Makerspaces provide new affordances for learners and creative types to explore new and exciting branches of learning, creating and exploring from 3-D printing, e-textiles to computer-assisted-design. This leads me to wonder about the role or best stance for educators in this environment.
According to Barniskis, ”…many teachers are used to teaching a large group of children to work on one project at a time. However, in a makerspace environment, each student may be working with different tools and processes. The teacher needs to be comfortable with a considerable quantity of chaos in such an environment, as well as skilled with all of the tools and able to switch gears quickly.” (2014 pg. 6)
In particular, it is the “switching gears” that no doubt involves educators assessing learner proficiencies to inform next steps that is the subject of this paper. What is the role of assessment in makerspaces and how does it need to be modified or adapted in this setting to help our makers?
Being evaluated is a key (and often cringe-worthy) experience for most students (and perhaps everyone!) historically and today. Yet educators acting as mentors can have a key role in helping others develop their ideas and improving the design and functionality of prototypes. The role of mentors or coaches requires a modified approach than a traditional – teach then evaluate model. Analysis of makerspace literature and research seems to indicate that traditional evaluation and assessment methods continue to be core indicators of progress from both the studies and individual involved. In many studies, the focus of assessment has been less on creativity and more on specific measureable outcomes determined beforehand by the teachers and curriculum designers. While determining key concepts and core fluencies is critical, perhaps a more flexible learner-centered approach would seem to be a better strategy than one based on immoveable standards. This is especially important in spaces that encourage creativity, innovation, design and perhaps arts. In regard to e-textiles, Peppler emphasizes art first “… that the e-textile designer is less concerned with coding efficiency—having as few lines of code as possible—than with achieving a particular artistic effect.” (Peppler 2013 pg. 38) Assessment remains a critical strategy to help mentor our makers and creators to extend their learning through their Zone of Proximal Development. Yet in most studies, the justification for makerspaces seems to fallback on numbers to quantify students outcomes and progress.
“When we analyzed their final Scratch programs using Brennan and Resnick’s computational thinking framework , we found that 100% of the projects used sequential statements, loops, conditional statements, event handling, and 85.7% (or 6/7) of the projects used operators.” (Davis 2013 pg. 440)
Or “…when the multimeter was used, boys had the equipment in their hands 75% of the time on average to only 25% for girls.” (Buchholz et. al pg. 283)
Or “…the teacher chose to use the 3D printer as an aid in assessment…to describe at various points in the 3D printing process what parts of the bridge were being created- for example, a truss, pillar or beam.” (Ostashewski 2014 pg. 1602)
These quotations are evaluating the important skill set of designers from vital computer science gender-usage, and Grade Three Structures identification respectively yet neither evaluation indicates a focus on creativity or innovation. Furthermore, they may actually be only a small step away towards a mark-based assessment. (i.e,.a project could evaluated for the amount of loops or an insistence than a particular must group use a specific tool etc.) Most of the literature and research finds a rejection of any traditional form of teacher determined grades in makerspaces instead “…students can be invited to participate in that process either as a negotiation (such that the teacher has the final say)…” (Kohn 2011 pg. 6) No doubt, the promotion of computational thinking and gender equality are critically important indicators for success across all aspects of curriculum, but perhaps assessment in makerspaces should be specifically focused on creativity, innovation and digital citizenship (helping others) above specific technical requirements. In other words, a successful project might not include all the computational requirements nor be in the hands of a specific gender and still produce a creative and innovative prototype. Perhaps then assessment strategies should focus away from marks as indicators and instead look towards more qualitative methods that demonstrate a maker’s thinking and detailed progress. In addition, it is unclear whether a grades reflect the “potential” of an idea or a “snapshot” of the project at that time. Subsequently, this type of mark-based assessment in quantifiable terms obscures rather reveals.
