Last year I went to an information session held on our campus that was run by staff from the First Lego League, a competition-based program where teams of students build lego robots and then program them to perform various tasks in order to complete challenges.
I expected the workshop to consist of a presentation, a demonstration and perhaps a brief play with some lego robots, so I was quite surprised when the facilitator only spoke for about 10 minutes and then sat us down at a table where I found myself confronted with a jumble of lego bits, a programmable brick, some wires and connectors, and a laptop with some programming software – it was at this point that I realized that we were expected to build our own lego robot and program it to be able to complete at least one of the challenges.
Full of trepidation and overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy I nonetheless embarked on what was essentially a fun, albeit fairly frustrating process of trial and error, but by the end of the hour long session I had completed the task at least well enough to accomplish one of the challenges – and that was a brilliant feeling!
It was a really powerful learning experience. I learned so much more through a hands-on activity than I would have from a demonstration. It was also heaps of fun, particularly engaging with, and learning alongside, the other participants.
I came away from the session thinking “wouldn’t it be great if I could keep connecting with the people I met? “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of a community who get together to make things, to play and experiment, to share their knowledge and skills? Wouldn’t it be awesome if the library could help to build that kind of maker culture and support that type of learning?
As it happened, there were other people thinking the same thing at the same time, not only my colleagues in the library but more broadly within the university, and so we began having conversations about what a makerspace in the library could look like.
We were unanimous in our view that the library would be an ideal location for a makerspace on campus, providing a neutral, central space for cross-disciplinary interaction, inquiry, learning, collaboration, outreach and research, and acting as a point of connection between existing ‘ maker’ facilities and projects on the campus. Our ideas have progressed to the point where establishing a makerspace is one of the library’s projects for this year.
The vision is to create a library makerspace as a collaborative learning environment where people can come together to share materials and learn new skills through hands-on ‘making’ activities. It’s not so much about providing facilities and equipment for people to use, and “having a 3D printer in the library”, although that is clearly a part of it – it is first and foremost a space to facilitate learning, engagement, connection, culture, and community building.
We hope the makerspace will encourage collaboration, creativity, experimentation, exploration, and the sharing of knowledge and experience. We want to provide and facilitate opportunities to engage in problem solving activities using technologies such as 3D modelling and printing, electronic circuitry, robotics, coding, data visualisation, virtual and augmented reality, video-creation, animation, digital storytelling as well as non-digital art, craft and design activities.
We recognise that developing digital literacy skills and the ability to solve problems through experimentation are very important to prepare students for the jobs of the future. As such, the makerspace will aim to facilitate the development of valuable skills that students need to face real world challenges. Our approach to teaching digital literacy is underpinned by constructivist pedagogical approach with peer learning, connected learning, active participatory learning and self-directed learning at its core. It will foster this learning, not only by providing a creative space for people to use for their own maker projects, but by coordinating and facilitating workshops, drop in sessions and events.
A makerspace has benefits for the library, as well as the clients that use it. It can foster developing new directions in the library’s teaching and learning activities. By developing new ways of teaching and learning we align ourselves more closely with the direction of the higher education sector more generally.
The library provides a neutral space to facilitate new types of cross-disciplinary interaction, inquiry and collaboration in teaching and research. It can forge connections between disciplines, and break down hierarchies between student and teacher – we all become fellow travellers on the learning journey
Moreover, it can create opportunities for the library staff to develop new skills, participate in creative projects, tell their stories and engage more widely. In the library we have a lot of untapped expertise, skills and knowledge – a makerspace can help us realize our inherent potential to develop and grow.
A makerspace would help the library to be recognized as a key unifying element within the university by facilitating new types of knowledge creation, skills and expertise in support of digital learning and scholarship. We could also be regarded as a leader in this field, by venturing into largely unchartered territory (particularly in Australia) and taking the academic library in new directions.
It’s all very exciting, and I hope to write more about the project as it evolves.