Make:cast – Innovation as a Material Practice

Education Maker News
Make:cast – Innovation as a Material Practice

Making stuff, engaging in some form of material practice, is essential for students who are to become innovators, says Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson. She is an Associate Professor of Education and Concordia University Research Chair in Maker Culture in Montréal, Canada. She is the Director of the Concordia University Innovation Lab. She is also Associate Director of the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology and she directs #MilieuxMake, the Milieux makerspace initiative. Her work focuses on maker culture, social innovation, inclusion and innovating with advanced pedagogical approaches and digital technologies. She has also created the children’s book, Amber the Maker, which tells the story of a young amputee who learns that she can create a better prosthetic to help her compete in swimming, and she can do this at a makerspace. In this conversation with Ann-Louise, you can learn a French word — débrouillardise, or figuring things out, which can be used to describe makers.

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Education Makers website

Amber the Maker website

Concordia University

Ann-Louise Davidson

Transcript: Innovation as a Material Practice

Ann-Louise: It’s not normal that students graduate with a baccalaureate, but don’t feel that they can, they could sell their skills. They don’t feel useful in some cases. And they also don’t feel like they’re confident innovators and we need a nation of innovators. There’s no way you should get to the work market today and say, I have a higher education degree and I don’t know how to innovate.

Ann-Louise Davidson at work in her lab

Dale: Welcome to Make:cast. I’m Dale Dougherty. In this episode, I’m talking to Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson, who is an associate professor of education at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. She also has a qualification that is unique as far as I know of. She’s the Research Chair in Maker Culture. She also wears other hats as the Director of Concordia University Innovation Lab and Associate Director of the Milieux Institute for arts, culture and technology.

And recently she created a children’s book titled, Amber the Maker, the story of a young amputee who learns that she can make a better prosthetic for swimming and she goes to a makerspace to learn to do it. This book can be used to introduce students to how making can change lives.

Ann-Louise: So I came to Concordia in 2008 and I was hired in the educational technology program. And what we do there is we mostly train instructional designers. There are people that come from all strands of life. Some, a lot of them are teachers who want to move to the corporate sector or to the higher education sector.

I consider myself as an interdisciplinary educator, but I’m not a science person. I’m not a STEM person. I studied fine arts and French literature and modern language.

And then I did my teaching degree that was in the 1990s. And then I did a master’s in administration. And then I did a PhD in educational psychology, which led me to criticize a lot of the methods we were using. And then I did a postdoc in sociology and anthropology. So when I came to Concordia in ed tech, it was almost surprising that I landed in ed tech because I never studied ed tech. But because of how basically I always studied the relationship between technologies or the means that we have to frame human thinking and how we can get students to become more empowered, more motivated. And I did that as an arts teacher as well. To me, a lot of the methods that I was using as an arts teacher were technologies, masking tape can be a technology to me. It’s not the fact that it’s a digital technology that makes it a better technology.

When I made the proposition of a research chair in maker culture to the university, at that time they said, what in the world is that? What are you talking about? What is maker culture? And I said, there’s this whole maker movement happening worldwide. And a lot of universities in the States and in Europe, are starting to prepare teachers to become maker educators, or to facilitate maker activities and to integrate STEM sciences, but also to get students to become more creative. And that can also be intergenerational and inclusive. We can really make quantum leaps in terms of education when we start paying attention to what we we can learn through the hands, through more applied workshops, not just hypothetical models, not just theoretical models or things you could create with a computer, but also things that you can externalize.

And I served them a lot of the arguments that Papert had in the 1980s. And they said that’s great. We’d love to have a research chair in maker culture, but then who would do that? And I said I’ve proposed to do it for a little while.

Dale: And Louise began to do research in maker culture by going to Maker Faires and makerspaces. She also began creating a maker space and organizing a Maker Faire in Montreal in 2018.

Ann-Louise: We met in in California at the Maker Faire. We also met in New York at the Maker Faire. And then I organized the one in 2018 and that revealed a whole new scene in the Montreal maker landscape. At that same time, I created a makerspace in a youth center. So it’s a very difficult neighborhood, in a poor neighborhood, much more challenging neighborhood …

Dale: Outside the university?

