Collectively Flourishing

Makerspaces make sense for educating the workforce of tomorrow.

GUEST COLUMN | by Randy Swearer 

credit-autodeskAccording to the most recent U.S. Department of Labor report, 65 percent of careers that students will be taking on in the future don’t exist today. Jobs in STEM in the U.S. are projected to grow three times faster than non-STEM jobs over the next decade (U.S. Department of Commerce). With the emergence of sophisticated technology, computers and even artificial intelligence, the demands of today’s workforce are evolving. In order to keep up, tomorrow’s employees need to adopt new processes and develop different skillsets through a new kind of progressive learning.

Increasingly, we are seeing makerspaces cropping up across the country at higher education institutions.

Makerspaces are a core ingredient in the recipe for progressive learning and furthering the maker movement. Not familiar with makerspaces? Imagine this: a dedicated environment where students from a myriad of disciplines can come together and collectively learn, make, and grow. A business student can learn from someone studying chemistry, or a design student can collaborate on a project with someone focused on medicine. It’s a place where students can focus on collaborative making amongst their peers.

The maker movement is not just about creative people developing interesting designs or crafting DIY projects. Although those things are important, the kind of maker movement that will have a lasting impact on our future fosters learning environments where people can collectively flourish and prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. Increasingly, we are seeing makerspaces cropping up across the country at higher education institutions, and it’s in these spaces that students can connect and learn from each other. This is the classroom of the future.

Through my company’s close dialogue with universities across the nation, we’ve seen first-hand that educators are concerned that they’re not staying relevant to students due to a lack of collaboration across majors. Most curriculums at universities were developed for jobs during the industrial revolution and those curriculums aren’t cutting it when it comes to preparing graduates for the jobs of tomorrow. In order to address this lack of relevancy, many educators are turning to makerspaces.

It is important to note that developing these spaces is only half the battle. A truly effective makerspace requires specialized faculty to adequately instruct students on how to make the most of these new resources. In addition, access to these spaces should not be limited to students pursuing degrees in engineering and design which would thus cripple the collaborative spirit the space is meant to embody.

As with anything, improving our complex education system is never a quick fix, and any step towards a making-based learning model is a step forward. With that in mind, below are few recommendations on how educators can encourage students to embrace the maker movement and begin to learn through making:

  • Makerspaces should never be owned by single departments or disciplines; they are places where academic specializations coalesce around the making process
  • Curriculum should work dynamically with what’s available in the makerspace; whenever possible there should be a real-world purpose to the making
  • The flow from construction from studio to fabrication lab is critical for the way students envision and create things; an open floor plan encourages collaboration and an open dialogue about the design process
  • Eliminate barriers to creation by avoiding as many prerequisites as possible for students to gain access to the makerspace

The collaborative environment makerspaces create helps students develop a sense of empowerment and resourcefulness. Thus, they acquire the desire and ability to create change through making. By implementing an educational system that prioritizes teaching the skills learned through making and project-based learning, we’re setting ourselves up for a prepared workforce ready to tackle tomorrow’s challenges—and citizens who can work together to address the world’s most complex challenges.

Randy Swearer, Ph.D., is Vice President, Autodesk Education Experiences. Randy, a Wesleyan University grad, has an MFA from Yale and a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Urban Studies from Union Institute & University. He is deeply involved in exploring the future of education, including learning co-creatively with intelligent computer systems, micro-credentialing, cross-disciplinary learning, and in teaching design-driven innovation to the next generation of students. Follow @randyswearer.

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