One hypothesized benefit of engagement in hands-on, do-it-yourself, or “maker” activities is an increased sense of agency – self confidence in the ability to complete projects and make change in the world. While there is good evidence that agency and self-efficacy are critical for student success (e.g., Godwin, 2016), little is known about what agency looks like in maker contexts, nor how it develops over time. In this paper, we investigate if and how student agency develops within a high school maker program.
The study took place in a diverse public charter school in California. In partnership with a classroom teacher, we collaboratively ran a weekly, full day maker class at the school. Data collection spans two and a half school years. The class structure was open ended, with students having substantial autonomy to choose and work on projects of their own choosing. Our data consists of brief, 2-6 minute interviews with students, conducted at the end of each maker work session. Interview questions varied but always asked students what they worked on that day and if they encountered any sticking points in their work. The data corpus consists of approximately 600 interviews. This paper analyses a subset of this data corpus well suited to examining trends over time: we analyze nine students who enrolled in the class for 2 or more years and completed 20 or more interviews each. This yielded 235 interviews for analysis, with an average of 26 interviews per student.
We conducted inductive qualitative coding of the interview data, focused on the theme of student agency. Preliminary findings show that agency is a multi-faceted construct. Students spoke of their agency in several distinct categories, including agency over materials and technologies, over their own knowledge, and over social dimensions of the classroom. Analyses of trends over time are ongoing, but initial results show that statements of agency increased over time and were connected to statements about feelings of belonging in the space. We conclude with implications for practice.
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