Ann-Louise: Yeah. Outside of the university. Yeah. So it’s a different neighborhood where traditionally, like in the whole history of Montreal, it used to be the country in the 1800’s and then when Montreal started receiving a lot of immigrants, it started to be the place where immigrants were sent. It’s a very multi diverse, very different neighborhood of Montreal. But what I noticed there is that the youth did not have much confidence.

Chalet Kent Makerspace in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood.

They were great creators for arts and music, but not much confidence with science. And we created the makerspace in the boardroom so that girls could feel more welcomed. Some of them were feeling a bit more threatened. There’s some gang activity there. There’s also some drugs, criminality. And I noticed that the girls were hanging out much closer to the boardroom than the game room. So we said, why don’t we create the makerspace in the boardroom? It’s not occupied all the time anyway.

But that was a great success. And at the same time, it poses a lot of challenges because we need to find a way to invite them in and tell them what can be done.

So what I did there is I worked a lot with the staff. So that the staff too could actually build those identities and start becoming familiar with those technologies. Then the pandemic hit and we lost access to the spaces. And again, I’m still thinking, we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do in education.

It’s not normal that students graduate with a baccalaureate, but don’t feel that they can, they could sell their skills. They don’t feel useful in some cases. And they also don’t feel like they’re confident innovators and we need a nation of innovators. There’s no way you should get to the work market today and say, I have a higher education degree and I don’t know how to innovate. I’m intimidated by creativity processes. I don’t feel confident when I network. I also don’t have an online presence. I don’t know what to show in my portfolio. So I started discussing with the provost and the president of the university, and they’re very forward thinking, but the question is, what format is this going to take?

So I started working with the vice-provost of partnerships and experiential learning. She had a great idea to do a tech lab, and I said, a tech lab would be too much high tech and not diverse enough. I’d love to work with students from all four faculties. So we have arts and science. We also have fine arts. The John Molson School of Business, and also the Gina Cody School of Engineering.

 I am deploying all the skills that I built and all the processes that I developed through my research chair so that students can actually start creating more concrete prototypes.

At one point it was really interesting over the winter, we were looking at improving community Wi-Fi in an area of Montreal where community wifi was very problematic, especially during the pandemic and as students, they had all sorts of hypothetical models.

And I said, listen let’s make an extended mesh. We need to figure it out. And we need to figure out a package that doesn’t cost too much that we can install here and there in that particular area. So the whole idea is always, let’s be empowered to do something, even if it’s not wide scale. And let’s make it open source so others can build on it. So that’s basically where I’m at now.

Dale: How did you get to where you are now?

The worldwide community of makers has actually helped me build expertise. Of course, the thing that I had was a deep curiosity. Like when I look at things I’m curious.

A foundational attribute, isn’t it?

Ann-Louise: Yeah. But I dismantled things and I look at how they’re made. I’m curious about how things are made. I can’t contain myself when there’s the technology that I don’t know how it works. I have to figure it out. And that comes from, sitting in a cinema when I was a kid. I wanted to know like how movies were made. I saw, there’s a light in the back of the cinema room and I wanted to go in that room to see what’s going on exactly.

Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson
Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson

How I learned was basically through online platforms, through meeting people. I met some makers who were extremely generous with their time and extremely patient. I did also confront some forms of adversity and some form of sexism and misogyny. That’s all part of it. You have to be able to to say, I’m not going to keep that. And I’m just going to work with people who are willing to share, but I learned how to program. I learned how to 3D print. I learned how to build my own 3D printers. It’s only through working with people who have more skills than I do.

So I figured I can totally replicate this. And I know the process, if I don’t know something, I know the process on how to figure it out so I can bring all the students through this.

Dale: Isn’t that one of the key points — in the consumer world, you focus on the product. In the maker world, you focus on the process, that understanding that process, but it being able to replicate that process or create a new process and manipulate that process, to create different outcomes. And obviously with students getting them to engage in that process and valuing that process and regarding it as a transferable skill in itself, to be good at understanding how to get from this point to that point. And mapping that out for yourself is really important.

Ann-Louise: For sure. Whether or not you’re going to have a job that involves physical prototypes and in some cases, and it does happen. I remember I worked with a sushi chef who wanted to work with inventors and she built her own 3D printer. She’s now working in Toronto in an architecture firm and she creates very elaborate 3D models. She got the best 3D printers to work on this. And they love working with her because of her attributes. She has method, she has discipline, she works very cleanly. And I think that those are all attributes that come from the fact that she treats the matter with what she works with a lot of respect.

