Makerspaces the Next Big Thing in Higher Ed Learning Spaces

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Murray Hall Makerspace

Close your eyes. Imagine a space 100% dedicated to creativity. It has exclusive, high-tech tools you can’t find anywhere else. It is outfitted with plush, comfortable furniture that enhance hardcore brainstorming sessions. It’s open and spacious, but contained enough to not be overwhelming. There is only one thing asked of you when you enter the space: get creative.

These fantasy lands are real and they’re called makerspaces. Simply defined as collaborative work spaces found within schools, libraries, or other public/private facilities, makerspaces are dedicated to learning, exploration, and sharing. They bring the latest technology that individuals can’t find elsewhere into one space for students to test out. They encourage users to get outside of their comfort zones and blur academic lines.

Part of the beauty of makerspaces is their versatility; makerspaces can vary greatly based on the purpose they serve for schools. For example, the University of Texas College of Fine Arts’ makerspace, The Foundry, is dedicated to exploring the partnership between art and computer science. It provides a space where students can use technology to record music, create 3D printed art, and develop apps and video games. The Foundry’s goal is to ensure students stay up to date on digital trends and equip them with the skills they’ll need upon entering the arts and entertainment workforce.

University of Texas College of Fine Arts’ The Foundry

Then there’s the University of Delaware’s makerspace, a 5,500 sq.ft ‘Design Studio’ made up of interconnected rooms within UD’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dedicated to fostering creativity for UD’s mechanical engineering majors, the facility is equipped with digital fabrication tools, electronics, workstations, testing rigs, and rapid prototyping equipment. It also has more traditional tools such as drills, sanders, wrenches and sewing machines. Of the space, UD assistant professor and ‘Design Studio’ co-creator Dustyn Roberts says, “The studio isn’t fancy, but that’s a good thing because the students are not intimidated by working there. They can try things and they can break things and that’s OK.”

The University of Delaware's 'Design Studio'

Encouraging trying, testing, and (sometimes) mistake-making is part of what makes makerspaces so unique. Cassandra Jones, the lab creator of the Idea Garden at Indiana University, fully agrees with this sentiment. When she and Idea Garden founder Julie Johnston first thought up the space, they envisioned “a place where you feel comfortable not knowing how to start.” They say it is a playground for students. As a lab to test out possibilities, their space caters both to the savviest technologists as well as the timid computer dinosaurs. “It’s scary to try new things [so with this space we say] come on in, and we’ll make it a little less scary,” said Jones.

Johnston said that when she first conceptualized the Idea Garden, she wanted it to be a makerspace and then some. She needed it to be a place that promoted creativity through technology, as well as a comfortable space for students to work and collaborate with each other and with technology. The equipment in the Idea Garden is unlike anything students have access to at home, and Johnston wants it to stay that way. Dell Canvases, Microsoft Surface drawing tablets, LulzBots TAZ 6 3D printers, HTC Vive VR stations, and an IQ Wall made up of 8 touch screen panels are just some of the offerings the Idea Garden has for its students. As a hub for cross-curricular connections, Johnson is confident that the Idea Garden can open the door for students looking to make technological connections in the real world, regardless of their desired profession.

Students experimenting with VR equipment at IUIPI's Idea Garden

What do they look like?

Since the goal of makerspaces is to actually make something, most have open floorplans. Beyond that, layouts for makerspaces vary greatly. The product one makes could be digital or physical, which means the size and vastness of open space matters only to the degree at which the project dictates. Below are some of Higher Education’s top maker spaces:

The Idea Garden at Indiana University's (IUIPI) Hine Hall

Case Western Reserve University‘s Sears thinkbox

University of Delaware’s Design Studio

To learn more about makerspaces and the future of learning spaces in higher education, join us at Next Generation Learning Spaces 2019, taking place February 25-27 in Los Angeles, CA. You’ll get the chance to hear Julie Johnston and many other speak at this event, learn from C-level executives in the industry, and network with your peers. To register for the event, visit higheredlearningspaces.iqpc.com/srspricing






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