skip to main content

Title: Academic makerspaces as a “design journey”: developing a learning model for how women students tap into their “toolbox of design”
Abstract An academic makerspace, home to tools and people dedicated to facilitating and inspiring a making culture, is characterized by openness, creativity, learning, design, and community. This nontraditional learning environment has found an immense increase in popularity and investment in the last decade. Further, makerspaces have been shown to be highly gendered, privileging men's and masculine understandings of making. The spike in popularity warrants deeper analysis, examining the value of these spaces for women and if learning is occurring in these spaces, specifically at higher education institutions. We implemented a phenomenologically based interviewing process to capture the making experiences of 20 women students, recruited through purposive and snowball sampling. By eliciting the narratives of women students, we captured how making, designing, and creating evolved through gendered experiences in the university makerspace. Each interview was transcribed and resulted in around 868 pages of single-spaced text transcriptions. The data were analyzed through multiple cycles of open and axial coding for common themes and patterns, where makerspaces create a culture of learning, facilitate students’ design journey, and form a laboratory for creativity. These themes forwarded the creation of a learning model that showcases how design and learning interact in the makerspace. This work demonstrates that women students are engaging learning and inspiration; developing confidence and resilience; and learning how to work with others and collaborate.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing
Page Range / eLocation ID:
363 to 373
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Makerspaces, intended for open and collaborative learning, often struggle to attract a diverse group of users, particularly concerning gender diversity. These issues include makerspaces becoming associated primarily with white male students, gendered connotations of machines and materials, and women’s perceived lack of self-efficacy in using makerspace tools. As a result, women may view makerspaces as unwelcoming, and societal stereotypes can affect their engagement in these spaces. Efforts to create more inclusive makerspaces are essential to fully realize the potential of makerspaces, encourage and boost confidence in marginalized groups to pursue careers in different engineering areas, and promote a diverse and collaborative maker culture. Moreover, defining makerspaces is challenging due to conflicting perceptions, the uniqueness of spaces, and the abstract elements in these environments, revealing a gap between academic definitions and the diverse voices of people interested in utilizing makerspaces. Our goal is to see if there are differences in the fundamental academic makerspace definition and makerspace definition by different genders, providing insights into how inclusive our makerspace is. We focus on gender because our interviewees focused more on gender than other identity markers in our conversations, but we also report additional demographic data that likely impacted participants’ experiences, namely, their racial and ethnic identities. Our corpus is drawn from semi-structured interviews with students enrolled in an introductory first-year engineering course. Out of 28 students interviewed, 10 identified as women, 16 as men, one as both women and questioning or unsure, and one as women and nonbinary and transgender. In terms of racial/ethnic identifications, nine participants identified as White or Caucasian; six identified as Latinx or Hispanic; five identified as Latinx or Hispanic, White or Caucasian; three identified as Black or African American; two identified as Asian, Desi, or Asian American; one identified as Latinx or Hispanic, Native American or Alaska Native; one identified as Southwest Asian, Middle Eastern, or North African, White or Caucasian; and one identified as Native African. In this ongoing study, from interview transcripts, we extracted participant responses to questions regarding their definitions of and impressions of makerspaces to identify commonalities and differences. Specifically, we use natural language processing techniques to extract word frequency and centrality and synthesize commonalities into a shared definition of a makerspace. We also separated responses from participants by gender identities to evaluate how definitions varied with gender. These emergent definitions are compared with commonly accepted definitions derived from research papers. Additionally, we conduct a complementary discourse analysis of students’ definitions and impressions of makerspaces, qualitatively examining how diverse students characterize ways of being and doing in the makerspace. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract University makerspaces have been touted as a possible avenue for improving student learning, engagement, retention, and creativity. As their popularity has increased worldwide, so has the amount of research investigating their establishment, management, and uses. There have, however, been very few studies that use empirical data to evaluate how these spaces are impacting the people using them. This study of three university makerspaces measures engineering design (ED) self-efficacy and how it is correlated with involvement in the makerspaces, along with student demographics. The three university makerspaces include a relatively new makerspace at a Hispanic-serving university in the southwestern US, makerspaces at an eastern liberal arts university with an engineering program that has been created within the last decade, and a makerspace at a large, research university in the southeast often considered to be one of the top programs in the US. Students at all three universities are surveyed to determine their involvement in their university's makerspace and how they perceive their own abilities in engineering design. The findings presented in this paper show a positive correlation between engineering design self-efficacy (EDSE) and involvement in academic makerspaces. Correlations are also seen between certain demographic factors and the percentage of students who choose to use the academic makerspace available to them. These findings provide crucial empirical evidence to the community on the self-efficacy of students who use makerspaces and provide support for universities to continue making these spaces available to their students. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract Background

    Engineering education has observed considerable growth in academic makerspaces with initial data indicating significant potential for makerspaces to support learning.


