Many of us in education have spent much time and energy recently pushing the agenda of so-called “21st Century Learning”. The problem with that phrase is that it can be misconstrued to mean that we are focused solely on creating a generation of students skilled in the use of digital technologies and, thus, prepared to become useful members of a future workforce. While we know there is so much more to 21st century education than mastery of new technologies (i.e. developing creativity, critical thinking skills, perseverance, adaptability), we do sometimes fall into the trap of looking for the next cool gadget for our students to play with, thereby losing sight of the big picture. Many teachers are cautious not to use technology just for the sake of using it, but rather as a tool to accomplish something otherwise impossible, but shouldn’t we still be asking ourselves just what type of users of technology we are creating? Do we run the risk of merely feeding the pool of desensitized screen zombies whose connection to the world around them grows more tenuous? Surely, helping students master a varied toolbox of hardware, software, and apps is important, but we need to work to be certain that we are not just creating a generation of consumers when what we really want is a generation of makers.
The Maker Movement, which is best explained in the below video, is not new, but it is beginning to find its way into the world of education in more meaningful ways. Educators are beginning to see the value of giving time for student invention and creation. (see: http://www.geniushour.com/) Even universities have opened their application process to include student projects. (see: http://makezine.com/2013/08/16/mit-welcomes-makers/) The beauty of the Maker Movement is that it holds high tech and low tech in equal stead. Maker spaces at the most well-known facilities are supplied with buttons, pipe cleaners, glue, and hand drills, right alongside the 3D printers and laser cutters. The idea is to give makers whatever they need and the results and processes are often a blend of handmade and machine-made. Most importantly, a Maker Movement in schools encourages problem finding, question asking, solution trying, failing forward, and the use of a wide range of technologies, some cutting edge now and perhaps some cutting edge 100 years ago, for the purpose of making our world a little better for everyone. If we are finding ways of helping students master technologies for this purpose, than we can be proud of the work we are doing.
It’s not really about the one piece of equipment or the latest and greatest tool. It’s really about creating the environment for them to feel free to experiment, to feel free to fail, but always have the ability to continue to progress. – Leif Krinkle, Director of Visible Futures Lab, School of Visual Arts, NYC