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Understanding a Maker Space as a Community of Practice

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Maker Spaces in Design Education

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Chieloka Mbaezue Stanford University

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Chieloka Mbaezue is a senior in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University conducting research to understand how learning happens in makerspaces. Through research, he desires to understand the mechanisms of learning in community in order to democratize the experience of self-efficacy experienced in makerspaces. He hopes to apply his gained understanding to the product development industry in African countries and in the United States, particularly in black communities.

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Eric Reynolds Brubaker Stanford University Orcid 16x16

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Eric is a Ph.D. Candidate in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University and NSF Graduate Research Fellow conducting research in global product development and experiential learning. He was as a teaching assistant in Stanford’s Product Realization Lab for two years. From 2011 to 2016, he worked extensively in Zambia while growing programs and teaching courses at MIT D-Lab. Previously, he was an engineer at Battelle Memorial Institute, researcher at New England Complex Systems Institute, and co-creator of Zimba Water. He holds a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford (2018) and B.S. in Mechanical Engineering with honors from Ohio State University (2009).

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Lave and Wenger’s framework of situated learning provides a keen lens for understanding how a makerspace makes makers. Stemming from learning theory and cognitive anthropology, situated learning illuminates the processes by which individuals become full participants in a community of practice. In the context of makerspaces, this is to say that makers are made not just when they learn a set of knowledge or skills but when they are entrusted with privileges and responsibilities as increasingly full members of the makerspace community. Using the Stanford University Product Realization Lab (PRL) as a case study, this paper applies the situated learning lens to address the following questions: How do students move from newcomer to more full participant in a makerspace community of practice (MCoP)? What learning resources are available to students as they participate in a MCoP, and by what processes do students access learning resources in the MCoP? Longitudinal interviews were conducted with six students during their enrollment in ME203: “Design and Manufacturing”, a core 10-week introductory course in the PRL. Findings suggest a process by which students enter the makerspace community of practice; develop an internal map of learning resources; access those resources through observing, practicing, asking questions, and being observed; and how actors in the makerspace influence how students access resources. Overall, the communities of practice framework sheds new light on learning in an academic makerspace by focusing attention on the social interactions in the MCoP; the varying levels of participation; and the different ways and conditions under which students access learning resources. The paper ends with guidance for understanding and improving the design of makerspaces and similar learning environments.

Mbaezue, C., & Brubaker, E. R., & Sheppard, S. (2020, June), Understanding a Maker Space as a Community of Practice Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35417

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