UMS Faculty Focus Blog

UMS Faculty Focus

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What’s a makerspace and is it really a new idea? (by Theresa Overall)

What’s a makerspace and is it really a new idea?

Experiential Education (Dewey, 1938) is "a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people's capacity to contribute to their communities" according to the Association for Experiential Education. Since Dewey’s time, many philosophies, learning theories, and methodologies have emerged that fall under the umbrella of Experiential Education.

Grounded in constructivism (Piaget, 1977), Semour Papert envisioned constructionism as a collaborative effort to construct knowledge in a MicroWorld (1981). He describes it as "hard fun” when students participate in project-based learning—when they are active in making tangible objects in the real world. Constructionism advocates student-centered, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge. Students learn by participating in project-based learning facilitated by the teacher who coaches more than directs. Students make connections and gain new knowledge, typically through reflection on their experience. Projects have 2 essential components: a driving question or problem and activities that result in one or more artifacts (Blumenfeld et al., 1991).

With the advent of technology in the classroom, there has been potential for an increase in experiential education. Shannon Doak describes emerging learning theories that support the use of technology to create more authentic learning environments. The first is Myers and Wilson’s (2000) Situated Cognition, which supports the idea that learning occurs when situated within a specific context--learning takes place in a learning community or community of practice, in which the learners take an active role.  Situated Cognition involves a process of interaction between the learners within the community, the tools available within the specific situation and the physical world. New knowledge is built as the learners participate and interact in the situation. The second emerging theory is Distributed Cognition in which the student is afforded more power. It is a student-centered approach to learning where the learners participate in a systematically designed learning environment that supports interaction among its participants (Bell & Winn, 2000).

Growing in recent popularity is the concept of makerspace, a place for creating, learning, and exploring; a makerspace is filled with a variety of tools and materials from 3-D printers to scissors and glue, from scrap pieces of cardboard to electronic components. Makerspaces tend to focus on the state of mind and the process of “making” more than the tools and materials themselves (, 2015). Makerspaces themselves have great potential for creating an appropriate environment for Experiential Education. The New Media Consortium’s 2016 Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition has identified makerspaces as an important development educational technology for higher education (Johnson,, 2016)

Many movements, fads, curricula, products, and theories have come and gone (and some have stayed) that are rooted in Dewey’s Experiential Education. This research project proposes to look at current and trending applications of Experiential Education in both K-12 and university settings in two diverse geographic locations with different cultural backgrounds.

Do you have a makerspace on your campus? How are students using it? How do you capture the social constructionism/constructivism for students who don’t have access to your physical makerspace?

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Karen Miller
What an interesting project!
I teach Folklore classes at UM, Orono. They are hybrid classes. By virtue of my subject, the makerspace, situated cognition, and distributed cognition theories all seem to intersect! Folklore is the study of the way groups of people in cultures express themselves. So jokes, proverbs, legends, songs, myths, folktales, art, food, etc. are all material we look at. How we learn, from these genres, are situated in specific contexts, are created out of specific material and objects at hand in any given place, and is directed, made and distributed by the creator and the consumer of the genre. My question is then how to create a "classroom" that will work together, empowering each other, sharing with and teaching each other, in other words, creating a "makerspace" online?
Posted on 4/6/18 1:31 PM.