As researchers, we’re always trying to find out more about the topics that we’re studying by reading what’s been written about them in the past. Because the Agency by Design project covers so many different content areas, we’re constantly jumping in and out of different texts that range from academic research studies to online blogs. Below is a list of some of the literature we’re looking at right now, including our thoughts on how we see this material connecting to our project—and what we think about it…
Be sure to check in with this page often, as we’ll be adding new references on a regular basis.
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“Learning by Making: American Kids Should be Building Rockets and Robots, Not Taking Standardized Tests”
By Dale Dougherty, 2012
A link on the Bristol Maker Faire’s website recently led me to “Learning by Making: American Kids Should be Building Rockets and Robots, Not Taking Standardized Tests,” an interesting article about making and learning by Dale Dougherty. In this short piece included in a science education–themed special issue of Slate, Dougherty—the prolific MC of the Maker Movement—rails against the use of high stakes standardized tests in American schools while testifying for the benefits of tinkering, taking things apart, and making as an exhibition of learning. Dougherty’s thoughts on the benefits of maker experiences in education are eloquently stated as such:
The maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners. Increasingly, they can take advantage of new tools for creative expression and for exploring the real world around them. They can be active participants in constructing a new kind of education for the 21st-century, which will promote the creativity and critical thinking we say we value in people like Steve Jobs.
Immediately following this testament to the power of making in education, Dougherty explains how he was recently pressed by educational policy makers to explain how the benefits of maker learning could be measured. In this scenario, Dougherty correlates measuring educational effects to testing. Indeed, testing is the default approach to measuring many educational subjects, and a strong if not exclusive focus on testing to gauge the impact of student learning is highly problematic. But at the same time, advocacy of experience-based learning without firm support is also problematic. As Project Zero researchers have found in the past, identifying the real benefits of visual arts education through research brings deeper support to advocates of such learning experiences—and helps guide educators in designing the most powerful arts learning experiences possible.
In his Slate article, Dougherty ultimately concludes that “making creates evidence of learning”—full stop. No further “assessment” is necessary. As educational researchers who support hands-on making in education (in its many forms), it excites us to think that Dougherty’s assertion may be true. At the same time, it also prompts us to wonder: what exactly might such “evidence of learning” look like, and how can we go about finding ways to make that learning visible?
–Edward, June 8, 2013
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Creating Innovators: The Making Of Young People Who Will Change The World
By Tony Wagner (supplementary video material produced by Robert A. Compton), 2012
In his 2012 book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World Tony Wagner boldly takes on the American educational system and argues that schools—as they exist today—are not set up to foster young innovators. To make his argument, Wagner presents case studies of eight young innovators—all 20–30 something Millennials—and concludes that in order to best develop an innovative spirit in young people, schools must provide opportunities for students to play with ideas and concepts, develop a sense of passion for those ideas, and then establish a sense of purpose to pursue their own bold new visions. Wagner bases his theory of play, passion, and purpose on Teresa Amabile’s framework for creativity which positions creativity and innovation at the intersection of expertise, motivation, and creative thinking skills. Throughout Creating Innovators Wagner suggests the concepts of play, passion, and purpose exist in a linear relationship to one another, with play leading to passion and passion leading to purpose.
In addition to his emphasis on play, passion, and purpose, Wagner also presents five dualisms that schools face:
- Collaboration versus individual achievement
- Multidisciplinary learning versus specialization
- Creating things and student empowerment versus passively communicating knowledge
- Encouragement of risk-taking and trial and error versus risk avoidance
- Intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation
For each dichotomy, Wagner advocates the former foster creativity and innovation in young people, while the latter work against these essential outcomes.
With such a strong focus on play and frequent references to making, doing, and design thinking, there is a great amount of resonance between Wagner’s ideals and the work we are engaged with through the Agency by Design initiative. And what’s more, the book is full of nearly 60 Microsoft Tags (variants of a QR code) that can be scanned with a smartphone to directly connect the reader with the individuals Wagner interviewed for this book.
While Creating Innovators offers a lot to get excited about, I found it puzzling that each of his case studies emphasized the individual achievements of one highly motivated individual—despite Wagner’s core argument for the importance of collaboration over an emphasis on individual achievement. I wonder if this is a major flaw in Wagner’s research or if perhaps—as readers and as a broader society—we’re just too hooked on heroes and not ready to make the switch from celebrating the accomplishments of seemingly gifted and uniquely driven individuals to understanding the broader systems within which many individuals participate.
