This evidence-based practice paper reports the effectiveness of various strategies to support growth in the use of campus makerspaces both in numbers of students and the diversity of background and major. Makerspaces have increasingly become part of the landscape of colleges and universities over the past decade, especially in engineering colleges where experiential learning and design experiences are viewed as essential building blocks in educating new engineers. Although it is exciting to have these new spaces filled with prototyping tools, professional support, and sets of student super-users, it is imperative that college makerspaces be accessible, available, and intriguing to the breadth of students enrolled if we want these particular resources to positively impact more than a fraction of the student body. Considering the resource-intensive nature of such spaces, their continued existence depends on engagement with a critical mass of students participating in meaningful and value-adding experiential learning activities.
Toward that end, we continue to analyze usage over three years at a makerspace situated in a large public research university in the upper midwest. Students access the makerspace via courses held in the space, through open visits, and by registering for and attending short courses taught there. Over three years, the makerspace has developed three main strategies for driving a diverse and larger set of students from its engineering, math, and physical science majors into the space to serve as a platform for design practice, cross-disciplinary exploration, and community building. The first is the development of faculty-led project-based courses aimed at first-year students with the goal of introducing students to design and prototyping inside the makerspace. The second is the development of staff and student-led microcourses that teach specific skills or share information in a short period of time and become part of the training transcript for each student. The third is to leverage web and social media to create excitement around student design projects and experiential learning in the makerspace.
We are still collecting results, primarily through mandatory lab check-in data, regular course enrollment, and microcourse enrollment. This data will be cross-referenced to demographic data such as major, gender identity, ethnicity, and student year to understand usage changes over three years. Since there are data points for the varied ways to access the makerspace, we will be able to draw conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the three strategies. We will share our lessons learned for those working to enhance the effectiveness and impact of their college makerspaces.
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