opened up new methods to complete projects and required developing new skills, such as becoming familiar with CAD software. The wealth of experiences that can be gained allows for new connections to be made.

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The greater advantage of a makerspace is the varied expertise and shared attitudes found in members. While i3Detroit has over 150 members, they typically only join for a few years, then move on. It is the interests of the current member base that determines what zones are included and what projects are proposed. This naturally prevents stagnation, the anathema to innovation. Each member brings a different background: many are software developers or engineers, but others come with an art or teaching background. i3Detroit acts as an “affinity space” (Gee, 2013), where people with similar interests come together. Rather than being focused around a particular topic, its the desire to create that unites them. Members also freely share information, a key aspect of the maker movement. If a member is interested in a particular topic, informal learning sessions can take place or formal special interest groups setup. Most of all, it is meant to a restriction free zone, led and shaped by its members.

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In A Room of Their Own, the authors make the case for an educational environment shaped by those that use it, much like a community makerspace, rather than using a top-down design approach. The space would ideally be adaptable to a variety of requirements depending on the format of learning; if the room is not fulfilling the needs of the instructors or learners, then the inhabitants can modify it to remove barriers of learning. As architect Christopher Alexander described, “the natural interactions within the living environments ought to shape its architectural structure” (Mishra, Cain, Sawaya, Henriksen & the Deep-Play Research Group, 2013, p.6).

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As learning becomes more student-driven, decentralized, and increasingly blended, the implication is that students, even more than instructors, will lead the way in shaping their learning spaces. Even as MAET students are designing their ideal classroom, we must be prepared to change them based on the needs of their class, which can change from year to year (or day to day). In hybrid learning, the online space needs to be treated as another virtual environment, to be shuffled around just as if moving furniture in a room.

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In my work as an outreach educator, I visit hundreds of classrooms, often science labs and art rooms, no two of which are the same. Nor do we know the unique nature of the learners.  Flexibility is necessary in this context. I must be constantly “observing users, learning from them, and incorporating their natural interactions.” (Mishra et al., 2013, p.9) While we prepare our kits of materials with the idea that students will work in small face-to-face groups, we should be ready to change the format as our audience finds what works best for them. As we increasingly place materials online, I need to also take time to consider how we would like these remote users to interact with us as well as potentially other students we serve.

References

Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Macmillan.

Mishra, P., Cain, W., Sawaya, S., Henriksen, D. & the Deep-Play Research Group (2013). A room of their own. Tech Trends, 57(4), p. 5-9.

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