Creating a University Makerspace to support curricular activities

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Dates: 25/10/2015 – 24/10/2015

Summary

Makerspaces (see http://makerspace.com/) are increasingly being introduced into schools, colleges and universities to allow students access to tools and technologies that support the creation of tangible, physical artefacts as part of their formal education. This approach incorporates what has been called STEAM teaching by promoting creativity (‘Arts’) as part of traditional STEM subjects and has been piloted within an NSP module catering for 300+ students (Fundamentals of Scientific Research 4000NATSCI) resulting in excellent feedback from students who opted to study in this way (http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsUpdate/viewarticle/1461/). The current proposal aims, therefore, to build on existing experience as a cross-faculty collaborative project (Faculty of Science and Faculty of Technology & Environment) by developing cross-curricular links within the Faculty of Science in order to facilitate the creation of a makerspace within the University and an annual maker event to introduce students to creative activities and provide tools and material for staff at LJMU to integrate into their curricula.

Aims

Makerspaces are collaborative creative spaces that “facilitate hands-on activities with digital and electronic tools such as 3D printers and soldering irons, as well as more traditional tools, such as sewing machines and wood working materials” (Barniskis 2014) and which are well suited to integration across a broad range of University curricula.

In the broadest terms the project aims to pool the University’s existing makerspace resources in order to support staff in integrating more practical activities into the curriculum. These needn’t be introduced as formal learning outcomes, but can rather complement existing module content by increasing student engagement and demonstrating practical uses and applications for otherwise potentially theoretical subject areas. In addition, we wish to foster cross-curricular collaboration between both staff and students through developing opportunities for integrated project work at the undergraduate level. The intention will be for this to improve student engagement and retention, especially in traditionally quite ‘dry’ STEM subjects, by enabling students to better contextualise their studies through working with others in different fields whilst simultaneously developing a greater range of employability skills.

The outcomes of the project will also improve researcher capability, by making availability of practical equipment and methods transparent, and allowing them to perform more directly practical work (e.g. development of networked sensor devices rather than relying on simulations). Existing research into engagement and learning analytics, the effectiveness of student choice in learning styles and practical approaches to learning will also be extended through this work (Feltham & Keep, 2014).

Outcomes

  • Resource catalogue: First, a survey will be conducted to establish the existing maker tools and materials within the University in order to produce a catalogue of available resources and where and how these may be accessed.
  • Maker event: Second, an annual maker event will be run within the University. This will showcase the existing expertise of staff and students, demonstrating to other staff and students the potential for engaging in maker activities within the University.
  • Online staff resources: Third, a set of resources (in the form of a wiki) will be developed to support staff in integrating maker activities into their modules. This will draw on existing maker material and resources where possible, but also include new material relevant to LJMU in particular and developed as part of this project (e.g. detailing first-hand experiences of incorporating maker activities at LJMU).
    All three outputs will support staff in integrating maker activities into the curriculum. We also anticipate longer terms outputs in terms of research bids in areas related to engagement and learning analytics, Makerspace education, cyber-physical systems security and potentially environmental sensor monitoring data collection. For the latter, improved practical outputs from access to cross-faculty equipment, and improved researcher capabilities, will be key.

Rationale

Students entering University are finding the transition from school increasingly challenging. Part of the reason is the transition from the experiential learning style at secondary level to the more didactic style of University. As explained by Crosling et al. “There is a consensus that interactive as opposed to didactic teaching improves academic success and promotes the inclusion of learners who might feel like outsiders” (Crosling et al. 2009). Maker activities provide a means of smoothing this transition, allowing learning communities to be developed that foster a “participatory culture that encourages people who were not previously inclined to code or solder to interact with science and technology in ways they had not before” (Barniskis 2014).

Such maker activities are evident in potential projects like high-altitude ballooning/UAV/UTV projects, where instrument packs containing e.g. GPS transmitters, data-loggers, video/still cameras etc. controlled by a RaspberryPi computer or Arduino/Adafruit microprocessor are constructed and attached, released, tracked and hopefully retrieved. Balloon flights can reach and photograph near space for approximately £400 whilst micro-drones and terrestrial tracked vehicles capable of being controlled from mobile phone apps can be purchased for under £100. The potential for developing new and exciting ways to engage students in their learning is therefore almost limitless.

