Defining Makerspaces: What the Research Says

Defining MAKERSPACES: What the research says: After receiving criticism that my space was not a "real makerspace", I decided to draft my own definition and take a look at how research defines makerspaces.

Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with criticism.  I was told (not to my face) by a visitor to our school that our library makerspace is not a “real makerspace”.  This same person stated that our woodshop is a “real makerspace” because it has power tools.  She suggested that I “do some research” on what makerspaces actually are.

Feeling personally insulted aside, what bothers me most about this statement is the concept that some makerspaces are more valid than others and that a makerspace is solely defined by the tools it contains.  I do agree that our woodshop is a makerspace, even though we don’t call it that. Our woodshop is awesome, and I’m so glad that we have a space where students can learn how to use saws, drills and other tools to build awesome projects as part of their curriculum.  Yes, that is a makerspace.

But is my space any less of a makerspace simply because it doesn’t have power tools?  Because it doesn’t have a 3D printer?  Because my students build with LEGOs, K’nex and cardboard?

Defining Makerspaces

Defining Makerspaces

All of this got me thinking about how we define “makerspace”.  So I did what librarians do best: I researched.  I gathered together my books on makerspaces, I searched our databases for articles, and I crowdsourced the amazing hive mind of Twitter.

For the record, here’s my own definition of a school Makerspace:

A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.

A makerspace can be anything from a repurposed bookcart filled with arts and crafts supplies to a table in a corner set out with LEGOs to a full blown fab lab with 3D printers, laser cutters, and handtools.  No two school makerspaces are exactly alike, nor should they be.  Makerspaces are as unique as the school cultures they represent.   There is no such thing as one form of making being more valid or better than the other.  Makers are artists, crafters, knitters, seamstresses, builders, programmers, engineers, hackers, painters, woodworkers, tinkerers, inventors, bakers, graphic designers and more.

A #makerspace is a place where kids gather to create, invent, tinker, explore & discover. Click To Tweet

What the Research Says About Makerspaces

Here’s where my research led me:

Makerspace is a general term for a place where people get together to make things. Makerspaces might focus on electronics, robotics, woodworking, sewing, laser cutting, programming or some combination of these skills." Makerspaces by S. Roslund and E.P. Rodgers

I like this definition from Samatha Roslund’s book Makerspaces.  I see three important elements to this definition: Place… people… make things.  While different possible foci are mentioned, this definition does not limit a Makerspace to a particular set of tools.  It’s about a place, about a community.  Another similar quote comes from the Educause Learning Initiative article, 7 Things You Should Know About Makerspaces:

“A makerspace is a physical location where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build.”

"Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: making." The Makerspace Playbook

Makerspaces are not about the tools; they’re about enabling making.

More on Makerspaces

“… [A] space where kids have the opportunity to make – a place where some tools, materials, and enough expertise can get them started.  These places, called makerspaces, share some aspects of the shop class, home economics class, the art studio and science labs.  In effect, a makerspace is a physical mash-up of different places that allows makers and projects to integrate these different kinds of skills.” Dale Dougherty, The Maker Mindset, in Design, Make, Play

“Even if you don’t have access to expensive… hardware, every classroom can become a makerspace where kids and teachers learn together through direct experience with an assortment of high and low tech materials.” ~ Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez in Invent to Learn

“A Makerspace is a metaphor for a unique learning environment that encourages tinkering, play and open-ended exploration for all”  ~Laura Fleming, author of Worlds of Making

Making, Creativity, and Design

“What do you do in a makerspace? The simple answer is you make things.  Things that you are curious about.  Things that spring from your imagination… that inspire you and things that you admire.  The informal, playful atmosphere allows learning to unfold, rather than conform to a rigid agenda.  Making, rather than consuming is the focus.  It is craft, engineering, technology and wonder-driven.” Thinkers and Tinkerers

“The most important quality of a makerspace is that it encourages creativity. This can be done with a space full of hand tools, materials, and finished projects. The culture in a space should support the idea that anything is possible.” 3 Key Qualities for a School Makerspace

“Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.” Jennifer Cooper, Designing a School Makerspace (Edutopia)

“Makerspaces are collaborative learning environments where people come together to share materials and learn new skills… [they] are not necessarily born out of a specific set of materials or spaces, but rather a mindset of community partnership, collaboration, and creation.” Library as incubator project

(Emphasis in quotes is mine)

The video above is really long by internet standards.  But you should at least watch the first few minutes, where students share what their makerspace means to them.

Read up more on Makerspaces

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26 thoughts on “Defining Makerspaces: What the Research Says”

  1. You are spot on Diana! A Makerspace can be anything, anywhere, any time – so long as it includes people, a place and making! I’ve tweeted you a pic of our Makerspace – which is still in progress, and doesn’t have much more than cardboard and some LittleBits kits right now. We also have only rolled out the idea of Makerspace to 5th graders at this time, but for them, it has become a vital part of our school. In the tweet, I also included a copy of a Google Doc that 2 of my struggling fifth grade boys created. It explains, in their words, why Makerspace is so important. Keep up the good fight!

  2. Very timely, and you are exactly right! Not tools; opportunities and possibilities. I’m pooling resources for a presentation to my state library association, and I’ve been pondering the exact same thing. The definition I’m using in the presentation is “a space where students create,” followed by some examples from my elementary makerspace. I would even suggest that the “space” can be at home via a circulating kit with reusable supplies.

  3. Thank you so much for explaining that maker space is a concept beyond tools and tech. I had a similar experience with an ignorant woman who barged in and was very vocal in her criticism. It was jarring to say the least. You are courageous to do everything you can with everything you have. Too bad she didn’t do her research, look at your budget or offer her encouragement and support! Your students are so lucky to have you; I’m sure they know it and that is all that matters!

  4. Pingback: Beyond Makerspaces: Why We Created an xLab at Our School
  5. Thank you , Diana! I am toying with the idea of a Maker Space in my library. I am intimidated that mine won’t be considered “good enough” or “real” if it does not include computers, coding or robotics. Our computer lab already does those things very well! My library is also a completely open space so security is also an issue. You gathered some great info that I will use as I start to put together my space. Now I am considering a Maker Space cart that could be rolled in and opened during classes. THANK YOU!

    • We are going the MakerSpace cart route this fall. Don’t have the space in the library but we want to make the resources available for our teachers to create in their classrooms.

  6. I’m putting together a Makerspace, and my first phase will be all paper construction– and ecofriendly at that because I don’t want markers and plastic!

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