Field notes from creating the Laurier Library Makerspace
Encouraging learners to become teachers offers three substantial and communal benefits to any makerspace:
- Amplifies your horsepower – creating a virtuous ripple effect of onboarding new teachers
- Opens the opportunity for ownership – it really *is* your space when you’re teaching in it
- Facilitates diversity – new teachers from underrepresented groups can balance your maker membership diversity.
Amplify, democratize and diversify.
Necessity drives lateral thinking
Soft-launching the Laurier Library Makerspace to serve 18,000 students, plus faculty, staff and the community, I knew I had a bit of a capacity challenge ahead. Staffing-wise, there was me and help from three great students who were paid for a total of 15 hours per week. This is motivation #1 for converting teachers to learners.
By the makers, for the makers
I knew the engine of this experiential learning effort must be a group of committed student volunteers: the superfriends, I call them. They show up, steer, define and lead. I couldn’t build capacity in people if I made all the decisions. So I invited every person who came through the door asking “What can I make here?” by posing the counter-question: “What do you *want* to make here?” When I asked students if they ever felt like they were living over-prescribed lives, they would slowly nod. “This is an opportunity for self-determination. It’s invent-your-own-adventure”, I would say, which elicited cautious smiles. I carefully noted that whatever happened in the space would be a collaborative effort. So we started with the general understanding that we would all share what we knew and support each other, which offered something I always seek for myself: equity in the effort. This is motivation #2.
If you see it, you can be it
Makerspaces lacking intentionality tend organically toward a bunch of guys in a room with robots. While I really like both those guys and robots, my ideal makerspace is composed of makers from across the diversity dimensions of gender, ethnicity, affluence and makerly domain. Despite my purposeful thinking and strategic introduction of certain tools, within three weeks of launch, I found myself standing in our makerspace amid a crowd of guys all keenly talking about Raspberry Pi’s, Arduinos and robots. And I had an anecdotal sense that women were being displaced, more by dominating discussion than by lack of interest or experience with electronics. Because three of our four walls are (delightfully) glass, I’m very aware that what students see through the glass shapes their impressions of the makerspace. Believing that people and social constructs are infinitely plastic, I thought we could course-correct by encouraging women to lead workshops in the space. Happily, students Ola, Julie and Victoria agreed to each lead a workshop. We used those workshops to invite new workshop leaders. This is ingredient #3, so let me illustrate this with a pictorial thread starting with Ola.
I had recently taught Ola the one hour Intro to 3D Design and Printing workshop. So I asked her if she would teach a whole group of women and she agreed and quickly queued up eight keen learners.
That went extremely well.
One of Ola’s students was Liza, who agreed to run her own workshop.
In fact, Liza ran two workshops.
And in one of those workshops was Kieran.
Who ran a session on data visualization. So now we’re at the third generation of teacher in this virtuous ripple of ownership.
And other students started to pitch in. Madi started teaching sewing.
started teaching Intro to 3D Design and Printing.
Roula taught David…
Block Cut Printing.
On-phone Photo Editing with Snapseed.
Intro to DSLR Photography.
Intro to Machine Sewing.
And Alex taught Learn To Solder.
Results: beyond expectations
Within six months, the distributed ownership of leading workshops was baked into our collective ethos and we had taught hundreds of makers across a wide range of domains. We had also modelled for newcomers how they could take equity in the space: by teaching. Along the way friendships and collaborations developed. We created the conditions in which a sense of belonging could thrive.
- Invite potential new teachers immediately, in the excitement of a workshop
- New teacher picks two potential dates, books 4 friends and you schedule the workshop
- Half hour refresher meeting the day before the workshop
- Don’t interrupt, let the new instructor teach!
We can convincingly say “this is your space” when we hand over the steering wheel.
Connect with me
You are invited to
- Maker Mondays – a weekly 1pm-4:30pm drop-in time to visit the Laurier Library Makerspace
- Connect with me on LinkedIn
Previous article in the “Creating Makerspaces” series: Building capacity in people