Studio Classrooms and Makerspaces

Sitting at the edge of the Connected Learning campfire, listening to people talk about how they’ve incorporated project-based learning, technology, and twenty-first century skills into their classrooms or designated learning spaces, I can’t help but think about the studio classroom that more progressive bloggers were talking about just a few years ago and how that lines up with this relatively new push for makerspaces.

Studio classrooms have been around for a while as an alternative learning environment in a formal learning environment. Despite the pervasive nature of the lecture style of teaching, some subjects don’t lend themselves well to just being listened to. In a studio classroom, students lead how a topic is discussed. They create the questions to be explored, and then they create projects that allow them build their own understanding in a practical, hands-on manner. Depending on the topic and the project, students may work alone or with groups.

In the studio classroom, the teacher acts more as a facilitator, defining the broad topic for the lesson and then making sure students have the resources they need to keep their projects moving forward. In some situations, the teacher may host seminars to provide students with more information on the topic or to discuss issues that have come up in students’ studies. The lesson shifts from the static lecture to a more impactful learning experience.

Makerspaces are showing up in experimental learning situations, the majority of which aren’t set in formal learning environments. Some colleges are experimenting with learning spaces based on collaboration and flow, but these makerspaces tend to be put together by local libraries and after-school groups looking to connect with and engage younger people. (The Connected Learning webinar series linked above has some great case studies if you’d like to see how others have started and maintained their spaces.) While a makerspace typically has its own set of facilitators and mentors available to makers, it’s not unusual (and even encouraged) for makers to find local mentors within the community and bring them in to advise on projects.

Where the studio classroom is often in a compulsory attendance space, makerspace participants are there solely because they want to work with the technology and equipment available in the space. Makerspaces really are production labs. Each maker decides what they want to create or what skill they’d like to learn, and then they create a project that allows them to reach that goal. In some makerspaces, makers will team up together to create a larger, thematic project, each member bringing their own skills and knowledge to the team and sharing those skills and knowledge when others need them. They can then decide to organize some sort of public exhibition of the work being created in the space.

Regardless of which approach a learning space takes, it’s great to see these practical, learner-driven spaces emerging and gaining the acceptance they’ll need to become more pervasive and to better invade current formal learning environments.

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