Whether or not you’re going to have a job or you aspire to a career or a life that will involve the creation of concrete prototypes or not, what you learn to create in those prototypes is of essence. This is what we need as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.

And when I look at the meshing of physical, digital and biological systems, when you look at the rapid speed of disruption, the COVID-19 situation, the probably great capitalist reset. We need people who are not going to stick to just one thing. And we need people who are going to be able to say, I can do this and this, and it’s not an either or it’s all of it. And I know the process. And if this industry doesn’t work for me, that other industry will work.

And oh, by the way, right now I have an issue. I’m not having the salary I want, but my stove broke, and I can fix it. My lamp broke, and I can actually work at making things more green. Like I was working on these old desk lamps but this used to be a halogen desk lamp, and I built a little plate and changed it into an LED. And now it’s consuming almost no electricity. In some cases your life is going to change. You’re not always going to make the same salary, but because you have this know-how, which, in French, I called débrouillardise. So it’s D É B R O U I L L A R D I S E.

So débrouillardise is you’re able to figure things out. You have this, like in India, there’s a word they call it jugaad and, we talked a lot about it in the maker movement that, different languages, different cultures have different words to talk about maker.

And in French, I always have this issue because people want to call it like a bricoleur, which is more the person on the weekend who goes to Home Depot and picks up a couple of things and will make a little project, but it doesn’t really seize the essence of the maker movement.

Dale: How about savoir faire? How close is that to know how?

Ann-Louise: Know-how and savoir fai re is close enough for sure. But I think the maker movement is a bit more than that. Yeah. And it’s, the capacity to look at something and to analyze it, to

Dale: Do something, isn’t just the information side of this like “I know how to do it, but I don’t do it” is not the same as, ah, let me figure that out. I think I can do something,

Ann-Louise: It’s always funny because some people say sometimes, like I’m so exhausted, I’m renovating my house and then you ask them, okay, so what are you doing? I have to deal with this contractor and that contractor. And I’m like you’re not renovating your house. You’re getting people to renovate it and they’re exhausted. You are, but you’re not picking up, playing, or reusing materials or figuring, tweaking things. I think the whole the whole tinkering aspect of the maker movement, which I think is a value added and this call back to doing something concrete with your hands, which were completely alienated with an education.

Dale: So talk about that. I can see people like parents, even some administrators saying we don’t need to use our hands. The world is much more abstract and we’re about teaching those abstractions, not the world of physical things. They don’t need to do that. They can skip over that.

Ann-Louise: It saddens me when I hear that. And, sometimes I try different things. I wanted to learn how to do sourdough bread, and there’s a lot of instructions over the internet. But if you do a workshop with someone who knows, it’s very different.

So I enrolled myself into a workshop and I landed there and I just walk in there as if I’m nobody. I hope nobody recognizes me cause I really want to interact with people, but just looking at people, unable to knead bread. Don’t you ever use your hands? No, I don’t. People forgot the connection to real things. There’s a good book on this and it was Matthew Crawford who wrote it. The soul craft of shop class.

Dale: Shop Class as Soul Craft.

Ann-Louise: That’s it. But you know that, like he describes it really well.

Like some people like to drive a Mercedes and then bring it to the garage and just give the key and then they don’t think about anything else. Some of the people they love the interaction with the external world and they don’t want a seamless experience, right?

So you walk into a Tesla. I love Teslas. I think they’re great technologies, but when I sit in one and I drive with it, I don’t feel like I’m driving a machine. I feel like I’m being driven. I guess that’s the difference. Pushing on the keyboard as opposed to swiping on a screen or to feel the resistance with the external world where you will figure out that there was a problem if that button doesn’t work, because there was a physical sensation. And that relationship to the external world, which provides a certain form of resistance makes you decide okay mission accomplished or mission not accomplished.

That’s also part of learning. As an art teacher, I remember some of the kids were just, they were just not manual at all, but others are very manual. They pick up brushes, they pick up any material, they start to do sculpture and they’re able to work on anything.

