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Summary and Takeaways

In this chapter, I have synthesized current discussions that indicate the need for technical communication pedagogy' to turn to design-centric and material thinking. To demonstrate an opportunity for updating our pedagogy, I have provided a historical account of the fast-growing Maker Movement. Through a survey of the roots and technology of making, I contended that maker practices could reinvigorate technical communication pedagogy'. By reporting a study of three academic makerspaces in the United States, I showed the impact of maker culture on higher learning via the cases of engineering and design. Using the findings from student interviews and my own in-situ observations, I reiterate the intertwined relationships between making and design thinking and problem solving in technical communication. Key takeaway's from this chapter are:

  • • Making as an experiential, problem-based learning component can be a strategic direction for technical communication pedagogy'.
  • • The Maker Movement can be traced back to the industrial revolution and the DIY culture propelled by self-sufficiency and adhocism.
  • • Academic makerspaces are sites for fostering collaboration, peer mentorship, and community engagement.
  • • Making can serve as a springboard for technical communication students to practice design thinking and learn new technologies.

Learning Activity: Transforming a Classroom Into a Makerspace

A lot of my colleagues from college campuses across the country do not have access to a local makerspace. They often ask me how it would be possible to simulate a maker culture without the physical makerspace. I see that as a design challenge that can be a meaningful exercise for instructors and students alike. By transforming y'our current learning spaces into a makerspace, y'ou may learn to see spaces differently and pay attention to resources.

The first step in transforming your classroom into a makerspace is to consider the existing assets in your space. Can your classroom furniture and technologies— desks, chairs, projects, screens, computers, speakers, etc.—be moved or rearranged? Where are the power sources? Sometimes, all it takes to reconfigure a

A simple makerspace setup in a classroom

FIGURE 2.1 A simple makerspace setup in a classroom

classroom is a few power extensions. Figure 2.1 shows an example of setup that can be conducive to making.

Most instructors and students do not have the funds to upgrade their classrooms so the ideal transformation would be done with low to no budget. One strategy I have learned from some creative minds is to tap into the university waste management department. At both my former and current institutions, there is a waste site where our engineering departments and other physical plant units of the university would deposit unwanted materials. More often than not, you may find some old desks, benches, or scrap woods that can be repurposed.

Assemble a team of builders (motivated students!) and set them on a mission to build simple workstations like a workbench, crates for storage and organization, etc. This is a good practice in user-centered design since you are having the users contribute to the creation of an artifact they would end up using themselves later. Pro tip: put wheels on your furniture so you can easily move them into different setups as necessary (or return the classroom to its original setup for the next teacher).

The next step is to put out a call for donations. Create a flyer. Send out an email. Post a tweet. Anything from paper towel tubes, yarns, buttons, fabrics, LEGOs (a lot of them) to circuitry components like conductors, LED lights, and sensors are welcomed. Hand tools like hammers, hot glue guns, and screwdrivers can be easily found in a rummage sale nearby.

Now if you have a little bit of money, consider investing in small power tools as well as physical computing electronics like Arduino (www.arduino.cc/en/guide/ introduction) and Raspberry Pi (www.raspberrypi.org/). These can be bought by your institution’s library or tech center, and checked out by students for your class. 3D printers are overrated. Do not waste your time and energy debating with your college administrators if you could get one for your makerspace because they are hard to maintain and slow to run.

In terms of design software, a subscription to Adobe Creative Suite is ideal. However, Microsoft PowerPoint—and students usually have access to it—can do basic layout design just fine. Hopscotch (www.gethopscotch.com/) is a popular and accessible programming application for students. If you have a 3D printer (no judgement here), you may also want to get Tinkercad (www.tinkercad.com/), a 3D modeling software, to let students create their own designs.

There you have your basic makerspace in a classroom. A sustainable makerspace requires a sustainable funding model, of course. Once you have created a decent space, invite your college administrators, students’ parents, and other potential collaborators and flinders to visit your creation, and urge them to support your makerspace. For learning purposes, I offer the following reflection questions:

  • • Who are your main audience/users of this makerspace?
  • • What resources do you have connections to, or wish to tap into?
  • • What can a makerspace do for your course/pedagogy as well as other courses?
  • • How might your transformation inspire actions by your students and colleagues?
  • • Who should assume ownership over the makerspace?
 
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