Makerspaces and the Digital

McGrath, Laura and Guglielmo, Letizia (2015). “Communities of Practice and Makerspaces: DMAC’s influence on technological professional development and teaching multimodal composing.” Computers and Composition, 36, 44-53.

I was drawn to this article because of the use of makerspace pedagogy with digital tinkering, or what the authors called ‘messing around’ with digital space. I regularly design Quest days to engage these ideas, I aim to create an atmosphere drawing from makerspace theory with promoting playful experiences and tinkering. I then typically ask students to explore digital designing, digital creating so students can create useful artifacts for themselves from the class to help improve their writing.

In this article McGrath and Guglielmo discuss their experiences at a DMAC summer event in 2006, and the ways they’ve developed similar experiences in their own classrooms. I think the key to this is their aim to support “pedagogically effective use of technology” (p. 46). I also like their inclusion of Communities of Practice to model a supportive, engaged community within the classroom as a way to promote tinkering and assisting.

But, this is also where I struggle with the implementation – in my own classes. Some days we discuss readings, some days we engage in projects, some days we write twitter essays. Each of these approaches fosters different understandings of learning and community – so how do students recognize how to engage with the course material? Is there a transition period while students begin to learn what engagement looks like for a given day?

When we assign longer assignments, that utilize course time across subsequent course meetings, the community expectations are a little easier for students to become familiar and comfortable with. But what about the early portion of the term when we have one-off days as we build up to assignments. This is a space i’m working out as I begin a longer project on Twitter in the classroom with a peer – how do we structure the use of Twitter so it’s importance to the class is obvious without affecting use too much? I want students to tinker, but I also need to value the assignment so I ask for in-class tweets (similar to in-class free writing assignments). That fosters a type of engagement, a type of value, a type of tinkering. How do I think help students see that playful approach when they begin their first essay next week? How do I transfer these ideas, this tinkering, this community support back to essay writing?

I don’t think there is one answer for these questions, and I think the students and the institution (and even instructor reputation) will heavily influence  how students understand and react and build community – I’m more interested in the hows and the whys of transfer. What are effective ways of helping students understand the larger practices involved, and how do I help them transfer this to interdisciplinary writing situations?

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