The Impact of Multimodal Composing on Youth Transformative Disciplinary Identity Work Across Settings

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


Chicago, IL

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Purpose: Research on the maker movement is framed in terms of three complementary lenses: making as a set of activities, makerspaces as communities of practice, and makers as identities of participation (Halverson & Sheridan, in press). While our work explores all of these lenses, in this paper we focus on findings from our work in the Learning in the Making lab related to when and how identities are constructed through participation in making activities and in makerspaces.

Theoretical Framework: In earlier work, we have described how participating in art-making processes can support both individualistic and collectivistic conceptions of identity (Halverson, Lowenhaupt, Gibbons & Bass, 2009). Researchers who study identity development in art-making tend to conceive of “identity” as a property of an individual (e.g. Fleetwood, 2005; Wiley & Feiner, 2001; Worthman, 2002). However, in some communities, the collective group itself has a prominent role in both the process and the products of students' art (Bing-Canar & Zerkel, 1998; Mayer, 2000). In more collectivist-oriented communities, groups (as opposed to individuals) often determine the topics of youth art and co-compose the products, taking over from one another based on availability, expertise, and interest. Halverson et al. (2009) provided evidence that adolescents use artistic production to explore collective identity development, especially in places where young people toward community-oriented visions of identity.

Methods & Data Sources: We rely on a range of data sources to understand identity in the maker movement including: (1) case studies of successful makerspaces including field note observations, interviews, and artifact collection; (2) design experiments with experienced and novice makers; (3) meta-analyses of the public communication channels used by makerspaces.

Results: Our findings confirm and extend earlier observations around identity and participation in artistic production. First, we find that making affords a range of identity stances – artist, engineer, and entrepreneur – all of which are equally viable within the makerspace. However, we also find that makerspaces construct and communicate desired identity stances through their public communications in ways that likely constrain who comes to see themselves as makers. So while making activities support a range of identities in practice, makerspaces seem to have a strong sense of ethos that constrains who can identify as a maker.

Scholarly Significance: The question “what makes a maker” is a fascinating conversation to have in light of potential parallels with schooling. In studies of schooling and learning we never ask, “what makes a student?” and we rarely ask, “what makes a learner?” When we do, the inquiry is framed in terms of the sociocognitive habits of individuals or in terms of becoming a learner despite school (Nasir, Hand, & Taylor 2008). Understanding how young people become makers, what their identity kit looks like, and how identities are afforded and constrained in makerspaces has the potential to contribute to the conversation around competency-based learning across the contexts of young peoples’ lives.

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