Makerspaces for Lifelong Learning and Community Economic Development / by Justin Longo

Symposium Proposal -- University of Regina, March, 2020

The challenge to educators: The digital era continually raises questions about the types of skills and competencies students will need to succeed and achieve fulfilment in the 21st century. While concerns about low-skilled occupation job loss from artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are prominent (Ford, 2015), a more proactive view is that technology’s advance, coupled with human capacities in creativity, design, judgement, artistry, physical skill, empathy, and emotional intelligence, herald a new era of “intelligence amplification” (IA; (Rheingold, 1985). One of the central challenges for educators entering this unknown future is what mix of skills and knowledge will be required by students, and how growth in those capacities can be best facilitated. 

The university's responsibility to the wider community: Universities are also responsible to the communities in which they are embedded, as reflected in the University of Regina's (UofR) Strategic Plan and Objectives as set out in peyak aski kikawinaw, specifically the Strategic Priority "Commitment to Our Communities" and the UofR commitment to collaborative community service and engagement opportunities. The impact of advancing technologies on community economic development, and the opportunities that these technologies offer for diversified and innovative growth, provide a setting for the University to deliver on its commitment. 

The maker movement: In the past decade, an approach that promotes learning by making through first-hand access to “makerspaces” comprised of advanced digital, robotic, and computer-assisted industrial technologies has gained in profile (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014). The growth in popularity of makerspaces is directly tied to the increased sophistication, and decreased cost, of open source software (enabling the rapid sharing of solutions), computing hardware at declining prices, and increasingly sophisticated connected machinery. Advancing rapidly following the development of 3D scanners and printers, other tools commonly found in makerspaces include computer numerical controllers (CNC) for automated control of machine tools (such as laser, plasma, and fabric cutters, welding, sewing) through computer-aided design (CAD) computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software, sensors and control devices (like Arduino and Raspberry Pi), and industrial-grade food preparation equipment.

Maker learning: Educational institution-based maker learning focuses on the curriculum-linked activities of students in constructing artefacts ranging from robotics to clothing. Proponents of makerspaces for education highlight the benefit of engaging learners in creative, higher order problem solving through hands-on experimentation, design, construction, and iteration (Xianmin & Jihong, 2015). Feedback is provided through rapid prototyping, immediate testing, and peer and user response, allowing participants to move from idea to workable product quickly. Learning is supported via formal curricula, informal mentoring, and feedback from a community of practice. 

Makerspaces as economic development incubators: As community-facing resources, makerspaces provide a forum for members of the community to meet like-minded people, and to have access to the equipment and computing resources that let them move the idea in their head to a production-ready product (Economist, 2011). Non-profit makerspaces have developed as community-based ventures (e.g., conference partner Crash Bang Labs), but are resource limited. While similar facilities like business development incubators are successful at helping entrepreneurs move ideas from concept to validated business model, makerspaces are about incubating the development of ideas into tangible products (Holman, 2015; Lindtner et al., 2014; van Holm, 2017)

The UofR opportunity: The UofR has been exploring the development of makerspaces in recent years, including the Creative Technologies MakerSpace in MAP, the TPC MakerTools facility in Education, and the 3D printer in the Archer Library. With the renewal of the College Avenue Campus and the commitment by Conexus Credit Union to incorporate a 15,000 square foot business incubator space in its new building on the site, the University has an opportunity to strategically consider the place of maker learning in the curriculum, and its community engagement mission, by investigating the possibility of a community-facing, university-grounded makerspace that can support both lifelong learning and community economic development. 

The purpose of the symposium: The proposed symposium will bring global experts from the makerspace and maker learning fields, together with local educators and administrators, students and community members currently working on maker projects, and government and community economic development actors, to map out the benefits of a university-led makerspace as both a university resource and a public facility, the costs to adequately house, staff, and instrument a world-class makerspace, the appropriate governance and access models that will ensure its sustainability and lasting impact on local economic development, and the pedagogical linkages required to ensure its maximal integration with the educational mission of the university. 

Critical path: As of late 2018, this proposal is at the grant-application stage. Confirmation of the symposium will be in June 2019. Comments on the symposium premise, and interest in participating, should be sent to

Economist. (3 Dec, 2011) "More than just digital quilting." The Economist.
Ford, M. (2015). Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. Basic Books.
Halverson, E. R., & Sheridan, K. (2014). The Maker Movement in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495–504.
Holman, W. (2015). Makerspace: Towards a new civic infrastructure. Places Journal. 
Lindtner, S., Hertz, G. D., & Dourish, P. (2014). Emerging Sites of HCI Innovation: Hackerspaces, Hardware Startups & Incubators. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 439–448). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
Rheingold, H. (1985). Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-expanding Technology. MIT Press.
van Holm, E. J. (2017). Makerspaces and Local Economic Development. Economic Development Quarterly, 31(2), 164–173.
Xianmin, Y., & Jihong, L. (2015). The Potential Value of Maker Education and Its Disputes. Modern Distance Education Research.