Perhaps makers and educators might instead work collaboratively to critically evaluate designs based on function, aesthetics and accessibility as three possible indicators of success for prototypes. “ If teaching artists partner with the shop teachers, home education teachers, and computer science educators in schools, a multifaceted makerspace can emerge.” (Barniskis 2014, pg. 7) According to Fessakis et al. “… teacher’s role during the proposed learning activities (computational) was critical. She encouraged and supported the children toovercome their difficulties, controlled the various coordination issues that came up (e.g. the next player’s turn) and handled the cases where the children seemed not to be able to deal successfully with.“ (2013 pg. 86) The successful collaboration of educators, curriculum designers, researchers and specialists will aid learning environments and makerspaces that emphasize design and making through varied perspectives on student progress and perspectives.
Collaboration also needs to occur between the maker and educators. The awarding and distribution of badging can be one way to facilitate the conversation between makers and mentors. “Digital badging recognizes learning and growth wherever it happens and helps people connect their accomplishments across institution types. “ (Fontichiaro, 2015) Digital or physical badging has the potential to recognize and indicate learning outside of classes and in unique environments like makerspaces. These tools are new to education but certainly have been successfully used in organizations like Scouts as well as indicators of progress in objective-based video games. In other words, some students would have prior experience with badging in both physical and digital badges forms. However, bringing this assessment into the new and evolving “anywhere classroom” including a makerspaces offers new affordances for learners and educators with increased detail.
Badging could be an excellent indicator of the wide variety of skills, abilities and progress made by learners in a makerspace. However, there are a few criticisms that should be considered to critically examine before utilizing badging for our makers. Some have cited badges as a motivating tool, yet I think that using badges only to motivate could have the opposite effect. They might serve as a motivator in the short term but primarily serve as a digital indicator of learner progress as issued by educators, mentors and specialists. The idea of a “badge economy” is a much more powerful concept with a longer timeframe as they “…provide a record of subject or skill mastery. This could have a significant impact on awarding credentials or certificates to students, and perhaps even creating an implementation framework for competency-based learning. “ (Grier 2015) “With badges, you can actually scaffold out a pathway of what is next,” Yowell says. “We want as much as possible to create multiple entry points for learning and multiple pathways for career and academic success.” (Ash 2012) Badges could provide a unique, transparent and shared record of lifelong learning.
In this assessment model, students acquire key knowledge from a curated list by educators, curriculum designers or specialists in order to earn teacher-created badges. According to Grier, “… the best approach to scaling digital badging is not to focus on students, but on their teachers.” (Grier 2015) Perhaps an even more student-centered approach is a co-creation model between learners and educators to create a unique learning pathway for makers. This co-creating model has the potential for students to demonstrate core competencies but leaves room for creativity and innovation so critical to leveraging the potential of makerspaces. Like “stepping stones’, learners navigate their progress throughout a specific area of focus with badges as indicators and then decide to keep private or share (with interested parties) along the way. Teachers might help students create a …portfolio that reflects the skills and knowledge they have developed, as well as evidence…” (Grier 2015)
These badges could then be shared online at the discretion of the badge earners. Ash states that “…the badge earner must be responsible for managing his or her own badges.” (Ash, pg. 28) Putting the sharing permissions in the hands of the learner is critical as not doubt in their mind or the minds of others (Institutions, employers, even peers etc.) some badges will have more weight than others which is certainly a valid criticism but metadata in each badge will indicate the date, issuer and skills learned and demonstrated. The Mozilla Open Badges is place for learners to collect badges earned and issuers to add badges in a learner’s digital “backpack”. This metadata would become a clear indicator of learner’s progress with sharing permissions as the discretion of the learner. The transferrable and sharing potential for badges through sites like credly.com or badgelist.com and housed on wikis, blogs or websites provides new opportunties for learners to share their progress, learning and success. This not only allows learners to find success but also to create a strong digital footprint ripe for future learning and collaboration opportunities in global settings.
For more depth into the thinking of learners in makerspaces, reflective writing could be another assessment tool for educators to explore the metacognition of makers and creators. Using tools like physical notebooks or even digital forms like blogs, makers and creators allows sharing of their goals, process and experiences from their perspectives. If this reflective writing is shared, then educators and mentors can potentially have insight into the “black box” that is a learner’s thinking. Access to this form of writing allows mentors and educators to help learners “level up” and reach the next stage for their progress or even when to “move on” to something new in the Zone of Proximal Development. In short, makers and learners need to focus on the process being as important (or perhaps more) than a “final” product. Educators and mentors can leverage reflective writing of makers and creators to provide feedback in the form of constructive dialogue. They can also use this tool to plan next sessions and provide learning materials and guidance for the specific needs of makers and learners.
