Friday, October 19, 2012

Goodbye Columbus, Hello Makers!

The biggest takeaway I had from the 2012 ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers) conference that just wrapped up in Columbus was all the session (and hallway) chatter about making and Makers.

In some ways, I find the interest in giving museum visitors access to (relatively) open-ended situations where they can use cool tools and materials a great step forward from past years of over-designed, neon-encrusted exhibition spaces (especially in Science Centers.)

On the other hand, is the term "making" destined to become an over-used "hot" topic that starts to mean so many things to so many people that it becomes a mushy buzzword like "interactivity" or "multimedia"?

It worries me when the appellation "Maker Space" fits everything from a "rebranded" recycled crafts area (where, let's face it, the main activity is globbing together pieces of junk with gallons of glue ... sort of like a bad real-life Katamari Damacy) to a well-staffed space filled with truly generative activities for visitors to explore (like MAKESHOP in Pittsburgh or the tinkering studio at the Exploratorium.)

That tension definitely came out in conversations and session presentations where some ASTC attendees thought letting kids "mess around" with tools and materials in any way they wanted was fine (and seemed to fit their definition of "making") while others felt that unless activities were "framed" in careful ways that lots of opportunities for "authentic making" as well as learning about science were getting lost in the rush to hop on the maker bandwagon.

My own feeling is that this is all getting shaken out during an incredibly active time, with inevitable leaps forward (as well as howl-worthy missteps.)  Ultimately though, if the buzz around "making" can help organizations like museums (and schools, too) get motivated to provide space, tools, and materials for people to push the boundaries of their own skills and experiences, what's the downside? 

But I also think it is important to acknowledge that if you give some people a pile of tools and materials they immediately feel comfortable "jumping in" while other folks need a bit more guidance or examples to help them get started.  And it would be wrong to design a space that makes either end of this learning/personality spectrum feel excluded.

The Maker Movement is in the air both inside and outside of our museums.  I hope we can find ways to capture the core making experiences (like access to new tools and materials) inside exhibit areas without those fundamentals getting swept away by all the media hoopla.

What do you "make" of these topics?  Are you excited by the possibilities for "real making" or are you concerned about "fake make"?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below! 

(Also, if you attend the ASTC Conference --- since I'm just coming onto the Program Committee, I'd like to encourage you to submit session proposals on make (and non-make!) topics for the 2013 meeting in beautiful Albequerque.)

UNABASHED PLUG: In the whole "making" vein, I've just embarked on a collaboration with Brad Larson of Brad Larson Media (that's Brad and me pictured at the top of the post) and Jim Polk of Canstruct to create a series of "Pop-up Maker Space" exhibits and activities for museums. 

We're helping our museum partners help their visitors to make cool projects, share their ideas, and then continue creating and making at home.  You can find out more by checking out (and Liking!) our Pop-Up Maker Space Facebook page, or by going to the newly-started Web site (where you can download a free animation activity to make at home.)

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