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Making as Design Thinking: Opportunities for Technical Communication

My visits to the three academic makerspaces had reinforced my confidence in the benefits of making for teaching and learning, and I argue they offer advantages for technical communication pedagogy as well. Although none of the student interviewees and makerspace staff members I spoke with had a technical communication background, they have all demonstrated how making can be a design- driven problem-solving strategy that could enrich learning, particularly when the subject matter is one of problem-based study—i.e., technical communication (see my contentions in Chapter 1). Throughout this book, I continue to demonstrate that making, design thinking, and problem solving are inherently intertwined, and technical communicators are increasingly finding themselves in situations that require such thinking and doing. From my observations at these makerspaces,

I noted that students were not only creating innovative solutions to solve problems, but also generating communicative artifacts such as process memos or journals, product documentations, and user guides or instructions to accompany their inventions. While these artifacts were almost always overshadowed by the actual inventions themselves, they are a crucial part of the innovation and problemsolving process that required technical communication competencies to deliver a total—what some designers call, full-stack—solution.

Making has the potential to foster meaningful learning through collaboration and peer mentorship. All of the students I interviewed at the three maker- spaces revealed that they relied on other makers in the makerspace when building their projects. Although some of their projects were independent, these students revealed that they all have asked other makers for help at some point during their work in the makerspace. Whether they were needing help with a specific technology or simply asking for another person’s perspective, they noted how peer feedback was helpful for the development of their work. One student has especially noted that by exposing her work to other makers to the makerspace, she “let other makers critique her work” and gained critical perspectives she wouldn’t usually receive in a classroom setting.

In a similar way, making can also teach our students to be mentors for their peers. Most of the students I interviewed noted how working in their makerspace has taught them to be learners who are motivated to succeed in their respective projects as well as helping others in the same space. They expressed a sense of achievement and when they were able to assist those in need. Ryan, for instance, noted that his involvement at the Think[boxJ has taught him to be sensitive to other makers in the makerspace and be helpful whenever possible. At the Invention Studio, Nicola noticed that she learned from helping other student makers in the space because she did not believe in just one correct way in doing anything. From assisting others, she learned from other makers’ mistakes and was able to apply those experiences in her own project. In some cases, this peer level learning has resulted in bigger, continued collaboration such as Ryan’s project that bridged the CIA and Case Western.

As spaces for productive experimentation, or tinkering, makerspaces offer students a unique environment to acquire new skills and experience. And because making promotes a mindset that celebrates failure as part of problem solving, students may be encouraged to try new solutions or approaches. For technical communication pedagogy, this can foster the kind of entrepreneurial thinking that Bay et al. (2018) has forwarded to our field. Makerspaces and their associated training programs, such as the Prototype Instructor and Prototype Master certifications at the Invention Studio, can provide students with structured introduction to technologies that can take their projects to the next level. This ongoing professionalization spirit bolstered by making can strengthen students’ skill sets, especially for the world of technical communication that is constantly influenced by changing technologies.

This project has allowed me to gain firsthand knowledge and experience in three different makerspace settings. These insights have proven to be critical to the latter part of my doctoral project, where I designed and deployed a maker- based technical communication course. I discuss the deployment of this course and its results in Chapter 4, following the intermediating arguments for social innovation in Chapter 3.

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