    Given gender disparities in engineering as a professional community of practice (CoP) and indications for makerspaces as sites for learning, educational researchers need to forge a better understanding of women's pathways into makerspaces, including the barriers that inhibit and the catalysts that broaden participation.


    This study employed qualitative interviews with 20 women students who were identified as makers in order to gain insights into the characteristics of their pathways into university makerspaces.


    Using grounded theory development, four major aspects of students' pathways emerged: (1) early forms of apprenticeship through mentors; (2) overcoming and resisting limiting gendered expectations imposed by others in early experiences in unfamiliar makerspace CoPs, resulting in failed articulations of related communities; (3) successful articulations of community grounded in making‐centered coursework and personal passions; and (4) relationships in college that expanded access, leadership, and visibility toward fuller participation in makerspace CoPs.


    Educational interventions to broaden women's participation in makerspaces must be multipronged and attend to early childhood experiences, include supportive opportunities for women to participate in making in K‐12 and university curricula, expand definitions of making to legitimize the arts and crafts as part of design, and create apprenticeship opportunities for women to mentor women in makerspaces. We must change the narrative of who makers are, what making is, and who belongs in makerspaces to reduce barriers and create inclusive making communities.

    more » « less
  4. Recognizing the value of engagement in learning, recent engineering education initiatives have worked to encourage all types of students to pursue engineering while also facilitating the construction of makerspaces on university campuses. Makerspaces have the potential to engage a broader range of students by providing unique and personalized pathways into engineering. While this aims to improve the quality of an engineer’s education, the reality settles in when we begin to question whether these makerspaces are, in fact, encouraging learning in engineering for all types of students. In this work, we focus on investigating how a university makerspace affords learning for female students. We implemented an in-depth phenomenologically based interviewing approach which involved a series of three 90-minute semi-structured interviews with six highly engaged female undergraduate students involved in different makerspaces at a single university. The purpose of these interviews was to engage the students in their experiences with the makerspaces and the projects that they work on in this space, so as to inform how these spaces afford learning, specifically the impact on female student learning. All interviews were conducted by the same female graduate student. This work focuses on the second interviews of two females who had student worker roles in their respective makerspaces on campus. All of the interviews for these two females were transcribed resulting in 180 pages of single-spaced transcriptions, and the second interviews were analyzed through two phases of qualitative data analysis. Types of learning emerged in multiple forms and are presented via case studies of each female participant. For case one, these types of learning include machines learning, social learning, design learning, and self-learning. In the second case, the types of learning are tool learning, resourceful learning, space learning, and management learning. These types of learning are then further discussed according to engineering education pedagogy and implications. Makerspaces are often labeled as “open, learning environments,” and this work demonstrates how these spaces facilitate unique forms of learning that engage these women in the makerspace. 
    more » « less
  5. Makerspaces have the potential to revolutionize engineering education by providing a platform for students to nurture their tacit knowledge. This unique space allows for students to work with advanced prototyping equipment, develop specialized skills and create community. Although makerspaces could become an important dimension of engineering education, it is unclear whether these spaces are inclusive for all engineering students, especially those from underrepresented groups. Specifically, this study aims to understand the experiences of diverse female engineering students in makerspaces. For this study, we analyzed interview transcripts of ten women from multiple U.S. universities housing engineering academic makerspaces—those anchored to and supported by the engineering department/school specifically—and found common themes across their stories. These themes include the perception of gender bias, as well as an intimidating, hostile, and non-inclusive environment. Although the results of this study demonstrate gender bias and marginalization occur in makerspaces, female engineering students still find value in the makerspace through access to resources, opportunities to learn, increased confidence, and female makerspace staff. 
    more » « less