Makerspaces as learning spaces: An historical overview and literature review

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  • Makerspace is an open community center where “people with common interests, often in computers and machining and so on, can meet, socialize and collaborate” (Kelly, 2013, p. 1). Based on a literature review, this study starts with the definition and the historical development of makerspaces, and then digs into the current research and theories on making, learning and makerspace. To explore the definition of makerspaces, this paper begins by exploring the origin of hackspaces, the predecessors of makerspaces, and how hackspaces naturally grow into makerspaces. When it comes to defining makerspace, different scholars and practitioners provide different descriptions. To define a makerspace involves overall thinking of materials, tools and makers making together – it is a unique place where people get together and make; it could be any place, in all shapes, sizes and locations.
    Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of the makerspace movement, this study divides makerspace history into three periods and identifies the milestones during each period: embryonic period (1870s-1990s), transition period (2000s-2010s) and outbreak period (after 2011). The earliest record of a makerspace could potentially date back to 1873, when a quilting and sewing social club was founded in Gowanda, which is now known as the Gowanda Free Library. Then hackerspaces start popping up in 1960s. In 2010s, the evolution of technology and do-it yourself (DIY) culture began changing towards a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Since then, the idea of making spread worldwide and began officially appearing in libraries and other institutions. After a century, there are over 1500 makerspaces all over the world (Maker Faire, 2016).
    Using phenomenological approaches, Vilém Flusser defines gesture as a range of movements through which people express their being in the world (1999, p. 38). As we reach out our hands, the movements the hands make when they try to meet are gesture of taking in and opening up the future (Flusser, 1999). In constructionist theories of pedagogy, learning is “conceptualized as a process of being, doing, knowing and becoming” (Petrich & Bevan, 2013, p. 53). Papert demonstrates that learning happens when thinking is worked out through making things that “can be shown, discussed, probed, and admired” (1993, p. 142). Therefore, in a makerspace, when we see learners are observing or playing with the tools, they are exploring, testing, and responding with their hands; they are learning (Petrich & Bevan, 2013).
    Over the years, makerspaces have developed into different forms in various institutions. This concludes by reflecting on the relationship between makerspace and different institutions, and analyzing an example makerspace in three diverse institutional settings. For instance, according to the historical development of makerspaces, public libraries have a long history of providing spaces for making – they have long been a variation of makerspaces to some degree. There are a number of similarities between public libraries and makerspaces. To name just a few, they both serve their communities for promoting lifelong learning; their key principles align with each other: to bring communities together and share knowledge. Other examples include schools, universities and other organizations.

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    Attribution 4.0 International