We’re working with a team, led by University College London (UCL), on how ‘makerspaces’ can enable wider, more inclusive participation in science, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and, in turn, how more diverse participants can bring new benefits to STEM.
In spite of decades of efforts to increase diversity within engineering and technology sectors, many sections of society remain starkly under-represented, including women, trans and gender non-conforming people, and those from working-class, disabled, Black and minority ethnic communities.
A growing global phenomenon, makerspaces are informal, multipurpose sites designed for collaborative hands-on learning and creative production. The team at UCL, led by Professor Louise Archer, thinks they might be part of the answer for a safer, more sustainable and socially just world. With our support, they’re running the ‘Making Spaces’ project during the course of 2021, hoping to identify how makerspaces can help transform inequalities in STEM participation and engage with young people from unsupported communities.
“Makerspaces offer the chance to share materials, skills, interests, and ideas. The movement was originally based on values of democracy and accessibility,” says Louise. “Until recently, however, they have been predominantly the preserve of white, middle-class men – there is now a real opportunity for change”.
There are some exciting exceptions, where makerspaces are successfully inspiring and engaging unsupported communities. Our grant to UCL is helping the ‘Making Spaces’ project to support these makerspaces. It’s also gathering evidence that can be shared more widely with the sector on how best to create safe and inclusive spaces that support young people to use STEM in creative and meaningful ways.
In the first phase of the project, the team has been working with practitioners and over 200 young people from unsupported communities. They have been working with three partner settings - Knowle West Media Centre (Bristol), MadLab (Manchester), and the Institute of Making (UCL, London) to identify, build and share expertise.
All three partners are sharing their innovative practice with young people from communities that are traditionally under-represented in STEM, including programmes with Black, minority ethnic and white working-class young people, young people from the LGBTQ+ community, and recent care leavers.
“The support we’re getting from Lloyd’s Register Foundation is allowing us to identify and collect evidence on how makerspaces can work in partnership with young people to develop their STEM skills and confidence in ways that make a real difference to their own lives and to the wider community” says Louise.
“The programmes that we’ve been researching are inspiring – they provide creative, safe and caring environments in which young people develop their engineering and tech-based skills through innovative making projects in ways that support their agency and life chances.”
For instance, at Knowle West Media Centre’s The Factory makerspace, one young person designed, and prototyped, a fold up backpack bed for homeless people. The young designer created both a practical and aesthetic design that showed empathy and respect for the product users. This example highlights how young people can use STEM to make objects that can challenge societal inequalities and improve wellbeing.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown, The Institute of Making (in collaboration with the London Legacy Development Corp and the Yoke Collective) organised online workshops with young people. For instance, ‘The Art and Science of Face Filters’ workshop included discussions about racial bias and surveillance and young people experimented with making a face filter for Instagram or Snapchat as a way of learning about facial recognition technologies.
MadLab have worked in partnership with Stockport Council and young people to design a new, bespoke online programme to develop digital and coding skills among young care-leavers and youth who are unemployed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The programme supports young people to learn to code to industry level at their own pace, building confidence, fostering empowerment, and creating a long-term community of support.
“This work shows that ‘fancy’ equipment does not create an equitable makerspace - transformative practice is based on supporting a young person to feel safe and empowered in a programme. Our findings highlight how crucial it is for makerspaces to foster trust, care and accountability and to place young people, with all their rich experiences and knowledge, at the centre of their practice so that they can fulfil their potential on their own terms”, says lead project researcher, Kylo Thomas.
Over 2021, the project will identify more ways that makerspaces can work effectively and inclusively with young people from unsupported communities and will collect evidence of the impact of these approaches. These findings will be shared with the sector, so that more makerspaces can play a part in helping to transform STEM participation for the benefit of young people and wider society.