–Edward, June 8, 2013
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“DIY Producer Society”
By Dane Stangler and Kate Maxwell, 2012
Appearing in a special issue of Innovations journal entitled “Making in America” this theoretical essay highlights the recent shift away from the 20th century mass production industrial model towards localized, skilled production as evidence for a new economy comprised of do-it-yourself, community-based enterprises. Whereas many conversations centered on American manufacturing and productivity lament the loss of jobs prompted by increasing off-shore competition and the resultant economic challenges, Stangler and Maxwell offer an optimistic counterpoint to the discussion as they underscore the ways in which technological innovation is deeply connected to high-end manufacturing, particularly in the development of pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and computers. In light of this reality, the authors view the emerging DIY culture of experimentation and innovation as having transformative implications for the future of making and learning in the United States:
. . . activities like inventing, innovating, and starting a business are not reserved for a special set of “others” but are in the realm of you and me. One need not be an expert to create something, and this shift in attitude and culture is one of the resounding lessons [being taught] . . . A new style of learning is manifesting itself within these concepts—one that emphasizes learning by doing. (p. 8)
Not unlike the view represented above, scholars, policymakers, and economists are increasingly preoccupied by the social dividends that could potentially arise from an expanded investment in interdisciplinary, hands-on learning experiences in K-12 education. However, there remains much to learn about the cognitive mechanisms by which problem solving, creativity, and innovation arise— and similarly, there is still much to learn about the environmental factors that favor such developments. As researchers in the midst of investigating the thinking and learning that might occur through experiences engendered by the DIY movement, it is this educational shift—learning by doing and making—as described by Stangler and Maxwell that is perhaps most germane to the work of the Agency by Design project.
–Raquel, May 20, 2013
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“Old wine in a new bottle: Impact of membership change on group creativity”
By Hoon-Seok Choi and Leigh Thompson, 2005
In many ways, the Agency by Design project is concerned with the productivity and creative capacities of groups. The core principles of design thinking—and to a lesser degree the maker movement—emphasize the importance of diverse groups working together, and our Temescal Learning Community is indeed a collective group that in many ways helps us surface new creative ideas. As we near the end of our first year of work on this project, considering the effects of membership change on group creativity and effectiveness is indeed something we need to take into consideration. For these reasons, I found Choi and Thompson’s 2005 article “Old wine in a new bottle: Impact of membership change on group creativity” of interest to the project.
In this scholarly article the authors present the hypothesis that membership change has the potential to enhance group creativity. To test their hypothesis, the authors conduct two experimental studies wherein “open groups,” whose members change from task to task, and “closed groups” whose membership remain the same from task to task, engage in idea generation activities to see if there is a significant effect in group creativity as a result of membership change. The authors found that open groups outperformed closed groups in both experiments. They conclude that “results from the two experiments indicated that membership change increased the number of ideas (fluency) as well as the variance of these ideas (flexibility)” (p. 128). Though the authors have empirical proof that membership change had positive effects on group creativity in their controlled laboratory experiments, the authors caution that “membership change can cause more harm than good if the change is not under the group’s control and largely unpredictable” (p. 130). They recommend similar studies be carried out in real-life work environments.
Reflecting on our work with the Temescal Learning Community, as we consider adding new members to this group of educators, it is important for us to keep Choi and Thompson’s findings in mind—so that we can best on-ramp new members to this community. At the same time, it is important to take the researchers findings with a grain of salt, as experiments in a controlled laboratory setting can be far different than what actually happens out in the world.
–Edward, March 24, 2013
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“Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention”
By Paulo Blikstein, 2013 (in press)
Members of the Agency by Design project were excited to read an advance copy of “Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention,” a chapter by Paulo Blikstein in the forthcoming book FabLabs: Of Machines, Makers and Inventors. In addition to the largely economic explanation offered in previous work on the subject, Professor Blikstein augments our understanding of the contemporary maker world and DIY communities by persuasively situating maker experiences within the context of progressive educational theory (think Dewey, Friere, and Piaget) and history—while drawing eerily familiar comparisons to our 21st century society along the way, as in his analysis of fifteenth century Venetian culture:
…a new set of societal needs, new technologies, new ways of using knowledge, [led to] the recognition that a task previously monopolized by experts [could be] potentially accessible to the masses. Every few decades or centuries, a new set of skills and intellectual activities become crucial for work, conviviality, and citizenship—often democratizing tasks and skills previously only accessible to experts. (p. 1)
Given Blikstein’s experience designing maker experiences for youth, he is able to convincingly offer valuable insights into the nature and benefits of doing such work in educational settings:
…students would often tell me that they used to “make” and build things with their parents and friends, and often had jobs in garages, construction companies, or carpentry shops. However that experience was disconnected from their school life, since they did not see a link between the intellectual work in the classroom and the manual labor in the wood shop. (p. 7)
The four tableaus of youth maker experiences that Blikstein writes of in the latter half of “Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education” speak to his varied attempts to implement digital fabrication curricula in schools, including the challenges he faced. Here, Blikstein begins to delineate early signs of student learning. Given the increased socio-political spotlight on creativity and innovation (most recently as a leitmotif in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address) and the exponentially-growing interests in developing such spaces in schools, it seems that publication of FabLabs: Of Machines, Makers and Inventors couldn’t come any sooner. Going forward, as more teachers begin to adopt these types of practices, I wonder how the creativity and innovation that are inherent in interdisciplinary projects will be contextualized within other aspects of the curriculum.
