Making the Tools to Supercharge Learning at Makerspaces

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The advancement of useful technology over the years, from calculators to computers to coding, has created paradigm shifts in the way students are taught – and the way they learn.

The next leap forward may be powered by “making spaces” such as labs and machine shops stocked with 3D printers, virtual- and augmented-reality tools, and other equipment that can help bring students’ digital and physical ideas to life.

Awarded a $650,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation (KFF), Florida Tech will lead the development of tools to turn those making spaces into a critical part of an engineering education at universities nationwide.

Florida Tech is part of KEEN, the Kern Entrepreneurial Network, a collaboration of 40 U.S. universities that strives to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate engineering students. Florida Tech has been involved with the network since 2015.

“Florida Tech will be foremost authority on how best to utilize making spaces in formal education,” said Beshoy Morkos, the associate professor of mechanical and civil engineering who led the winning effort for the KEEN grant. “We want to be smarter and more strategic on how we use those spaces, but we still don’t know how to use them to leverage education.”

Marco Carvalho, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, is principal investigator on the grant. Joining Morkos on the KEEN team are Florida Tech faculty members Jim Brenner, Chiradeep Sen, Robert Weaver, Kimberly Demoret and Rodrigo Mesa Arango.

Over the 3½-year project, Florida Tech will formalize the potential for maker spaces to integrate entrepreneurially minded learning (EML), a key KEEN tenet, and develop content that formalizes how engineering faculty, administration and staff can integrate EML within these individual making environments, known as makerspaces.

Florida Tech will lead the development of multiple educational tool sets to enhance student learning in makerspaces and to get them to think of the business aspect of their work during the creation process.

For example, what if students were provided a limited number of tokens that would power the 3D printer in their design lab? Would that cause them to sharpen their focus on what they are doing and promote efficiency and resourcefulness in their usage?

Or what if students were told that in order to use a makerspace they would be required to record a short video before they left in which they reflected upon what they did in the lab?  Given the impact reflection has on learning, could this be used to improve student thinking on value creation?

“You’re making students think, you’re making them talk about what they would’ve done differently,” Morkos said. “There are all these little things you can add, all these little things you can just change slightly about a student’s experience within these making spaces that can have a tremendous value on their educational gains.”

Through their research with KEEN, the university hopes to facilitate the growing interest in making spaces within formal education, as well as possibly consult organizations in the future based of their work.

In the first year, Florida Tech will examine the work being created inside of making spaces and the people doing that creating and what interest them. In the second year, the university will collaborate with three other KEEN universities to develop the tools, such as tokens or reflection videos. For the remaining time, the groups will exchange and test their proposed tools.

According to Morkos, the goal is to create and finalize the six most effective instructional tools that can be used by schools of any size and making maturity.

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I write and record video about research at Florida Tech. For any inquiries, contact me at 321-674-8937 or rrandall@fit.edu.

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