The Maker Movement: an inspiration for education?

The 2012 San Francisco Bay Area Maker Faire has just finished.  The Maker Movement in the US is rediscovering the idea of technology as something to develop, tinker with, mend, and understand  ourselves,  rather than something to buy, consume, and throw away when it breaks.

This is hugely relevant for education and young people, and relates to initiatives like Raspberry Pi, Coding for kids, Apps for good, etc. in the computing sphere – empowering young people to be active producers, rather than passive consumers of technology.  More generally, in the US, there is high-level interest in this approach as one way to address the deficiencies of STEM (science technology engineering and maths) education.  And the problem that, to quote Dale Dougherty, “We’re in a ‘kids don’t try this at home’ society.  Instead read about it, watch it, lets play a video.   What we’re seeing is that kids are disengaged.”

The movement  is also starting to attract attention as a new approach to product and business development, and a source of “open R&D” – as evidenced by last week’s Hardware Innovation Workshop at PARC.   It is very influenced by the open source idea, with its ethos of sharing.

As a polemic for the maker movement generally, the extract below from nwallette on techrepublic.com  takes some beating.

“The Maker movement is more about getting back to where you can be self-sufficient. If you’re old enough, you may remember that many years ago, you could walk into a Radio Shack and buy the parts to make or fix something. Now, the DIY / repair mentality is all but gone, and Radio Shack is where you go to buy a crappy cell phone, RC car, or an overpriced headphone splitter.

No one fixes their appliances or electronics anymore. If it stops working, pitch it out, and spend $50 at WalMart for a new one. It’s a shame, because now there’s all this waste from shoddy products built cheaply enough to compete in a never-ending price war, and nothing is made to last. Cars and stereos from the 70s might still work. The little Magnavox bookshelf system you buy now looks like something out of an arcade and will probably won’t work right in two years.

On the other hand, technology has progressed to the point that really incredibly sophisticated tools are available to anyone. I can buy a multi-channel digital oscilloscope for a few hundred dollars, and troubleshoot Arduino circuits running at 16MHz from a 9v battery, and communicating with devices on cellular or Ethernet networks. …..

It’s not about the crazy, hacked projects someone else builds, it’s a change in the way you, as a Maker, see the world.”

 

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