The Meaning of Maker Culture for Education in Rural Areas and Marginalized Neighbourhoods

Co-authored with Jorge Sanabria, Professor at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico.

Maker culture has the potential to disrupt education as we know it. Instead of limiting the educational experience to books and to memorizing the content of lessons to write tests, the maker movement in education strives to engage students in real-world activities.

Prepatoria 19 Photo: Alejandro Camarillo

In an environmental science lesson, instead of memorizing the concepts that allow meteorologists to make previsions, students can understand weather changes through programming sensors that capture temperature, humidity levels, wind speed and barometric pressure. Once they have generated a design concept they can build a device to hold these sensors together in a functional way using emergent technologies including 3D printers, laser cutters, design software and more traditional manual tools as well. The process allows students to demonstrate their understanding through building concrete useful objects and to provide explanations about what they learned. This shifts the roles of both the teachers and the learners and puts the power of creativity in the hands of the students.

The capacity to innovate is no longer the sole privilege of the elite. Within a maker mindset, anybody can invent, create, propose solutions to problems, tinker, repair or repurpose. Of course, we still need highly qualified personnel to produce consumer goods that make living in society better, to help businesses operate more efficiently, and to increase the speed of communication and transactions. However, what the planet really needs is a full generation of citizens who can recycle and repurpose objects, fix broken products to make them functional again and generate sustainable solutions to existing problems.

Maker culture in education gives students the means of production, the capacity to apply theory into concrete projects and the satisfaction of creating objects that they can show and that have definite purposes. For rural areas and marginalized neighborhoods, this is a complete paradigm shift. Instead of taking students out of the community to educate them, we prompt them to solve problems that occur in the real world, thereby allowing the community to benefit from students achievements.

By integrating maker practices into curricula for solving real-world challenges, teachers also change their, often hierarchical, roles to become facilitators, which empowers students to collaboratively produce their own knowledge. When students realize that they can have full control over their learning experiences, they start to value their working environment, their production tools, and the relationships with their peers who provide feedback and complement each other’s solutions.

Having maker-led activities or a designated makerspace in schools helps attract new students who perceive these dynamic initiatives as an asset.

While visiting the makerspace of High School 19, a public establishment that belongs to the Universidad de Guadalajara, we were welcomed by the principal, J. Jesus Ramirez Flores, who shared his views about the influence of arts, technology and science activities among the students and teachers. The school is equipped with fourteen workshops with creation facilities such as a well-equipped makerspace, a robotics class, and a culinary science facility. It called our attention when he mentioned that students are encouraged to autonomously use any tools and spaces for extracurricular activities. Because of their involvement they developed a sense of responsibility, resulting in very few broken or lost objects since they opened four years ago.

Makerspaces are known to heighten engagement in students in general. In addition, access to such spaces and tools is especially useful for students in rural areas because they do not have access to the community makerspaces that are proliferating in the cities, where much of the initial ideas to invent and to create start-ups are happening.

It is evident how school ecosystems benefit from maker culture. It flourishes from teachers and students’ contributions to their surroundings. However, what students can’t immediately perceive is that attached to their decision to join a school that provides maker curricula, underlies a powerful synergy that may connect their learning path to the development of 21st century skills (http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework). By empowering students to innovate, they become more creative, they learn to collaborate, and they increase their capacity to autonomously solve real-world problems. They learn to “stick with the trouble”. Through such rich learning experiences, students become equipped to face greater challenges, and learn to deal with frustration in environments that otherwise would remain marginalized.

Among the initiatives in which we collaborate to develop a maker innovation ecosystem, the Ideatón within the Festival of Innovation Epicentro stands out. Every year 1,000 high school students from the state of Jalisco, Mexico, participate in solving problems of the national industrial sectors. This year we will integrate rapid prototyping along with the programming of a Robot-In-a-Can microcontroller to enhance the maker experience of the future entrepreneurs of the nation. A background study to monitor student performance will be carried out among researchers from the Virtual University System of the University of Guadalajara, the Milieux Institute of Concordia University and the LINE laboratory of the Cote D’Azur University, in collaboration with the Maker Culture and Education Committee of the Mexican Thematic Network for the development and incorporation of educational technology (#RedLaTEMx).