What is making? How is it different from other activities? What are maker
qualities and values?
These were the big questions tackled at the recent Research Meeting on Making
and Learning, a gathering of people involved in researching and implementing
maker experiences. The conversation included practitioners representing makerspaces
in museums and libraries — both public and academic — as well as a spectrum of
researchers, from graduate students such as myself who are just beginning their
research on make to those who are already deeply engaged in this work within
universities and private organizations. There were also a few funders and a
representative from the Center for the
Advancement of Informal Science Education.
We spent two days together, working mostly in small groups discussing a
variety of topics around make and make research. The small-group format allowed
every voice to be heard while fostering deep conversation that could then be
shared with the larger group to spur further discussion. We felt a tangible
sense of excitement as we recognized we might all be witnessing the birth
of a new field of research. The understandings we arrived at during our
conversations could very well shape how make is explored and implemented in the
Of utmost importance to many at the meeting was to prevent make from facing
the same fate as many previous learning reform movements. To ensure this, we
questioned whether it is necessary to define make.
What is make?
Not surprisingly, this group of 30 was not able to pinpoint a single
definition, but we did agree on the importance of distinguishing maker
experiences from similar experiences such as art, crafting or computer
programming. This is not to denigrate the benefits of these other activities but
rather to distinguish what is unique about make and why we want learners to have
Some of the qualities we could agree on as special about
make are the emphasis on the relevance of the projects to the learners and the
self-directed nature of the activity. Makers
also tend to use materials in creative ways,
exploring ideas in a concrete realm. The collaborative, communal aspects of
making also form an important component of the make experience.
Should digital-only projects be considered making?
One of the areas we did not reach a consensus on was whether an experience
that takes place completely in the digital realm, with no physical artifact,
should be considered making. This discussion gave me some new insights into how
I think about make. I now see it as the center of a Venn diagram in which many
activities could be maker experiences but are not necessarily so.
One example for me is knitting. I tend to knit whenever I have to sit still
for very long, such as in meetings or lectures. While I am creating something,
this does not feel like making to me. However, I have also taught simple
knitting projects at a number of maker faires, and I’ve found that it is the act
of sharing my making with others and passing on a skill that differentiates the
experience for me.
In light of this, I argued that digital experiences can be considered making.
I think activities like a computer game design club or class can include the
important components of
making: collaboration, skill sharing, flexibility of novice/expert roles,
creativity, resourcefulness, relevance and self-motivated experiences.
The work we started this week is just the beginning, and I for one am excited
to see how this field develops. I am so grateful to have been able to help shape
Jennifer Wyld is a Ph.D. candidate in free-choice
learning in the Science and Math Education program at Oregon State University.
She is interested in alternative education and learning environments,
particularly those involving Make, Montessori and environmental