Making: It’s Half Social Club, Half Learning Together

July 11, 2014

“I get the Maker thing now. I didn’t see it before. But getting together mattered. Making things together, it was really powerful.”
~ Zach Cresswell, First year Master’s in Educational Technology student, and Math Teacher
This week, students in the online version of CEP 811: Adapting Innovative Technologies to Education are exploring their maker kits and imagining how they might use them in their own professional practice. Every seven weeks or so, for the past year, our online CEP 811 students have been asked to do this — to purchase and then explore a maker kit, to imagine how they might use said kit, and then to create something of value for their students to do with it. In truth, this has been a big ask. It’s unusual, and quite outside of many educators’ experience and in their end-of-course evaluations, many CEP 811 students have told us that they simply do not see the relevance of the Maker Movement to the work they do in classrooms. They have even told us to remove this work from this course.
And yet, in the face of these criticisms, we have persisted with our Maker curriculum. We believe in the potential of “making” to teach interdisciplinary skills and mindsets in inherently engaging and authentic ways. We know that when students try new things, it is hard. We also know it is the process, not the product so much, that matters most for learning. And because the TPACK framework (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) helps us to think about the interactions of learning, technology and context, we also know that trying to experiment with an entirely new technology in an online course — a learning modality that includes barriers of time, space and interactivity — adds additional layers of complexity to this task. Not surprisingly, what I learned from our E. Lansing Hybrid cohort students this week has helped me to recognize my own pedagogical blindspots where the teaching of “making” is concerned.
Last week, our first year E. Lansing Hybrid Cohort, designed and hosted the first MAET-MSU Libraries Maker Day. The whole MSU community was invited. More than 50 students, faculty members and families with young children attended. The energy in the library was quite literally, electric — participants crafted light-up badges that included a simple circuit; they coded, using Scratch, to make a pinball game; they played music and video games in innovative ways that used the Makey Makey kit, bananas and pipecleaners.
As we debriefed the Maker Faire experience, students’ insights were nothing like the majority opinion expressed by our online students this year, and I began to wonder why. Many of these students also said that they didn’t “get” the whole maker thing before MAET either, but in that moment, after hosting the Maker Faire, every one of them told us that they took away important lessons about collaboration, problem-solving, the thoughtful integration of technologies and curriculum. They noticed how participants came together as strangers but collaborated to do something really cool and fun. They expressed surprise at the intense persistence participants showed, especially in the face of failure. What suprised them most, perhaps, was how much they learned from one another. Zach Zuzula, whose group designed the dueling drums activity, said, “I liked the putting stuff together as a team. We could have kept moving together. Just based on talking to somebody else, we could have come up with millions of ideas if we could keep working together.” Amanda McCarthy echoed Zach’s sentiment, “It was fun because we had doubts and inhibitions, but the process, the joy of coming together — all of a sudden, ideas would come and it was great.”
And that’s just it, isn’t it? We know that learning happens when we share our thoughts, when we talk to others, when we get feedback and revise our thinking based on others’ responses. We also know how important it is to collaborate as novices, when we’re testing our limits and exploring the possibilities. This isn’t anything new, really. It’s what quilters and farmers and builders have always known — to be apprenticed into a way of thinking and doing is an inherently social process of knowledge sharing.
And so, dear CEP 811 online students, I encourage you to share your inhibitions, and explore the possibilities together. Use that Twitter hashtag (#CEP811). Use the class email list in D2L. Find out what others are thinking as you work through this very new but potentially very powerful assignment this week. In the fall, we might just make “collaborative making” part of the assignment — but you don’t have to wait for us to mandate it! As one of your MAET colleagues, James Kurleto  so aptly said, “Maker groups are half social club, half learning together.”
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108 (6), 1017-1054.