Mobile Makerspaces: Te(a)chnology, Design and Digital Humanities

This project explores the development of a mobile makerspace for graduate and undergraduate DH scholars at the University of Iowa and Grinnell College. Blending the approaches of makerspaces like the DHMakerBus <http://dhmakerbus.com> and University of Victoria’s Maker Lab <http://maker.uvic.ca/>, this DH makerspace will investigate the use of a suite of tools designed to support the development digital literacy and technological proficiency for students across the DH curriculum. By combining the mobility of the DHMakerBus with the experimental computing of the University of Victoria’s Maker Lab, we will produce a new method of digital humanities pedagogy that welcomes the participation of primary and secondary students and educators, local citizens, and digital humanities practitioners.

Designed to support experiential learning - learning through making - in undergraduate and graduate classrooms, across campus, and across Iowa, the makerspace focuses on the computer processes that go into making rather than the products produced by them. As such, it emphasizes the process of making itself, whether successful, failed, or flawed.

In Debates in the Digital Humanities Alexander Reid suggest that most graduate students have had little exposure to digital technology during their undergraduate education, “enter[ing] his or her graduate education as a novice in regards to the digital" (357). It is likely, therefore, that his assessment applies to our broader community of Eastern Iowa. To address the our users’ lack technological expertise, we are scaffolding projects for learners—starting with littlebits, moving to RaspberryPi, and ending with Aruduino. These tools were selected for the pilot study for their mobility, accessibility, and affordability. Each of these factors makes it easy to implement and replicate the makerspace in unconventional venues—secondary schools, adult education classes, and community events. Additionally, these tools gradually increase participants’ comfort and literacy with digital tools.

1. Te(a)chnology

This mobile DH makerspace utilizes three “gateway” technologies selected for their robust design, sophisticated abilities, and ease of use, and portability:

  1. littleBits - a digital building kit based on the logic of Lego that allow students and makers to build digital tools and explore the internal logic of computers <http://littlebits.cc>
  2. Raspberry Pi - a small, but powerful computer, about the size of a credit card with a GUI interface and Python encoding that integrates touchscreens and digital cameras  <https://www.raspberrypi.org>
  3. Arduino Kit for littleBits - build on the capabilities of the littleBits library by adding the Arduino computer, teaching students how to expand their coding skills by working with Java-based programming <http://littlebits.cc/kits/arduino-coding-kit>

Together these three technologies scaffold to develop users’ confidence in coding, building, project management, and digital literacy. This particular suite of tools is easily transportable to classrooms and campuses, or may be shipped to students participating in online sections of workshops and seminars. Furthermore, the mobility of the makerspace allows for collaborations with non-traditional and non-academic communities including secondary students, adult education seminars, community partners, and interested citizens. Participants will come away from workshops utilizing this mobile makerspace with increased knowledge of computer processes, an awareness of design thinking, and the confidence to collaborate on a variety of projects with diverse teams.

2. Methodology

This poster will report on the results of a pilot study of the mobile DH makerspace. Participants in the pilot study included undergraduate and graduate students and faculty completing design challenges and product tests. Working with a convenience sample of graduate and undergraduate students, the makerspace was tested in two modes: (1) students working together in the same space and (2) students working across a distance, collaborating virtually through videoconferencing and other digital collaboration tools.

We assessed the increased digital literacy and confidence of participants through a series of surveys, visualization exercises, focus group interviews, and participant observation. The results of this pilot study will inform the development of individual course units and workshops for courses within the DH Curriculum at the University of Iowa and Grinnell College, in addition to workshops for faculty and staff across both campuses and outreach efforts to reach the off-campus community.

3. Conclusions

This mobile makerspace affords opportunities for makers to build confidence creating and experimenting with digital tools while allowing students to build digital literacy skills and address other key aspects of DH education, including: working in interdisciplinary teams, applying digital practices, managing projects, and explaining technology (Rockwell and Sinclair 182-183). Ultimately, we argue that this model can be emulated in other educational settings as a new model for DH pedagogy that is more accessible and more collaborative than traditional makerspaces.

A special thanks to Miriam Posner for generously agreeing to review this abstract and provide feedback and suggestions.

Bibliography
  1. Reid, A. (2012). Graduate Education and the Ethics of the Digital Humanities. In Gold, M. K. (ed), Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 350-67.
  2. Rockwell, G. and Sinclair, S. (2012). Acculturation and the Digital Humanities Community. In Hirsch, B. D. (ed), Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles, and Politics. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, pp. 177-211.