And then they turn around. They’re able to do some woodworking. They’re able to do all sorts of things or making paper maché sculptures, like the idea of you’re crumbling newspaper to create a shape. For some kids, it’s just absolutely impossible. They just don’t know how to create a rabbit ear with newspaper because it’s flat, then they wouldn’t know like how to hone the skills to, to start to create things. And I think that’s a piece that’s missing a lot from the education system.

Dale: The real challenge in our society is that our model of how we think is detached from our body. And yet I think kids they’re very much in their body and obviously there’s terms like embodied learning and things out there. When your body’s engaged, your mind’s engaged. Often the problem we have is kids just aren’t engaged, mind or body.

Ann-Louise Davidson with student.

Ann-Louise: That’s well described in Karl Popper’s books, The Body Mind Problem, theoretically. There’s a lot to be said there. We miss a lot of these arguments in education. There’s definitely sort of an alienation with the body in school and, you have to sit and you have to focus. Some of the kids are able to do that. And that’s great, but the kids who can’t do it are told to get medicated.

And you have teachers who are forcing parents to say, you have to identify your kid. I’m sure that they’re ADD or ADHD, and then you have to take these medications. And the bottom line is that anytime that you have to medicate a kid so that they can focus, you’re actually harming them.

And it is true that in some cases the kids would be out of control, but it’s not possible that you have so many kids on medication. And we don’t know what the long-term impacts of this are.

Dale: And we tend to look at the reasons for that medication are in the person, not the environment in which that person is in.

Ann-Louise: I keep on saying, you know what? The school is sick and it really, the disease that it has is that it’s suffering narrative sickness, because we’d like to narrate things and it suffers also from social reproduction of people who succeeded well and who think that they know what the recipe is.

Dale: What I find frustrating and, despite I think some of the advances that maker education represents, it’s still very difficult to get this in. It might succeed on one level and getting makerspaces in to schools, but really getting schools to change.

And this is why I think your focus on maker culture. It’s really a cultural change I think that needs to happen, meaning it’s environmental, it’s ideas. It’s lots of things here, but it’s very difficult. Why is it so hard for these systems to change, adapt, evolve, whatever we want to call it?

Ann-Louise: Yeah. We’re overdue for a curriculum change, but a major curriculum change and something that is much more progressive than whatever we’ve been doing. We’ve been living educational reform after educational reform. And I guess the problem is that when curricula are created, the real issue is that people don’t quite know how to make a curriculum. So what they do in principle and I’ve studied the exercises of creating curriculum in many countries. And what they usually do is they put experts at a round table who are going to be working on the science curriculum. And usually those are really good teachers or recognized by their principals in their schools. And they are named on those round tables. But very few times you have scientists who can actually come and provide some advice. And there is never a more participatory, diversified approach to creating curriculum. It’s always cellularized. So you have the language curriculum and the math curriculum and the science curriculum and the history and the social sciences. And they’re always done as a division. And then it’s always people who say in my practice, in my class, in the 30 years of teaching, here’s what I do, therefore that should be there.

 If you think of the COVID situation, when all the countries shut down and it was very difficult to start getting things here in Canada. And at that point, makers and people who do things became very useful to the country. All of a sudden, our prime minister says, we’re calling all universities, makerspaces and makers to come and help us. If you have material, if you have know-how, if you have expertise, we need this and this.

The kids who are able to do things and the parents were able to do things with their hands, ended up surviving in a much better way and much more comfortable way than did those who were alienated from any material practice at all. So I think making stuff, prototyping, engaging in some form of material practice has a variety of values. And I think that the two main streams is that first of all, they prepare you to do things and to solve problems and to be creative in ways that are much more efficient than just memorizing. And the other thing is that it changes you as an individual. It prepares you in a ways to face problems in your life that are very different and that’s missing from the curriculum. So my stance on this is that it should be part of it. That should be a large chunk.

Dale: And I’ve always struggled a bit with the word curriculum myself, because to me, this represents a box. People have said, “Hey, if there was a maker curriculum, we would adopt it.” And I’ve said in response, if there was a maker curriculum, you wouldn’t be teaching making because it’s often very prescriptive sequence about how to do things. And I wish there was a way of thinking about it a little bit differently. To me projects could be considered curricula. But I really believe that getting students to do projects given based on their interest and ideas is in and of itself a transformative idea for education.