–Raquel, February 20, 2013
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“Youth, Technology, and DIY: Developing Participatory Competencies in Creative Media Production”
By Yasmin Kafai and Kylie Peppler, 2011
In this 2011 Review of Research in Education article, authors Yasmin Kafai and Kylie Peppler argue that the hands-on creative enterprises that youth engage in through Scratch, an online open-source computer programming language, allow youth to develop a diverse array of critically important new media literacies. Presenting a considerably hefty overview of media and computer literacies since the 1980s (they know what’s up!) and calling on findings from their previous studies of youth and technology (they’ve done a lot!), the authors provide powerful insight for understanding the converging cultural conditions that are currently paving the way for the unfolding maker movement. The increasing availability of open source, inexpensive, and/or beginner-friendly platforms has prompted the expansion of do-it-yourself activities, which has in turn promoted youths’ fluency in emerging technologies. Furthermore, and seemingly in tandem, the authors argue that this accessibility paves the way for some powerful learning:
DIY production provides opportunities for personal expression, creativity, and critical reflection on media culture, expressed through visual instead of oral or written discourse, and allows youth to reflect on their knowledge of culturally meaningful texts and dominant discourses and formulated a response through their work. (p. 114)
As it turns out, these highly improvisational, less-than-traditional spaces are no accident; notably, the authors point to the often informal, DIY environment as an important context for the student-driven learning that happens in these spaces. Interestingly, although the authors limit the scope of their study to digital and tech mediums in this article, they assert that these findings may be generalized to other DIY learning and making experiences. Buttressing their argument further, the authors describe the rich potential for learning through making as follows:
Educators should be especially interested in DIY communities given the amount of time youth voluntarily spend in intense learning as they tackle technical practices, including film editing, robotics, and writing novels among a host of other activities across DIY networks. (p. 89)
When considering previous research findings on the role of student engagement in learning and lifelong achievement, the implications for the type of volunteerism in learning described above seems crystal clear—and is indeed a growing curiosity for us as researchers working on the Agency by Design project.
–Raquel, February 11, 2013
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“Making Their Way: Creating a New Generation of ‘Thinkerers’”
By Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski, 2010
Written by Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski, “Making Their Way: Creating a New Generation of ‘Thinkerers,’” is a report on a symposium that took place at the 2010 Maker Faire in Dearborn, MI. The symposium was presented by Big Picture Learning and appears to have been more of a working session for a diverse array of makers—including crafts people, educators, administrators, neurologists, carpenters, artists, and a even magician. Based on the write up, it seems like Dale Dougherty—of MAKE magazine fame—was also in the mix.
