Getting past the alpha geek mentality: makerspaces on campus

Posted on: September 15, 2015 | By: Dan Reis | Filed under: Tech Tips

alpha geek iconMakerspaces are popping up everywhere in North Carolina. Universities, private colleges, public schools, libraries, and non-profit organizations are building these spaces to encourage tinkering and innovation. Elon is no exception—we opened our first makerspace, dubbed the Maker Hub, this fall.

Since Elon is now part of the larger maker movement in North Carolina, the university recently hosted a makerspace panel discussion with folks from UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State, Davidson, UNC-Greensboro, and the Alamance Makers Guild. The conversation centered on ways to get faculty and students interested and involved in making, including ideas for makerspaces that are welcoming, encouraging, and successful. Below are a few highlights of the discussion, plus details about how to stay involved in this conversation. 

Alpha geeks

Bennett Harris from the Alamance Makers Guild encouraged students to get past the “alpha geek mentality,” or the belief that everything you make has to be the best (29:14). We all need to create a nurturing environment by encouraging every project of every student.

Essential to campus

Glenn W. Walters from the Environmental Sciences and Engineering Design Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill talked about trying to change the culture on campus. “A makerspace needs to be seen like a student athletic center or a library. It has to be seen as an essential function to campus. Not just a place that some people go to do something” (11:40).

Curriculum integration

Adam Rogers from North Carolina State University’s Makerspaces called making a new form of literacy that can be inserted into curriculum. He explains a collaboration between the makerspace, a faculty member and the North Carolina Museum of History that helped students learn about 3d scanning and modeling (13:20).

Failure is encouraged

Brian J. Little from the Campus Maker and Innovation Space at Davidson College discussed the fear of failure that can sometimes paralyze students and faculty. “You didn’t fail. You learned a way it doesn’t work” (43:21).

Just another fad

Matthew Fisher from the SELF Design Studio at University of North Carolina at Greensboro said that some faculty are still skeptical of the importance of making; some think it is just the next, fleeting trend in education. “So what. How is this different from my engineering lab?” (45:57)

Watch the video

Click to view the video

Click to view the video

There is a lot more in the video, including a discussion about diversity, the sometimes overblown concern about safety in makerspaces, and more examples of faculty and student projects. You can view the full video here, or jump directly to a segment using the time codes listed below. Dr. Alan Russell, an Elon professor and the panel moderator, did a magnificent job of summarizing the larger points and keeping everyone on time.

  • Overview of makerspaces at each institution (0:00 – 5:10)
  • Give an example of student or faculty interactions in you makerspace. What did they learn or how did they grow? (5:36 – 28:40)
  • What is the most common fear faculty use of the makerspace? How do you address those fears? (28:40 – 50:06)
  • A comment or bit of wisdom (50:06 – 1:06:56)
  • Question and answer (1:06:23 – 1:15:56)

Ongoing conversation

Starting in October, Elon will host monthly virtual chats open to anyone interested in discussing best practices and ideas about operating a makerspace. In the first meeting (in early October – we’re still scheduling it), we’ll talk about tracking who uses the makerspace and what they’re working on, which is essential information for assessing the impact of the makerspace on campus. If you’d like more information about the virtual chats, contact me and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

Dan Reis

Dan Reis is an Instructional Technologist with Elon University’s Teaching and Learning Technologies.

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