The MIT Admissions Dept is making it possible for young makers to share their projects as part of the application process, starting this year. Dr. Dawn Wendell, Assistant Director of Admissions at MIT, said that a new Maker Portfolio supplement on the MIT Admissions web site will provide a structured way for students to submit information about a diverse set of projects that they have participated in.
“As we see students getting more involved in the Maker Movement, we wanted to give them a more formalized opportunity to tell us about that part of their life and why it’s important to them, ” said Dr. Wendell. MIT already has a supplemental application for Music and Research. Dr. Wendell said that MIT wants to attract students that are “already solving problems and building, playing and creating, engaging in projects that they love doing.” She added that “not all successful students at MIT are makers, but MIT is a welcoming place for makers, or students who want to become makers.”
MIT’s Maker Portfolio is big news for the maker community and young makers, in particular. It’s a signal that the kinds of learning experiences that are gained through making can be recognized and valued in education, as they should be. It also serves as a reminder that the kind of informal learning that happens outside of school is important, and should be considered alongside achievements in formal education.
“We love it when students pursue their passions outside of class,” said Dr. Wendell, “and making is a fantastic example of that.” Dr. Wendell, who has spoken at Maker Faire in NY and the Bay Area and will be in NYC again this September, has been an advocate for the Maker Portfolio supplement, working with faculty and within the admissions department. She cautions that some applicants may be frustrated that the Maker Portfolio supplement is a concise format, driven by the need to be conscious of the time required by reviewers. Yet it means that there is a place in the application process for young makers to provide descriptions of, and links to, their own work.
Last year, MIT Dean of Admissions, Stu Schmill, wrote an important article in Inside Higher Ed titled: “More to Life than AP.” Schmill addressed the question asked of him by high school students and their parents: how many AP classes should I take? In this case the specific question was: which looks better on a college application: participation in FIRST Robotics or an extra AP class?
Mr. Schmill gave a very thoughtful answer, concluding
[T]he essence of what colleges want is for students to be engaged in whatever they are doing. We don’t want students who do things because they have to, or because they think it will look good on their résumé. We want students to do things because they find true enjoyment and personal growth from them. That’s the way that young people — and, for that matter, old people and middle-aged people — thrive.
I understand why those students from California might see participation in FIRST as a risk. It is a great example of an activity where you put in a huge amount of time and effort and you may not succeed with anything tangible. Your robot may not work and you will not receive a grade. But that risk is a telling one. It shows an understanding that it is the experience and not the trophy that is the reward.
MIT is leading the way with the Maker Portfolio, and we should expect that other universities will soon follow. The Maker Education Initiative is also in the process of organizing an Open Portfolio working group. The goal of the working group is to look at how portfolios can be used to document making in education and provide a useful tool for assessing the participation and progress of students. The Internet already provides the platform for organizing and sharing what I’ve called the “evidence of making.” However, there’s a need to examine and promote best practices in portfolios, and make sure that they are open for students to curate their work and make it available in different contexts, such as when applying to college or for a job.
The new Maker Portfolio is now available to applicants as part of the MIT admissions process.