FUSE Studios: Bringing Interest-driven, Integrated-STEAM Learning into Schools via Makerspaces

Public Deposited

Makerspaces have become explosively popular in recent years. Many believe they hold promise as contexts for integrated STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) learning, meta-disciplinary skill learning, and promoting interest and equity in STEAM. However, we still know relatively about what is actually learned in these spaces, how interest and learning develop, and how to evaluate learning in ways that don’t interfere with the informal structure of making activities. As makerspaces gain in popularity and move increasingly from informal contexts into schools, it is essential that we answer these questions. The goal of this dissertation is to provide empirical analyses to answer these questions, by examining one set of in-school makerspaces, FUSE studios. Within this investigation, I focus on furthering our understanding of interest development and learning in makerspaces in four specific ways. First, I examine what is learned in FUSE and how it is learned, focusing on meta-disciplinary skills such as twenty-first century skills and spatial skills. Second, I propose a framework for evaluating learning endogenously in FUSE and other makerspaces. Third, I examine the relation between interest and learning in FUSE, as a choice-based, makerspace context. Finally, I examine the connections learners made between FUSE and outside interests and practices, both in and out of school. Throughout all of these analyses, I examine the role that the structure of the FUSE activity system plays in facilitating interest development and learning, both within and across contexts. I also attend to ways in which FUSE studios are similar or different from both other makerspaces and other in-school learning contexts and discuss design implications that we can take away from understanding interest development and learning in this particular context. To conduct this investigation, I observed 90 (41 male, 48 female) fifth and sixth grade (58 fifth, 32 sixth) students in five FUSE studios, in a large, diverse, suburban school district, over the course of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. I collected data on these students both in FUSE and in related STEAM learning contexts, including ethnographic observations, video recordings, field notes, surveys, web data, interviews, and photos of artifacts. I analyzed this data using a combination of qualitative coding and interaction analysis. From my analysis of the data, I propose four key findings. First, interest and choice in FUSE led to deeper learning by increasing engagement, helping students work through frustration to achieve goals, shaping career interests and identity, and motivating learners to find ways to pursue interests and learning across contextual boundaries. Second, I identified four types of interest pathways through FUSE and found that despite engaging in different challenges and engaging with challenges differently, students on these different interest pathways learned similar twenty-first century skills, but the ways in which that learning was demonstrated differed by pathway. Third, in contrast, spatial thinking and learning differed between FUSE challenges. I show how the different sociomaterial contexts (Orkilowski, 2007) and task constraints of the different FUSE challenges facilitated different types of spatial thinking, spatial learning, and related STEAM problem-solving and learning. Finally, fourth, by comparing and contrasting students’ participation in FUSE with their participation in other STEAM learning contexts, I identify design components of FUSE that make it open to the import and export of interests and practices, in ways that other STEAM learning contexts are not and more general features of activity systems which help or hinder the movement of interests and practices across contextual boundaries. These findings further our understanding of both what and how learning occurs in makerspaces and provide insight into both strengths and best practices but also potential pitfalls in bringing makerspaces or other integrated STEAM learning activities and environments into schools. They also deepen our understanding of learning more generally, particularly in regards to the relation between interest and learning, the learning of meta-disciplinary skills, such as twenty-first century skills and spatial skills, and factors contributing to cross-context learning.

Last modified
  • 10/16/2018
Date created
Resource type
Rights statement