Makerspaces and Design Thinking

Through the CCC Maker initiative (and thanks to Wikipedia for the insights cited below), we have come to a deeper understanding of design thinking that has guided the makerspace movement from the outset.  It is not needed for “tame” or “well-defined” problems whose solutions can be found by applying rules or technical knowledge, i.e. how much is 2+2? Design thinking is especially useful when addressing wicked problems, which are ill-defined or tricky (as opposed to wicked in the sense of malicious).

For example, when approached to discuss a site on campus for our makerspace in January 2017, the facilities manager at Allan Hancock College (AHC) asked “What is a makerspace?” That all-too-familiar question does not stem from a “tame” or “well-defined” problem, rather a wicked problem at the heart of our makerspace journey.

Wikipedia describes the beginning phase or Inspiration of design thinking. “Generally, the design innovation process starts with the inspiration phase: understanding the problem or the opportunity. This understanding can be documented in a brief which includes constraints that gives the project team a framework from which to begin, benchmarks by which they can measure progress, and a set of objectives to be realized—such as price point, available technology, and market segment.” My apologies for allowing this to go over my head, but is that not exactly what the CCC Maker project called for from the start? The colleges were tasked with understanding the opportunity, its constraints and objectives, then creating and testing a plan for their makerspace.

Wikipedia writes “Design thinking encompasses processes such as context analysis, problem finding and framing, ideation and solution generating, creative thinking, sketching and drawing, modelling and prototyping, testing and evaluating” – all things the CCC Maker initiative has done over the past 2 years.

A great example is the Maker Matic internship program. Our business partners described a problem they wanted the interns to address.  “Rather than accept the problem as given, designers explore the given problem and its context and may re-interpret or restructure the given problem in order to reach a particular framing of the problem that suggests a route to a solution.” The interns spent the first few days of the project doing just that, identifying scores of problems that flowed from the initial presentation and then moved on to finding solutions to them.

Wikipedia describes another element of design thinking as the co-evolution of a problem-solution. “In the process of designing, the designer’s attention typically oscillates between their understanding of the problematic context and their ideas for a solution in a process of co-evolution of problem and solution. New solution ideas can lead to a deeper or alternative understanding of the problematic context, which in turn triggers more solution ideas.” At AHC, we learned from the facilities manager in that 2017 conversation that the college would not consider dedicating a separate room for the makerspace. This problem led us to re-configure an existing class room and set up a makerspace in it when classes were not scheduled. After overcoming some tepid objection to moving tables without a permit, we expanded the practice with popup makerspaces in existing labs and studios in fine arts, culinary arts, electronics, the college library and the writing center.

The AHC makerspace is tasked with creating new courses generating state apportionment to support the program. Curriculum creation was one of the original goals of the CCC Maker initiative and the project made great strides in this. We created makerspace workshops for English language learners, fee-based workshops for our industry partners, the Maker Matic internship program in partnership with AHC’s Career Center, enhanced the annual high school robotics workshop and developed interdisciplinary pop-up makerspaces across campus.

The next steps include leveraging CTEA funding to institutionalize these curricular initiatives by learning from the best practices at other community colleges, further testing innovative curricular concepts and creating new makerspace courses for the AHC catalog.

Once again: What is a makerspace? Makerspaces.com writes “It’s more of the maker mindset of creating something out of nothing and exploring your own interests that’s at the core of a makerspace.  These spaces are also helping to prepare those who need the critical 21st century skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  They provide hands on learning, help with critical thinking skills and even boost self-confidence.”



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