Exciting things happen in makerspaces, including learning to think critically about oneself as a maker and about the social responsibilities that come with making. In the world of Human-Computer Interaction, this is called critical technical practice, or critical making. From this perspective, making is about more than creating objects, learning STEM principles, or how to code; it is also about understanding the process, thinking critically about oneself and the role that one’s values and assumptions can have on the objects one makes, and the effect that one’s creations might have on others.
With the help of Sprout’s Remake Learning Fellowship, I launched the Mindful Making project, with the goal of exploring critical technical practice in makerspaces for youth. We went into Pittsburgh-area makerspaces to look at the kinds of critical and self-reflective questions that makers–novice and expert–ask themselves when they create technical artifacts, the idea being that questions can help learners stop and think, and can guide them toward deeper thinking. Questions are a simple and portable language tool that mentors can use to scaffold deeper thinking and a disposition toward mindful and critical technical practice.
Youth makers usually begin a project by asking themselves, What do I want to make? That’s a good starting point but what happens next? Are there questions that can guide makers toward a critical technical practice? With the help of teens and mentors in Pittsburgh-area makerspaces, the Mindful Making project came up with a starter list of questions to help guide deeper thinking. The questions are below and you can find them at the Mindful Maker website:
- What resources do I have and need? Mindful makers want to know what resources will serve as a muse to their imaginations. It is important to understand the properties of materials.
- What will inspire me to give my time and effort to a project? Sometimes we lack the necessary skills to complete a project and need to make an effort to learn. Mindful Makers look for interesting projects that will keep them engaged and motivated (for example, music, sports, or a special cause).
- What do I know? Mindful Makers ask themselves this question throughout the making process. That way they can figure out what they don’t know and take steps to learn.
- What will make me happy? Mindful Makers are aware of the emotional connection between the maker and the objects they make. If the item makes you happy then you can have fun.
- Can I let myself make a mistake? Mindful Makers understand that mistakes are okay and can make a project better. Sometimes this leads Mindful Makers to ask another question: What ways beyond the ‘right’ way can I make something?
- Who is my audience? Mindful Makers understand that some of their projects will be viewed, used, and shared by other people. Who are those people? Mindful Makers think about how their own interests and ideals interact with the needs of the potential audience.
- How will my creation affect other people? Mindful Makers think about how their project might affect people. Will it interest them? Will they learn something? Will they have fun? Will it make them happy or sad?
- What kind of maker am I? Maker self-awareness helps us anticipate the best way to tackle a design/build problem.
If you want to give these question prompts a try in your own makerspace for youth, download and print the poster from the Mindful Maker site.
Leanne Bowler, an associate professor at the School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, studies youth interactions with technology.