As a research company that prides itself on staying up to date on the latest advances in both business and education, we set out this week to explore an educational movement that is revolutionizing the way educators and innovators practice and create. In an article claiming that makers are reinventing the education landscape, Newsweek states that the movement is “a global community of inventors, designers, engineers, artists, programmers, hackers, tinkerers, craftsmen and DIY’ers.” In so-called “makerspaces” these practitioners focus on encouraging communal, cross-disciplinary collaboration, experimentation, and innovation to promote creative learning.
As makerspaces are appearing both in the business and education world, from tech companies and the gaming industry, to colleges and high schools around the country, we need to best understand the impact they are making on the production of ideas and technology. The rapid growth of the maker movement, roughly five to six years old, can be directly tied to the significant advancement of new media and technology. As the materials and equipment used to make tech advances such as 3D printers, 360 degree cameras, and virtual reality simulators become increasingly more accessible and affordable, they have become a facet in most education based makerspaces.
Though the movement is not tied solely to higher education, Will Hinson, who works in Mobile Technology for the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Teaching and Learning, collaborates with colleagues from Engineering and Biomedical Sciences to Classics and Studio Arts to incorporate 3D printing and develop makerspaces. Within these spaces students can use a range of tools, from low to high tech, to produce classwork through gaining a range of new skills. Hinson contends that learning and sharing new skills, first through formal and informal training, and then through fostering an environment of experimentation, is a fundamental and necessary aspect of makerspaces. Particularly within higher education, the goal of makerspaces is to democratize new skills and technology and make students better able to transfer these skills into the workforce.
Though makerspaces are more likely to appear in traditional STEM environments, the growing accessibility and affordability of these new technologies means that more schools and departments can implement them into their course development and research design. So how successful are these makerspaces in producing innovative advancements across disciplines? Many makerspaces around the country provide resources to help people develop their ideas into a successful business. In many ways, we can view these innovative spaces as labs for start-up businesses.
Yet, as the demand for these technologies and spaces continues to grow, we lack hard data on their measurable impact in both education and business. From this vantage point it is difficult to ascertain how makerspaces and the maker movement directly translate to production. However, as makerspaces sweep the nation, from local libraries and community centers to world renowned universities, we think the prospects are exciting and the possibilities endless.
For more information on the maker movement and makerspaces (including inspiring success stories):