While “Making their Way” started off with the feel of a formal research study, it quickly went in another direction. In the end, this piece turns out to be half maker movement manifesto and half reflective essay. That being said, there are a lot of juicy bits to this seven-page piece that command attention. First, there is a deep focus on the idea that young people don’t have enough opportunity to engage with hands-on maker experiences in their lives, least of all in schools. Washor and Mojkowski make a passionate case for the importance of working with one’s hands through maker experiences:
People, as one symposium participant observed “use their hands to figure things out,” not just to solve a problem related to what they are making, but also to figure themselves out. Making provides a means of validating who we are, what we know, and what we can do. Making is both an art and a stance. It constitutes a statement of our values. (p. 2)
The authors go on to argue for what they call the hand-mind connection that is made through maker experiences:
To engage the hand is to engage the mind. Thus, schools must provide for all students a hand-mind approach to the essential “academics.” The hand-to-mind pathway is a way to engage all students and deepen their learning, to understand what quality looks like, and through practice and tinkering to apply discipline-based skills. Working the mind without the hands and without a practice community of adults and young people, produces abstract learners who have difficulty applying what they know to the world around them. (p. 3)
But Washor and Majkowski don’t stop there. Beyond simply urging schools to include hand-mind experiences as part of their curricula, the authors further urge schools to resist appending maker experiences to the school day as some sort of awkward attachment “by creating a course ‘down the hall at fifth period’” (p. 4). Instead, they insist upon including the practice of hands-on making throughout the school day:
Schools can reap the rewards of making if they can resist the ‘curse of the course;’ loosen rigid time structures to promote exploration and smart failures; and, in the evening and on weekends, open their labs, sheds, and garages to the community and to makers of all ages and levels of expertise” (p. 6)
In the end, it’s quite amazing to see how many ideas Washor and Mojkowski have packed into so few words, but at the same time, as a reader—and a researcher—I wanted even more. First, I was struck by this concept of “thinkerer” which was, unfortunately, never fleshed out nor further defined. Second, though bold and passionate, nearly all of the claims and assertions the authors make are neither supported by empirical research nor backed by extant literature. The authors acknowledge this, noting that they “attempted to find data about youth as makers and found little” (p. 3). It is my hope that the Agency by Design project, in some way, can find that data that Washor and Mojkowski—and so many others—are looking for.
–Edward, January 15, 2013
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Change by Design
By Tim Brown, 2009
Thanks to the emergent nature of the Agency by Design research initiative, in addition to traditional journal offerings, we had a pile of possibilities for research in the popular press from a wide variety of disciplines. The question was where to start. With no point in delaying the inevitable, I decided to go back and reread Change by Design (HarperCollins, 2009) by Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO.
Last spring, when we began our deep dive into the literature pertaining to design thinking, the maker movement, and tinkering, there was no way I could avoid IDEO’s interpretation of design thinking in the popular press. Of course there are other design firms out there in the world—and many versions of the working and thinking processes of designers—but it is hard to compete with the presence of Tim Brown and David Kelley (IDEO’s founder) in the media. Articles and interviews about the two icons of the design thinking universe appear in Fast Company, Wired, TED Talks, 60 Minutes and elsewhere. Put together, these mentions in the popular press showcase IDEO’s inventory of the benefits of design thinking in the marketplace. Another door opened wide for design thinking in the philanthropic world this past fall when Bill Clinton endorsed IDEO’s Human Centered Design approach at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting entitled, “Designing for Impact.”
Change by Design has been on my radar since it came out in 2009, thanks to PZ researcher Daniel Wilson. Daniel has included examples from IDEO’s practices in his workshops on Adult Collaborative Learning at the Future of Learning Institute that is run by PZ each August. As Wilson notes in practice, and as Brown clearly articulates in text, design thinking has great potential to impact the field of education:
Perhaps the most important opportunity for long-term impact is through education. Designers have learned some powerful methods for arriving at innovative solutions. How might we use those methods not just to educate the next generation of designers but to think about how education as such might be reinvented to unlock the vast reservoir of human creative potential? (p. 222)
This time around, I read Change by Design looking for specific connections to the Agency by Design initiative. Within the text I found many implications for learning in general, including a variety of references to learning-related design processes, suggestions for collaboration, and beneficial attitudes towards design, among others. Though education is not a key focus of this book, Brown does—however briefly—share information about IDEO’s K-12 collaborations. In addition to looking for connections to education and the AbD initiative in Brown’s work, I also read Change by Design with an eye towards areas of intersection with current and past Project Zero initiatives. It was my hope that I might find resonance between Brown’s theorizing on design and extant PZ frameworks so that the AbD team may draw on the knowledge of our colleagues as we follow our various research threads. It should come as no surprise that Project Zero and IDEO—two organizations focused on thinking, learning, and creativity—would share similar questions and findings. Armed with enthusiastic and pragmatic advice from Tim Brown, it is now our job to learn more about the value and implications of design thinking in a variety of K-12 settings.
–Jess, January 13, 2013
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“Makers, Hackers, and Fabbers: What is the Future for D&T?”