A study by Tinto (Tinto 1996) has shown that “the use of learning communities and the adoption of collaborative learning strategies” has a (statistically) significant effect on student persistence (e.g. increasing from 52.0% to 66.7% for Autumn enrolment at college level, P< 0.05). The evidence therefore suggests that the introduction of maker activities to support collaborative, situated learning has the potential to significantly improve engagement and retention.

The move to accredited degrees has also introduced a more practical focus, and this has had an impact in areas such as final year projects. The introduction of more practical, project-oriented activities earlier in a student’s University education can have significant benefits in supporting this.

The University is also in an ideal position to support this, since much of the equipment, skills and motivation already exists. The recently formed Maker Education Working Group has begun to identify potential resources from across the University that, if pooled through collaboration, could offer immediate and tangible benefits to staff and students. However, these currently exist as ‘islands’ that are only accessible to a small number of staff and so a concerted effort is required to capitalise on these existing resources and talents. Without this effort the University will fail to capitalise on the considerable existing resources available for staff to integrate creative, collaborative, engaging makerspace activities into existing course structures.

Student retention and staff engagement with best practice sharing are both KPIs in support of Excellence in Learning, Teaching and Assessment. Increased student engagement also has the potential to improve student satisfaction with an impact on multiple KPIs related to Establishing and Enhancing the Student Partnership (LJMU Board of Governors 2013). We believe there is also likely to be impact in the areas of Embedding Research and Scholarship and Social and Economic Engagement. The project therefore clearly serves to reinforce the University’s Strategic Plan (LJMU Board of Governors 2012).

Impact

The project will have notable impact in at least three areas. First, it will provide information, support and mechanisms to allow staff to integrate practical and creative activities into the curriculum. Research suggests that this allows for a more effective transition from the experiential learning in school to the more didactic learning of University education. It can also help to motivate more theoretical work by grounding it in practice, thereby developing situated knowledge (Boy 2013).

The potential for introducing maker activities into the curriculum will be of benefit to students, in that existing work both within LJMU and externally suggests it increases engagement (Boy 2013). Students choosing to include maker activities within the Fundamentals of Scientific Research (4000NATSCI) module at LJMU as part of an individual assessment achieved average grades of 70.4% as compared to 61.3% for a traditional didactic approach and resulted in improved student engagement, student marks and student experience (Feltham & Keep, 2014).

It’s not expected that all programmes will suddenly have maker activities integrated into their modules. However, for other students the maker event will also expose them to maker activities that they might otherwise not have access to or be aware of. This has the potential to enrich the student experience more generally.

It’s expected that students undertaking final year project work will potentially benefit from access to resources that will help them perform more practical evaluation work. An example might be a computing student who wants to evaluate a software tool practically using electronics.

Finally, extending the research scope beyond final year projects, we anticipate the work feeding into the broader research capabilities within the university. We expect research proposals to follow in at least three areas. First in the area of Makerspace education and engagement and learning analytics. This will consider the impacts of student choice and the introduction of more practical activities on student outcomes, especially during the transitional period of Level 4. The proposal would consider the potential for makerspace activities to enhance progression, retention and degree outcomes. Second in the area of cyber-physical security within the PROTECT Research Centre. Early discussions with researchers in GERI have highlighted security of industrial equipment combining both physical and cyber capabilities (e.g. networked lasers, networked sensors) as being an exciting area for future research. There is also scope to develop proposals related to building environmental monitoring sensors for data collection, swarming and flocking algorithms for UAVs, high altitude balloons and other sensor-equipped vehicles, or even mini-satellite launches. Having greater access to physical equipment and improving researchers’ creative practical skills will directly support these ideas.

The resources will be available across the University and so the breadth of the impact has potential to apply to all staff and students.

There is also scope to have wider impact, with participation in, and possible establishment of, regional and national Maker/MakerEd conferences and meetings by students and staff on the scheme. This will raise the profile of our academic staff and our students in a competitive employment marketplace. The University is currently discussing potential collaborative opportunities with DoES Liverpool, a locally established Makerspace in the city centre, to develop Makerspace activities within Liverpool further.

Beneficiaries

The project will benefit all staff across the University by making available resources to help them evaluate how and where maker activities can be integrated into their courses. For those that choose to do this, the project will provide resources to enable them to do so.
The project will benefit those students with courses that integrate the activities, or students that make use of the resources for their projects.
All staff and students will have the opportunity to benefit by attending the maker event to be held in the University.
Researchers will benefit through improved capability in developing practical solutions and increased creativity, through access to the makerspace community and equipment.
We established a cross school Maker Education Working Group (MEWG) during the Summer, which attracted interest from around 20 academics and so we anticipate there to be at least five immediate staff beneficiaries across faculties within the funding period with this number growing beyond. Based on three modules taking up the makerspace activities during the first year, this would benefit a minimum of 250 students across multiple faculties.

