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My name is David Cole. I’m an educator and manager of an educational non-profit and lately I’ve been consulting with Make: on maker education initiatives.

On a recent visit to the office, I learned about Make:‘s upcoming Industry, Career, and College Day planned for May 18 at Maker Faire Bay Area. It’s a free event that will showcase how startups, companies, colleges, and universities from the Bay Area see makers contributing to their programs and the local workforce.

That conversation was a kid-in-a-candy-store moment for me and I want to tell you why.

Converging Paths

I’ve spent the last decade involved with school-to-work projects and creative learning programs to help young adults create choices for themselves with post-secondary opportunities after high school.

I’ve done this in and out of school with districts, libraries, museums, after-school programs and also collaborated with educators, researchers, and community partners.

Some of the work focused on “soft skills” that would develop EQ and empathy and allow the learner to contribute to a shared sense of purpose in a project. A lot of it has been about technology and the pace at which skills and literacies are transforming the ways we create, connect, and share.

Throughout that same decade, the maker movement has been emerging as a powerful vehicle for many of these same principles, including a renewed appreciation for hands-on learning and the ability to tap deep traditions in craft so we can imagine, produce, and take pride in objects we make ourselves.

Now I see these two paths converging at an event like Industry, Career, and College Day.

Here Come the Mash-Ups

All this reminds me of a prediction I read in a 2013 article by Jon Bruner, “Software, Hardware, Everywhere,” in which he described the “mash-ups of a new era.” He was referring to the acceleration that would occur as computation, materials, and systems began to remix in ways we hadn’t seen before. He commented on the breakthroughs that would be possible (human/machine interfaces to support robotic surgeries, for example) and the risks that would emerge (privacy and Facebook data sharing comes to mind).

I keep this excerpt from that article on a sticky note on my desk:

“Ten years ago, building something as simple as a networked thermometer required some understanding of electrical engineering. Now it’s a Saturday-afternoon project for a beginner.”

There’s urgency in that idea. It tells a story about what’s getting taught and why and who’s able and willing to teach it.

Hands-On Haves and Have-Nots

Think of students who are engaged in authentic problem-solving, creating something that delights them, and connecting with their communities in the process; and imagine the young adults who are not having this experience. It’s a conversation about skills acquisition, the distribution of opportunity, and learning how to learn.

I just attended a meetup at Folsom Lake College (FLC) for the California Community College Maker Spring Symposium Series, presented with the California Council on Science and Technology. The FLC makerspace coordinator, Zack Dowell, along with his colleagues and members of the CCC Maker team, shared practices for developing and sustaining makerspace programs at community colleges.

Students in these institutions follow a non-traditional route through higher education — high school kids on dual enrollment programs, young adults of all kinds, many first generation college-bound, and older students returning to school from the workplace for retraining. Some will transfer to traditional four-year programs; others will complete degrees and certifications and enter the workforce.

Interested in an example of an urgent mashup? Look no further than a makerspace at a community college. It’s no wonder — and terrifically reassuring — that the maker movement is getting traction in this learning setting.

Learning Outcomes

The day ended with a panel of students talking about what they’ve been making.

One student was modeling a bird’s wing to support a project on raptor restoration. Another, a graphics designer, was working on typography for badging at the makerspace; a third had been hired to design a plaque for a local restaurant.

When asked what’s been most important to them, one student offered: “At the makerspace I’ve learned I’m extremely capable and I can pass my skills on while still developing as a person myself. It’s okay to be challenged by something — when you learn that skill you can take it and pass it along.”

Make: is starting to prototype for that future and I’m excited to see it evolve right in front of me.