I’ve just completed a conference in Dublin exploring MakerSpaces. The conference was truly inspiring, and was organised by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), Léargas, Erasmus+ and Youth in Action Finland.
It was a great opportunity to make lots of new connections and learn about different approaches to Youth Work. It also made ‘Tweeting’ extremely difficult, but somehow I managed to tag each of these agencies!
The conference consisted primarily of lots of food (yay), a visit to Dogpatch labs to discuss Maker culture and the Maker Festival, visiting the CreativeTechFest Youth Event, visiting Dublin Science Gallery, a visit to the Computer Clubhouse, structured training sessions and plenty of opportunities to network with others to develop best practice.
What is a ‘Maker Space’ and what does it have to do with Youth Work?
Before this conference, I had a vague idea what a ‘Maker Space‘ was, but I had not considered how valuable they could be to Youth Work projects, nor how congruent the values underpinning these spaces were with Youth Work principles.
A Makerspace is ‘ …a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools. These spaces are open to kids, adults, and entrepreneurs…’.
A Makerspace might contain ‘ …a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, cnc machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines‘. (Source: https://www.makerspaces.com/what-is-a-makerspace/)
MakerSpaces take many forms, being a ‘movement’ rather than a single organisation. They are also generally ‘non-hierarchical’, with an emphasis on collaboration and peer-learning. They represent enthusiasts coming together to achieve and learn things that they couldn’t alone.
What does this have to do with Youth Work?
These principles overlap with those underpinning Youth Work. Throughout the conference, I saw examples of excellent collaboration where effective implementation of Maker principles enriched young people’s opportunities and learning.
However, it also became clear that there are hurdles to overcome such as staff training needs (you can’t just ‘mess about’ with a 3D Printer’), finding access to the resources through building partnerships and the resistance from some workers who might not want to adapt their approach.
However, seeing what could be achieved when these barriers are overcome evidences to me that it is well worth it. Here are some of the projects I was privileged enough to experience:
Microbits and Scratch coding session
As a British Youth Worker, I was slightly embarrassed that many of the technologies used in this session were developed in the UK, yet I haven’t known them to be implemented in a Youth Work context ‘back home’.
Scratch is a very simple programming language used to introduce people to coding. In the UK it is used in primary schools, but a lot can be achieve when using it.
During the session, I learned to program a ‘Microbit’ and was struck by how easy and satisifying this was. The session made me realise how young people could be inspired by this and that it did not take a huge amount of technical knowledge,
The coding was very simple, and eventually I was able to code a basic ‘Eight Ball’ type application.
This can be useful with young people working creatively in many ways; there are examples on Youtube of young people inexpensively controlling robots made out of lego, amongst other things.
This sounds very daunting at first and admittedly goes beyond the scope of typcial ‘art project in a youth session’ territory, but it’s surprisingly easy to implement and done properly can encourage young people to engage collaboratively with tech. The best examples of this I saw involved the Youth Worker offering the basic foundation knowledge, then allowing young people to explore and collaborate together in a groupwork ‘process’.
The sense of adventure they get from being able to produce, for example, creating a board game which responds directly to where the pieces land is very clear. This is an engaging creative opportunity that they would not have opportunity to access elsewhere, and Youth Workers in Ireland have been very innovative in how they have used this to engage young people. In the UK context I was part of till recently, services became increasingly focused on ‘intervention’ regarding specific issues, with many young people unable to access support unless they had been referred. In the midst of this narrowing focus, the opportunity to offer these kinds of creative projects was sometimes lost.
Overall, this was an exciting crash course and introduction into Irish Youth Work, and it’s made me excited to discover more opportunities for using tech to engage young people. I want to give my research my very best, combining my interest in technology with my passion for supporting vulnerable young poeple, developing innovative approaches to reaching young people.