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Making Publics: Mobilizing Audiences in High School Makerspaces


by Amy Stornaiuolo & T. Philip Nichols — 2018

Background/Context: Researchers, policy makers, and practitioners are paying increasing attention to the educational opportunities afforded by the maker movement—a growing public interested in do-it-yourself designing, remixing, and tinkering using physical and digital tools. While education research on “making” has often focused on informal learning contexts, this article examines the possibilities and tensions that surface as a new urban public high school brings making to the center of its teaching and learning.

Focus of Study: This research examines the learning opportunities that emerged as students engaged in their school’s Media Production Makerspace. Focusing on the ways students created, remixed, and shared individual and collaborative media texts in the classroom, the study asks: What are the resources and constraints of the Media Production Makerspace’s learning ecology for students from nondominant communities, and what practices, tools, and knowledge do students draw on and develop as they engage in school-based making activities and extend those to other audiences?

Setting: The study is situated in the Collaborative Design School, a non-selective urban public high school organized around principles of making and the maker movement.

Research Design: This study was a social design experiment that followed 45 high school freshmen in the Collaborative Design School’s media makerspace over three design cycles during the 2014–2015 school year.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The study revealed that the work of cultivating and mobilizing audiences was central to young people’s making activities. However, the ways these audiences were cultivated and mobilized depended on a number of historical, cultural, social, and political factors and involved significant labor by multiple stakeholders. To mobilize audiences into meaningful publics oriented toward collective action, young people needed to see themselves as civic actors who could contribute to broader public conversations and whose opinions, perspectives, and experiences mattered. In tracing the tensions that arose in this process of making publics, the authors suggest that integrating makerspaces in schools can lead to powerful learning opportunities and serve as generative routes to civic action for some students but also that makerspaces should not be positioned as panaceas that can be inserted into schools as an autonomous fix.

Keywords: Adolescent literacy, youth media, maker movement, digital literacies, civic engagement, social design research



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 8, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22194, Date Accessed: 11/25/2017 6:30:27 AM

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About the Author
  • Amy Stornaiuolo
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    AMY STORNAIUOLO is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Recent publications include the article “Disrupting Educational Inequalities Through Youth Digital Activism” (Review of Research in Education, 2017) and the co-edited book Handbook of Writing, Literacies, and Education in Digital Cultures (Routledge, 2017).
  • T. Philip Nichols
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    T. PHILIP NICHOLS is doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include new literacies, media education, and the history of “innovation” in school reform.
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