Study Profiles Maker-Space Educators and Their Needs

By Leo Doran — October 06, 2016 3 min read
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Better networking, securing grant funding, more PD time, increased support from administrators, and finding ideas for lesson plans are some of the biggest needs of educators using maker spaces, according to a new study released last month.

The “maker movement,” or projects that encourage students to learn by building, designing, and tinkering with various hands-on tools, is seeing a spike in adoption in recent years. The increasing popularity of the approach has led researchers to take notice and measure what motivates teachers to build makerspaces, and what they need to advance their efforts.

The study, “Communities for Maker Educators” was released by SRI international, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit and compiled insights from an online survey of nearly 500 educators closely involved in makerspaces, the majority of whom are K-12 educators. (The others work in places like libraries, community centers, and museums.)

In addition, the authors of the report followed up the online questionnaire with in-depth interviews of over 30 “community participants” and “community leaders.”

Of the respondents, most say they work with students in K-8, followed closely by those who work with high schoolers. Makerspace educators said they were least likely to work with toddlers and preschoolers aged three to five.

The educators gave a variety of reasons for why they became interested in working in makerspaces, including a desire to promote creativity and innovation in their students as well as a focus on making their classrooms more learner-driven and empowering. Thirty-one percent of the respondents reported that more than 50 percent of the students they work with come from “low income” backgrounds.

Educators involved in makerspaces also reported extensive engagement in online social networks to scaffold their classroom efforts. According to the study, educators are likely to mine the social media platforms they already participate in to find like-minded communities of educators.

A table in the report shows that 90 percent of makerspace educators say it is “very important” that they can use makerspace communities to get ideas for lesson plans, while 56 percent stressed the importance of using the groups to connect with other educators online:

The report also includes a list of geographically-specific makerspace organizations and meetups.

Unsurprisingly, a major concern for makerspace educators is securing materials and tools for their learners. The study urges administrators and community leaders to help educators identify grant sources and other funding opportunities.

Educators also said they would appreciate more time for professional development and better access to research that explains what works with makerspaces, and what doesn’t.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations for organizing makerspace community content, and how to best organize the communities themselves. Some of these recommendations include curating project and lesson plans into easily searchable databases, reaching out to educators on social media, and making a special effort to ensure equity by reaching out to educators of color and those working in under-resourced communities.

Image: Shemya Key, 17, left, and Nele Dixkens, a 16-year-old German exchange student, use a drill press to perfect their miniature-golf project last spring in the engineering room at Monticello High School in Virginia’s Albermarle County school district. --Reza A. Marvashti for Education Week-File

Table Source: SRI Education

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.