The mechanism for accessing maker resources within the University will include a process for recording who has accessed what. For staff integrating maker activities, a process will be developed for measuring the impact (e.g. through the student survey and comparing grade outcomes).

Evaluation

The key indicators will therefore be:

  1. The level of engagement measured through access to equipment (units: instances; unique individuals).
  2. Level of engagement as measured through module appraisals (units: N/A).
  3. Statistics related to access to the online resources (units: pageviews; unique visitors).
  4. Success of the maker event measured through attendance numbers (units: bodies).
  5. We anticipate at least one research proposal submission in the area of cyber-physical security during the period of the project.

Dissemination

Project results and deliverables will be disseminated through the online portal (in the form of a wiki) that will be created as an output of the project.

The maker event will represent an important dissemination activity.

The impact measurements will be used as the basis for a paper or presentation to be submitted either to an external conference or LJMU’s Teaching and Learning conference.

Sustainability

In order to be successful the project will need to continue beyond the 12 months of the curriculum enhancement funding. It’s expected that the continuation of the project will be supported by the staff and faculties that integrate maker activities into programmes, as well as more widely by Schools making existing resources available to others. Staff will be expected to contribute their experiences to the online wiki on an informal basis.

There will be two tangible ongoing costs to the University. First the costs associated with the annual maker event. After the first year schools/faculties will be approached for sponsorship of the event (on the basis of benefit to students). Local companies and organisations will also be approached for sponsorship.

Second, the online resource will be maintained beyond the project. Initially these will be hosted within the University. Although the cost to the University will be minimal (approx. £300 per year), beyond the project the resource may be moved to one of many free online wiki resources (e.g. http://www.wikispaces.com/ ) if it’s not possible to fund this to remain within the University infrastructure.

Future funding from proposals (Makerspace education, cyber-physical systems and monitoring sensors) will help support the work if successful in terms of both ongoing capital equipment, and improvements in the online material.

Ultimately the aim is to embed maker-approaches into existing learning and teaching at LJMU. Beyond the initial 12 months the necessary equipment, expertise and learning outcomes will be in place to ensure viable longer-term sustainability.

References

Barniskis, S.C., 2014. STEAM: Science and Art Meet in Rural Library Makerspaces. In iConference 2014 Proceedings. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA: iSchools, pp. 834 – 837. Available at: https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/47328 [Accessed August 28, 2014].

Boy, G.A., 2013. From STEM to STEAM: Toward a Human-Centered Education. In European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics. Florida, USA: NASA, p. 8p. Available at: http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20130011666 [Accessed August 28, 2014].

Crosling, G., Heagney, M. & Thomas, L., 2009. Improving Student Retention in Higher Education: Improving Teaching and Learning. The Australian Universities’ Review, 51(2), p.9. Available at: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=159225407205474;res=IELHSS [Accessed August 28, 2014].

Feltham, M.J. & Keep, C., 2014. Creative Learning Horizons: what happens when you let students choose how they’d like to learn? LJMU teaching & Learning Conference 2014. Abstract available at:  http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/eaqs/TLconference/ [Accessed September 23, 2014].

LJMU Board of Governors, 2013. Annual Key Performance Outcomes Report, Liverpool, UK. Available at: https://www.ljmu.ac.uk/strategy-support-office/secured/KPIs/index.htm [Accessed September 4, 2014].

LJMU Board of Governors, 2012. Strategic Plan 2012-2017, Liverpool, UK. Available at: http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/Vice_Chancellor/123131.htm.

Tinto, V., 1996. Classrooms as Communities: Exploring the Educational Character of Student Persistence. Journal of Higher Education, 68(6), pp.599–623. Available at: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ555722 [Accessed September 4, 2014].

Project Team: B. Lempereur (proj. lead), M. Feltham (co-proj.), D. Llewellyn-Jones (tech. lead), M. Sabino (co-tech.), with support from MEWG members, and LJMU students.

Contact

Please direct all contact related to this project to:

Brett Lempereur Job Title: Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Computing
B.Lempereur@ljmu.ac.uk Tel: 0151 231 2503
School of Computer Science