Now they need humans there to support them. They need to learn from other people that have more skills than they do, but in some ways the goal is to be self directed learners that are good problem solvers who can understand how to use tools and materials and transform them towards a purpose that they own themselves and work with others on. And instead of teaching content, it’s creating experiences and a process that we’re talking about earlier.

Ann-Louise: The schools have a role to play, but I think teacher education programs also have a role to play. Because they’re all mandated by the Minister of Education, that requirement has to come from the policy makers and, until the requirement is there to change teacher education, to create those envelopes, not just for STEM teachers, but also for schools, then, it’s going to be very difficult because it becomes just this additional thing.

And even, kids from the best schools, when I say the best schools, I’m talking to schools with a lot of resources, which are often private schools, tell me the maker program competes with basketball and soccer and fencing and whatever else. So they have to make decisions. And, I’d love to do this and that, but I only have this much time. And my courses take up the rest of the time. The revolution will happen eventually.

There’s a private college in Mexico in the Santa Fé neighborhood that’s called the Colegio Hebreo Maguen David. And it starts with a maker program in a very early ages. They go into garden and there’s all sorts of little electronic sensors. And when they walk around, there’s somebody who prerecorded some, some information about the flowers and the insects that they will encounter. And they could add more to it. And they start to understand how to work with these technologies. And then they work on mockups and they work on sculptures. And as they go through the ages, through the steps, they become much more empowered to build more things. And then when I get to high school, they have a machine shop and a wood shop, and the people who work there in the wood shop are carpenters. It’s not just a teacher who has this thing to do.

Dale: That’s very nice model. Yeah. I always thought if you could imagine the intersection of sort of the community practices of making with the school, and where kids are able to either go to those places or those places come to them. And they’re able to learn from each other and even apprentice and do things like that.

Ann-Louise: For sure. That’s exactly. When I wrote the children’s storybook, Amber the Maker.

Dale: Introduce Amber the Maker.

Cover of Amber the Maker
Cover of Amber the Maker

Ann-Louise: So for sure. Amber the Maker is a children’s storybook about an eight year old amputee who gets bullied on her swim team, and she will become empowered through makerspaces.

A lot of the foundations of the book stem from what I learned through working in makerspaces and within the maker ecosystem. So things such as you know, making is not disconnected from life. It’s not just making a kit and saying, ” I did this widget.” It’s basically making empowers people. The schools can’t all offer makerspaces. And even if the school offers a makerspace what you can do in there is limited because of the school time. But community makerspaces are friendly spaces where you can get a lot of help. Parents can bring their kids to these spaces. There’s also the fact that, you wouldn’t be making something without consulting with experts.

And it’s not a question of short-circuiting expertise. For example, Amber, at one point in the story, she becomes very discouraged because on the swim team, her swimming prosthetic is just too heavy and she keeps on sinking with it. And the kids bully her and are saying, no, I told you that having an amputee on the team was a bad idea.

Amber is discouraged and she throws out her prosthetic and her mom says, oh my God, what are you doing? And Amber is saying I’m never going to swim again. And then this magical dragon appears and he says, I’m going to introduce you to these ideas. ” You could make things by yourself and let’s look on the internet.”

And, she finds out that some amputees have been 3D printing prosthetics for kayaking and all sorts of things. So she decides that she’s going to ask her parents to bring her to a makerspace. The parents say let’s involve your prosthetist. We’re not gonna just go ahead and do something without checking with the experts.

And I think that’s one of the things also that a lot of people were saying like when people are able to make things, they won’t be consulting with the experts. It’s not either/or. It’s and. I can make this and the wise part would be to contact the prosthetist. So Amber learns that she can 3D print things and it’s not magic.

You don’t press a button and it appears it’s not like the Jetsons family. So she has to learn thru small things first. And then she has to visit the makerspace many times and test things out. But when she finally has her swimming prosthetic, and she jumps in the water and she wins, all of a sudden she realizes, yeah I can really do things and others are saying, wow, that’s a sweet prosthetic that you have. So the whole story is about what happens when you’re different and kids can be really mean. But at the same time you can don’t have to discourage yourself by just people’s comments. You can actually find some solutions if you’re creative enough, if you’re networked enough, there’s all sorts of things that the maker world can offer you. And this is the great thing about living today.

It’s that, you know what I was telling you earlier on about movies. I wanted to understand how movies were made when I was a kid, but I didn’t have the means to figure this out. And I had to beg my mom to speak to the movie owner or the theater owner to bring me inside that room so that I can see this guy taping two pieces of reels together. And to me that was like magic.

