Learning in the Making: A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


Philadelphia, PA

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A makerspace is defined by its community of makers. The Library as Incubator Project (2012) explains that, “makerspaces are not necessarily born out of a specific set of materials or spaces, but rather a mindset of community partnership, collaboration, and creation”. Cultivating community is at the core of the Maker Movement, and the Internet has played a pivotal role in connecting makers around the world and founding this community; some even arguing that such a movement would not exist without the Internet (Denmead, 2013). To further explore the role of the Internet in supporting maker communities, we investigated how asynchronous online communication affords community building in a single makerspace, Sector67’s public Google group. We collected and analyzed all posts from December 2011 to January 2013, for a total of 370 posts. For each post we tracked who posted, the date of post, and the number of exchanges related to the post. Additionally, we coded each post based on topic and/or purpose. For example, a post informing the community about an upcoming Arduino class is tagged “Arduino” and “event distribution”.

Two primary themes emerged that shape our understanding of how community members use asynchronous communication to engage with others: constructing ethos and making-at-a-distance. First, ethos related posts support and reify identities and/or values about what it means to be a maker at Sector 67. These posts (roughly half of our data sample) include informing the community about upcoming classes or social events at Sector 67, external opportunities or events happening in the local community, and other news pieces related to the local or global maker communities. Additionally, members use the google group to engage in community activism including posts relating to changes in local or national laws (e.g. unlocking personal mobile phone is now illegal). There is an assumption of shared values across these posts or, when there is controversy, a lively debate ensues within the group. For example, the group hosted an extended discussion on the appropriateness of accepting funding from DARPA for makerspace-related projects. In this way, the google group functions as a D/discourse community where community members engage in seeing, doing valuing, believing, and being through language (Gee, 2011).

Second, many posts focused on “making-at-a-distance,” drawing from the wider Sector67 community to support making activities through distributing expertise and sharing resources. For example, one member posted a message asking what programming language is the “best” first language to learn, which sparked a robust discussion and grew into being the largest thread in our sample (>50 messages).

For Sector67, the Google group acts as a foundation for the broader community through harnessing a maker ethos and supporting making at a distance. Further, the Google group acts as a virtual bridge between the physical space of Sector67 and the expertise distributed across the broader Sector67 community. Collectively, these findings inform and expand the current understanding of developing and supporting online maker communities.

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