Saashya Rodrigo is inspired by the sheer genius of the learning-creativity nexus

e-tlc-nov16The regimented uniformity of teaching and testing is slowly but surely making its way towards the back of the classroom. As fresher, newer approaches to learning are introduced to curricula, students are responding exceptionally well to the concept of ‘makerspaces.’

In an effort to celebrate and promote the amalgamation of learning and creative production, makerspaces provide students with a physical space to explore, experiment and create. This setting is equipped with digital and non-digital tools, as well as raw materials that enable participants of the makerspace community to learn, problem-solve and express themselves by adopting a do-it-yourself approach.

While makerspaces emphasise the freedom of student-led hands-on learning, the concept gained popularity largely due to the education field’s growing emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics).

Also referred to as a ‘hackerspace,’ makerspace made its debut in a non-academic setting. It began its journey in the workplace – more specifically, in those tied to science, technology, engineering and design. This community-operated work space offered employees the opportunity to collaborate, experiment and brainstorm in an informal setting.

The phenomenon proved to be a massive success for companies, for many reasons. It provided employees with an opportunity to partake in ‘collaborative play,’ taking us back to our innate desire to learn through hands-on experiences and interact with the environment. It broke away from the monotony and blandness of the traditional workplace, to reconnect us with what was once considered the most traditional approach to creating and learning.

As civilisation advanced and became more complex, industrialisation – in many ways – became our greatest weakness. It caused us to lose touch with our basic instincts, and become mass-produced sheep, aimlessly succumbing to the monotony of a black-and-white world. Our ability to work in naturalistic, experiential and hands-on settings soon became an unnatural phenomenon, thus numbing our innate ability to use and expand our knowledge to our fullest potential.

Over time, this mass produced industrial approach became noticeably toxic to our civilisation, and our advancement as a species. Although we were progressing in many ways, we were also killing our intrinsic ability to think and act in ways that far exceeded any other mammal.

While the world around us may have been evolving, we were experiencing a regression as a species. Workplaces became bland, eroding productivity and the quality of work. In the meantime, learning became a chore, reducing the quality of learning. And the joy of living became stale.

This is why makerspaces are important. While it may appear to be a new concept, in reality, the makerspace is a revival of what was once a major part of how our society functioned and progressed. With its success proven in the workplace, the Makers Society introduced the concept to the classroom.

A case study published in the Harvard Review explored three makerspaces. Each space had different participants: adults, youth and families with children. And each makerspace had different electronics and raw materials that coincided with their age and subject-specific projects.

While the learning focus and duration of projects varied greatly among the three different makerspaces, researchers found that, despite these differences, the makerspaces shared the common goal of “working within a given design, to explore possibilities and extend capabilities.”

The success of makerspaces is causing the concept to grow rapidly. Director of National Programs and Site Development of the National Writing Project Elyse Eidman-Aadahl states that makerspaces feature “low barriers to content access, and high ceilings of opportunity and achievement.”

One of its earliest academic-based success stories was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Neil Gershenfeld, the mastermind behind MIT’s Fab Lab, created a space for participants to gather and use digital equipment and tools to design products. It wasn’t long before MIT’s Fab Lab created its own collaborative culture of ‘makers.’ Its success caused Fab Labs to become an international phenomenon, with each sharing the common minimum equipment requirement and mission.

It is not surprising, then, that makerspaces are now a vital component of many classrooms in the US. They’re even beginning to emerge in community centres, libraries and museums. Building a community of makers enables participants to appreciate and extract the vast benefits of collaboration. It also allows participants to learn how to use diverse tools, materials and processes creatively, to solve a problem or reach a goal.

Makerspaces have proven to be a success across age groups, making it a necessary addition to classrooms around the world – regardless of grade – as they can be easily incorporated into even a prescribed curriculum.