With prompting students can not only write about the process but also be prompted to engage in new forms of thinking and processes like design thinking. The process of design thinking is an excellent process and mindset to solve challenges and promotes a similar mindset to makerspaces with its emphasis on creativity, design and iteration. One of the tools to explore design thinking is a design journal (either physical or digital). One excellent example of a design journal is found in project page of in the web-based Scratch 2.0 site. Scratch is an excellent tool for block-based coding and has both Papert’s “low floor (easy to get started) and high ceiling (can be used for increasingly complex projects). (Resnick 2009 pg.63) In addition to a page to create block-based commands is a project page which could be design journal. Each project page (figure one below) has three sections for writing: instructions, notes and credits and a comments stream. The first area provides a place for instructions critical for those wanting to run the Scratch program. This area explores the use of each sprite, backgrounds and other commands.
The Notes and Credits section provides a place for the programmer to comment upon the design of the program including sources for resources used, a brief summary of their thinking, current progress and next possible steps. These possible next steps might be influenced by the comments section (which can be toggled on or off) in fellow programmers and Scratch users provide feedback for the original programmers. The ultimate form of flattery is the re-mix in Scratch where programmers make a copy and tinker with a new iteration of the program which includes a vital and transparent record of the original creator. This “built-in” design journal provides excellent opportunities for assessment as educators can observe not just the program but the programmers dialogue with themselves and others. Educators could even join in with comments, suggestions and encouragement too. According to Nichols, “as students document their thinking they are supported by community partners who act as mentors to promote their thinking and give them the real-world exposure and experience they need to overcome challenges.” (Nichols 2015) Nichols calls them “thought-books” and they could serve as a hybrid design journal and place for reflective writing. It is important to note that design journals could be in many different forms from traditional physical books to more sophisticated online creations like the OneNote Class Notebooks.
Based on research into makerspaces and practices, three types of assessment tools seem to be a good fits for makerspaces: design journals, reflections and badging. Badging is a pedagogical tool that might serve to clearly indicate the desired outcomes (i.e. design, computer science as well as an implied gender balance) and yet encourage students to explore a breadth (and depth) of maker tools in an open-ended way. Reflective writing and journals are another two strategies that emphasis metacognition and encourage learners to self-evaluate their progress in makerspaces. Learners can then choose what to keep private, or share with peers co-learning or collaborative structure and finally, engage with experts globally. Use of reflections at different stages of projects with different audiences is also critical to encourage increasing authentic feedback, assessment and evaluation for makers. Reflective writing and design journals are powerful tool for design thinking strategies. If makerspaces offer new pedagogy and opportunities for students then challenging and critically evaluating our assessment practices is vital if we are to encourage student success and innovation.
However, I do not mean to suggest that creativity and innovation should be the only focus in a makerspace as no doubt equitable access, student enthusiasm, gender equality, computational thinking, curriculum expectations, digital citizenship among many other indicators should be considered as a possible indicators of success. Shifting from a teacher-centered to student-centered stance, from an epistemological to a skill-based approach using assessment practices like badging, design journals and reflections seems like good practice for both mentors and makers to encourage greater innovation and design.
Figure 3 Workflow model
Figure 4- Sample from digital eportfolio
Figure 5 – Badges Offered
Ash, K. (2012, June 13). Colleges Use ‘Digital Badges’ to Replace Traditional Grading. Digital Directions, 05(03), 26. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2012/06/13/03badges.h05.html?tkn=SPOFHItvuFGEOUO0jyGFYbA5FMSXhWNiR5R8&print=1cFigure 5 Sample badges
Barniskis, Shannon Crawford (2014) Makerspaces and Teaching Artists, Teaching Artist Journal, 12:1, 6-14, DOI: 10.1080/15411796.2014.844621 retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com.uproxy.library.dc-uoit.ca/doi/pdf/10.1080/15411796.2014.844621
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