Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Katherine Hickey, MS and Kyungwon Koh, PhD.
Innovative learning spaces called Makerspaces and Learning Labs have become a ubiquitous presence in the world of library and information professionals. Universities have them. Public and private schools have them. Museums have them. They grace the pages of the American Libraries Magazine and our library schools. Each learning space is unique, emphasizing different skills, themes, or media, making them difficult to define. At their core, Makerspaces and Learning Labs provide hands-on and informal learning opportunities for individuals of all ages, who might not otherwise be able to afford various technologies or have access to the mentors’ expertise. Makerspaces and Learning Labs seek to empower participants and enhance their 21st-century skills such as creativity, collaboration, and digital literacies. These spaces and programs allow community members not only to create their own project but also share and present the creations through different venues such as Maker Faire.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has caught onto the unique opportunities created by Makerspaces and Learning Labs and the ways they affect how young people learn and create information. In 2012 and 2013, IMLS funded 24 Learning Labs across the country. Learning Labs cater to middle- and high-school youth and provide media-rich learning environment with supportive mentorship. School environments are uniquely positioned to benefit from these learning spaces. By incorporating Learning Lab or Maker programs into curricula and activities to meet learning standards, teachers can broaden their students’ STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) knowledge and experiences and use advanced technology that would likely not be available to them otherwise.
In 2014, Dr. Kyungwon Koh from the University of Oklahoma (OU) School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) received an IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Early Career Development grant to investigate how students create information and learn STEM concepts and skills in Learning Labs and Makerspaces. Two SLIS graduate research assistants for the project are tasked with assisting program development and implementation, maintaining social media for the project, and collecting and analyzing research data. As one of few research projects on these emerging learning spaces, the first phase of the study is being conducted at the Irving Middle School Library Meteorology Makers’ Club in Norman, OK. Meteorology proved to be a relevant and authentic theme in the lives of young Oklahomans who survived the devastating 2013 tornado in Moore, which is only several miles from OU. They felt personally connected to the issue and had clear insight into the scientific and social ramifications of weather.
Collaborative partnerships among university researchers, school librarians, a science teacher, and Oklahoma Mesonet–a world-class network of environmental monitoring stations—enrich students’ inquiry learning experiences. Students learn some fundamental concepts on meteorology, acquire digital and technology skills, and collaborate on students-driven projects. They have generated some great ideas that will hopefully benefit themselves and the community. Many used their own personal experience with weather to guide them. For example, several students reminisced the anxiety of having to bring pets into the narrow storm shelters during the tornado. Together, they are digitally designing a storm shelter accommodating pets and producing a prototype using 3D printer. Another student is creating a website with soil moisture indexes to help locals with their gardening projects and developing a series of instructional videos.
We are witnessing students reflecting upon their own experiences, interests, and scientific knowledge to create information. Traditionally, students used to be the recipients of knowledge. Learning Labs and Makerspaces are flipping learning models on their head to enable self-production of knowledge. Arguments are still heated about the sustainability of Makerspaces in the library world, and research evidence will be crucial to demonstrate the significance of these new learning environments. In the meantime, students are enjoying their weekly meetings of tinkering, coding, 3D printing, and geeking out about the weather.