College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

College of Education and Human Development

"Makers" and the Art and Science of Learning

January 8, 2013

From MythBusters to Etsy to Steve Jobs -- the "maker" culture is all about DIY, do it yourself. Can that creative impulse also be tapped for student learning? A new project funded by the National Science Foundation and co-directed by Kimberly Sheridan aims to find out.

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Dr. Kimberly Sheridan, an assistant professor at George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development, and her colleague Erica Halverson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently received a grant from NSF for a project called "Learning in the Making: Studying and Designing Makerspaces."

They are working with the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and its one-year-old "MAKESHOP" -- a space that brings together digital media and the DIY culture -- to study environments that foster creative doing and learning.

Hands-on, self-directed, and appealing to all ages, the type of learning Dr. Sheridan is researching often fosters a sense of wonder and inquiry. It can be seen in endeavors as diverse as robotics, fashion design, car repair, computer programming, art, engineering, and more.

By studying how such maker communities emerge, function, and create opportunities to learn, the project aims to produce research that informs other environments -- classroom or otherwise -- and lead to new ways of supporting student learning.


Photo from MAKESHOP at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.


Dr. Sheridan's project is included in an article in "Education Week" published this week titled "Federal Effort Aims to Transform Learning Technologies" and written by Sean Cavanagh. Excerpts from the article are below:

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"The federal government has been funding projects focused on technology and education for decades... but the relatively new program, called 'Cyberlearning: Transforming Education' is the National Science Foundation's attempt... to back projects that will increase scientists' and educators' understanding of technology's capacity to enhance student learning...

"[One] project will examine whether technology and other approaches can be integrated within 'maker spaces' — informal environments created in museums, community centers, or even garages that allow people of all ages to design, build, or tinker with projects — to improve student learning. Those projects could focus on almost anything, from car repair to electronics to welding.

"The researchers hope to develop something akin to a 'cyber-enabled critique tool' that would allow students using maker spaces to work with a broader community and refine their work based on feedback from experts, and allow researchers to understand how that learning can be transferred to other math and science skills, said Erica Halverson, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is co-directing the effort with Kimberly Sheridan, an assistant professor of educational psychology and art education at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va.

"The researchers are working with a number of maker spaces around the country, though the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is the site for their design experiments.

"'The ethos of making has been around for a long time,' Ms. Halverson said. Her project, she said, focuses on 'elevating making to a level where we see the value of these spaces, in terms of the skills and abilities we want our students to have.'"


About CEHD

George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) includes two schools, the Graduate School of Education, which is the largest in Virginia, and the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism. CEHD offers a comprehensive range of degrees, courses, licensures, and professional development programs on campus, online, and on site. The college is distinguished by faculty who encourage new ways of thinking and pioneering research supported by more than $75 million in funding over the past five years.

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