Nearly 30 representatives from 13 institutions across the state attended the June 19 event held on Elon’s campus.
According to 2015 estimates, there are more than 150 makerspaces on college and university campuses across the country, with more coming online every year.
But as universities develop and grow these labs on their campuses, there is a need for guidance and direction. “There is no playbook on how to do that,” said Dan Reis, Elon’s senior instructional technologist, of the process of creating these spaces that foster innovative learning. Indeed, when he and fellow instructional technologist Michael Vaughn led the efforts in 2015 to create the Maker Hub, Elon’s first make space in the Colonnades Neighborhood, they relied partly on colleagues from other universities who had already gone through the process.
The success of that first space led to the creation last year of a second space, Make Hub – Downtown. Recognizing the value of collaboration, Reis started to check in with makerspace administrators at other North Carolina schools once a semester to see what they were up to. “We talked over video conference to update each other on what’s going on at our spaces and share interesting projects folks have been working on,” Reis said. “During our last call in March, we started talking about having a face-to-face meeting to further support each other.”
The result was the NC Educational Makerspace Meetup 2018, which took place on the Elon campus June 19 and attracted close to 30 makerspace administrators representing 13 North Carolina institutions. Besides Reis, Anna Engelke from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Matt Fisher from UNC-Greensboro and Laura Fogle from N.C. State University served as event organizers and helped lead the discussions throughout the day.
In keeping with the spirit of the maker movement, the meetup followed an “unconference” format, meaning there weren’t any discussion topics selected ahead of time. “We wanted to build the agenda as a group,” Reis said, “because not everyone is at the same phase with their campus makerspace.”
Derek Eggers, who works at the makerspace at Appalachian State University, agreed. “It’s very popular,” he said referring to his school’s Inspire Maker Lab, which is housed in the library and opened two years ago. “But it needs to grow. I want to hear what other makerspaces are doing, get contacts and generate ideas.”
Topics chosen by event participants ranged from safety and equipment training, equipment and material management and workshops and skill building to course integration, sharing user projects and campus community building. For Lauren Stulgis, director of The Foundry, one of several makerspaces available to students on the Duke University campus, developing policies around safety and equipment has been difficult. “This has been one of the biggest challenges that I’ve navigated,” she said during one of the sessions. As other participants shared their own experiences, it was obvious there isn’t a unified process that applies to all, nor a simple answer.
And that’s the point. By sharing what has worked or not worked at other universities, the group was enriching their collective knowledge to continue refining existing processes. “From an individual level, my goal was to be able to connect with other people in the field,” said Engelke, who coordinates programming for beAM, a network of makerspaces on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. “As organizers, our goal was to make sure this event was meaningful and something that people really felt like they could walk away with something that would help them in the work that they do and hear perspectives on why our work is impactful and why it matters.”
Reis agreed. “We are a support system to each other. Everyone knows that there are others in the state working on similar stuff,” he said. “The whole maker community is about sharing what you know. This group is not here to try to outdo the next person but rather to create the best space for our students.”
As for what’s next for the group, Engelke said organizers received great feedback about other types of collaborations, including joint research and programming, they will explore going forward. The most important thing, she said, is to maintain the communication channels open to not lose the momentum the conference created and continue to look for those “Wouldn’t it be cool” moments. She said it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on at other institutions unless one incorporates check-ins with colleagues in the field on a regular basis. Doing so, she added, “builds a sense of community, allows you to explore the possibilities for the future and pulls you out of the day-to-day, plus it helps you dream a little bit about collaborations.”