By Torben Steeg, 2008
Awhile back I found this interesting paper Makers, Hackers, and Fabbers: What is the Future for D&T? by Torben Steeg. Originally presented at a 2008 Design and Technology (D&T) conference in the UK, this paper suggests that global concepts such as the maker movement are disrupting traditional UK D&T curricula, and that D&T curricula needs to respond by acting on some of the innovations of the maker movement:
a number of disruptive developments is taking place; these include developments in the ways things are made, and in how individuals are going about ‘making’ things. (p. 2)
It’s curious to see how the commercially oriented D&T community is looking to learn new tricks from the hacker-oriented maker community. When talking about curricula, the author suggests that D&T education should be redesigned to merge the commercial focus of D&T with aspects of the maker movement that are more personalized, DIY, and socially oriented. The focus on personalized, DIY, socially oriented learning is really interesting, and can potentially have ramifications for how we think about educational platforms for design and maker thinking through the Agency by Design initiative. There is also a focus on intellectual property and marketing in this article that doesn’t appear often in the literature, including a discussion of “open source” and the creative commons. Like many other academic texts that discuss maker, design, and technology education, the author positions himself within the realm of STEM education, but gives a quick nod to the arts. Lots of great quotes and powerful points of argument are sprinkled throughout this piece, but curiously enough, design thinking is never mentioned.
–Edward, January 12, 2013
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“The Maker Movement”
By Dale Dougherty, 2012
Every once in a while I type “Maker Movement” + “Education” into Google Scholar to see what pops up. Recently, I found a short essay entitled “The Maker Movement” by Dale Dougherty—originator of MAKE magazine and the creator of the Maker Faire. Dougherty’s essay appears in a special issue of Innovations entitled “Making in America” (Summer 2012, Vol. 7, Issue No. 3, pp. 11-14). The essay is brief, and provides an overview of the maker movement in the United States. I was particularly intrigued by the section of the essay where Dougherty discussed the implications for the maker movement in education. To sum it up, Dougherty suggests we should bring a maker ethos to schools to better engage students. He discusses an instance where he asked kids what they wanted to make, and how excited they got (though, he never says what they made). Dougherty then goes on to talk about his collaboration with DARPA, suggesting that “Our aim is to serve student populations that are not well served by the academic tracks traditionally available to them” (p. 13). I find the most interesting thing Dougherty says about maker in education is the following:
Kids today are disengaged and bored in school, and as a result, many see themselves as poor learners. We should be framing things in our schools not just in terms of “how do we test you on that?” but on “what can you do with what you know?” When you’re making something, the object you create is a demonstration of what you’ve learned to do, thus you are providing evidence of your learning. The opportunity to talk about that object, to communicate about it, to tell a story about it is another way we learn at the same time we teach others. (pp. 12-13)
This is exciting stuff, as I see it connecting with Project Zero’s work on Teaching for Understanding. Nonetheless, I’m wondering what it is students are learning, what it is they are understanding by “making stuff they care about” (which, as it turns out, is Eric Booth’s (in press) definition of art)? I guess it’s the work of the Agency by Design project to figure that out!
–Edward, December 20, 2012
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The Learner Directed Classroom: Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Art
Edited by Diane B. Jaquith and Nan E. Hathaway, 2012
I just finished reading The Learner Directed Classroom: Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Art (2012, Teachers College Press) by Diane B. Jaquith and Nan E. Hathaway. The book is an anthology about student directed learning/choice-based education, with a special focus on the visual arts in K-12 classrooms. The book is split into four sections and mostly written by practitioners. I really appreciated the authors’ focus on bringing greater autonomy to students by allowing them to direct their own arts experiences. I especially liked chapters in the book that pushed back on arts education, suggesting that just because it’s art, doesn’t mean it is choice-based. This connects to the Agency by Design project in a big way for me. I feel like a tension in the maker movement (though less so in design thinking) is that which exists between working with whatever materials are at hand to make stuff vs. direct instruction with clearly defined outcomes or kits that include step-by-step instructions for building a robot or sewing headphones into your hat. I guess it can be argued that, just because something is a maker experience doesn’t necessarily mean it fosters creativity, invention, innovation—or student autonomy. One puzzle I had about the book, though, was the idea that many authors argued—that young people are just brimming with invention and waiting to jump in and direct their own experiences. This may very well be true, but it is a big assumption that can’t be generalized to all young learners. I might posit that, for every student that’s out there who can’t wait to be the master of her own experiences in the arts classroom, there are an equal number of students out there who, when given a pile of exciting materials to work with, stare at the materials—awaiting instructions. The trick, I guess, is to not make assumptions about a student’s self direction, but instead to meet students where they are, and find the best route to foster autonomy—and agency—for a wide range of young people.
–Edward, December 17, 2012