With our Learners as Creators event taking place on March 22, we wanted to share our perspective on the subject, along with some core definitions and examples to set the stage. If this topic interests you, please be sure to register!

Understanding “Learners as Creators”
The notion of learners as creators has been a hot topic across all sector-focused editions of the NMC Horizon Report. Participatory experiences where an individual engages in the learning experience by tinkering, experimenting, and synthesizing information is growing rapidly and giving rise to innovative approaches to learning. Creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational considerations, as tools such as robotics, 3D printers, and web-based 3D modeling applications become accessible to more people. Makerspaces are DIY environments where people use their ingenuity to create, invent, and participate in innovative learning experiences. Makerspaces are increasingly being looked to as a method for engaging learners in creative, higher-order problem solving through hands-on design, construction, and iteration.

The Museum Perspective
As highlighted in the NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Museum Edition, more and more, museums are integrating technology innovations that enable their institutions to provide patrons with more immersive opportunities that integrate visitor knowledge into exhibits and objects. As a result, visitors are being asked to actively contribute to installations to create meaning. The participatory experience includes exhibits that are designed for visitors to interact or engage in an activity. The introduction of digital tools such as 3D scanning and rapid prototyping have stimulated interest and many museum leaders are adding makerspaces to create designated areas where visitors can act on their ideas and engage more deeply with artistic concepts and media. Makerspaces provide visitors with opportunities to learn through hands-on activities that allow for an authentic learning experience that can be shared beyond the walls of the museum.

  • Makerspace at Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio
    The Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio is a notable example of a creative space where museum patrons can deeply engage in an investigation of science phenomena through hands-on making activities.
  • BYOD at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
    The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas spearheads a comprehensive BYOD policy that encourages users to take pictures in designated areas and share their images via a unique hashtag on social media.
  • 3D Models at the British Museum
    The British Museum used a platform to open a collection of downloadable 3D models of various statues including a bust of Julius Caesar and a red granite sarcophagus.

The Library Perspective
The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Library Edition highlighted the expansion of libraries to make room for active learning classrooms, media production studios, makerspaces, and other areas conducive to hands-on work. These changes reflect a trend that is being driven by a deeper pedagogical shift to foster learning experiences that lead to the development of real-world skills and concrete applications for students. Changing expectations about visitor needs are also leading new visions of future of libraries. University libraries are integrating makerspaces that invite creative tinkering and experimental learning. The addition of makerspaces is solidifying the library’s position as a hub where students and faculty can access, create, or engage in hands-on projects across departmental lines. Library makerspaces contribute to the community’s capacity to capitalize on individuals’ potential by offering access to cutting-edge tools, often through relationships with local partners that would otherwise not be possible.

  • iSchool at the University of Washington
    LIS Graduate students from the Information School at the University of Washington focused their capstone projects on building sustainable models of pop-up makerspaces for a nearby public library.
  • La Universidad de Alicante Fab Lab
    Through their campus Fab Lab, learners at La Universidad de Alicante in Spain collaborated on a humanitarian project to prototype shelters for rapid installation using innovative materials and designs.
  • SLUB Makerspace
    The SLUB Dresden is the first major makerspace in a German academic library. The space allows students to use of 3D printing and modeling technologies for prototyping with smart³ materials.

The Higher Ed Perspective
The NMC Horizon Report > 2016 Higher Education Edition references that Project-based learning (PBL) is widely perceived as a method for facilitating active and self-directed learning. PBL is an example of an instructional method that supports the idea of Learners as Creators. In the PBL model, learners strategize tasks, processes, and products needed to demonstrate newfound knowledge, engaging in deep reflection along the way. Technology plays a major role in facilitating this approach, helping students collaborate, design, and create. For example, Wentworth Institute of Technology was among the first to pilot Stratasys, a free 3D printing curriculum. The subsequent course provided several in-depth lectures with class discussions and 3D printing projects for engineering and industrial design students. As a result, a laboratory that was once underused became a busy hub of innovation. Participating students noted excitement in having more freedom to be creative without rigid guidelines.

  • Wentworth Institute of Technology
    Wentworth Institute of Technology implemented, Stratasys, a free 3D printing curriculum.
  • Case Western Reserve University
    Case Western Reserve University’s makerspace, think[box], a seven-story building with each level arranged around the evolution of project development.
  • University of Texas at Austin
    A biomedical engineering student from the University of Texas at Austin used the Longhorn Maker Studio to 3D print a model of a human heart; doctors at the Seton Heart Institute now use the model in pre-surgery patient consultations.

The K-12 Perspective
The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 K-12 Edition references the importance of Makerspaces to teaching and learning. Public and school libraries are spearheading the makerspace movement in K-12 education. These spaces are increasingly being looked to as a method for engaging students in authentic learning projects that encourage creative and higher order problem solving skills. Makerspaces are places that empower students by allowing them to exercise their ingenuity to construct tangible products and promote confidence in their abilities. For this reason, many schools are increasing the availability of these environments.

  • Garden Street Academy in Santa Barbara, CA
    Eighth-grade students at Garden Street Academy in Santa Barbara, California organized a holiday boutique where they sold products they created in their makerspace.
  • Blue High School in Maine
    At Mt. Blue High School in Maine, students used a 3D printer to create an art installation that helped demonstrate their comprehension of concepts from the graphic novel, Watchmen.
  • Robotics Club in Australia
    In Australia, the Robotics Club offers extracurricular programs to students that teach design and engineering skills such as 3D modeling simple machines.

The turn of the 21st century has signaled a shift in the types of skillsets that have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world. Makerspaces are places where anyone, regardless of age or experience, can exercise their ingenuity to construct tangible products. These environments that allows individuals to learn through creation is inspiring a new generation of individuals and are important to the future of education. Makerspace education has the potential to empower people to become agents of change in their communities by providing activities that inspire confidence and help learners acquire skills that are immediately applicable to the real world. They present the opportunity for individuals to partake in hands-on building while practicing critical thinking, and call for a holistic approach to learning that nurtures the skills and talents of diverse individuals.

The increase in these creative environments also raises important questions about professional development, evaluation, sustainability, and institutional philosophies of making. Participatory strategies involve innovative approaches and many projects are breaking ground in experimental territory, therefore it is especially important for leaders, administrators, and curators of these environments to evaluate and share the successes and failures of their projects.