Like all of a sudden I realized, wow. The succession of images is what I’m looking at. And those are all small frames and it’s all of a sudden I realized there was no magic behind this technology.

Dale: An illusion.

Ann-Louise: Exactly. Exactly. So this is the critical reception was so good about Amber the Maker that I translated it in 10 languages. The president of the university loved it. And he did a reading with the office of the commissioner of Yukon. I have it in Chinese, Malay, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Mandarin. So it’s it’s going to be interesting because I also got the support of the UNESCO. So it will be disseminated in the network of UNESCO schools across the world. Very simple story for children, but at the same time, a lot of the lessons that we get through makerspaces are involved into the creation of the story. So that’s Amber.

Dale: Congratulations. That’s wonderful.

So going back to your role at the university, and, you spoke about innovation and innovation is one of those big abstractions today, right? It is something that everybody wants, like creativity too. We seldom really understand what the building blocks are for that.

We want the result, but the process again is mysterious to I think most people, but I’ve always felt like the maker world has some key elements to that. And I’m wondering how you see the connection between making and innovation.

Ann-Louise: There’s a couple of pieces that I think are important here. The first part is that when people talk about innovation in higher education, they always say higher education fails at innovation. And the argument that they serve is always I don’t know the numbers in the states, but in Canada we say, we invest $54 billion a year in innovation and it only yields $45 million in return on investment. And what they mean by that is that it’s intellectual property. So they measure the success of the investment in intellectual property, but that’s only part of the story. It’s not the whole story. Then it turned to innovation skills.

And what they always say is basically there are five traditional innovation skills. You have strategic thinking, critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. And I think that’s also just part of the story because again, as I was talking earlier on, there’s networking, which is not just about expanding your network or creating your connectedness map.

If I want to talk in terms of Stephen Downs terminology, that’s interesting parenthesis, Stephen Downs is actually my backdoor neighbor. He lives behind my cedar edge in my country house. The idea behind networking is also to take position. And I think that the maker movement and the whole idea of, sharing what you do, that was the great thing about the Maker Faire that I organized in Montreal.

It’s like people were telling me I’m not done. And I’m like, you don’t have to be done. And it’s actually better not to be done now because you will get. And you can talk about what you do. It’s not just a science fair where your project has to be done. It’s a mix of everything and you’re going to meet people also, who are going to give you ideas. You’re going to see other things. So it’s these physical gatherings that were key because there was a date. And even if your were not done, then you will have to imagine your story. What am I going to say at that event? And what am I going to show at that event?

So this whole idea of networking is really key to me and networking in the perspective of taking position and showing your presence inside that ecosystem. The other innovation skill that I think is key is prototyping.. And yes, sometimes the prototypes get to be a theoretical model, but when they can be a material, external kind of manifestation of your idea, they allow you to demonstrate what you can do.

And also if the idea doesn’t work, then you can go back and reflect and think about, what can be done and also ask for feedback. And the other piece, which I think that the maker movement connects really well is leadership. The leaderhip that you can develop as you’re participating in these events and not just Maker Faires, but also maker competitions, maker collaborations.

Some people are coming up with ideacons instead of, hackathons so that you can share your ideas in very short time. In Quebec, I heard somebody talking about protothons, so a marathon of prototypes. And also working with a team, organizing people, becoming more acquainted, giving some opportunities also. Like once the kids have done their participation to one event, then it’s a great opportunity for us to step up and say how can we develop you into leaders in the maker movement. Because we can’t do it all alone. We need a diversity of people. And perhaps the last thing — I just talked about eight skills, but perhaps a last thing that I think is really important about the maker movement, which to me, and I referred to that a little bit when I talked about my appreciation of, the fact that, Maker Media (Make Community) has identified the best maker schools around the world, but without ranking them necessarily. And by saying, if you want to be part of this next year, you can recommend another school. I think it’s the fact that, a lot of the great people that I met through the maker movement and the inventions I was seeing online and people, coming up with brilliant prototypes, brilliant technologies were all available at one point, even to say five words. But it’s not. It’s not like a club select, it’s much more inclusive than other fields. And I think that the innovation ecosystem can actually benefit a lot from these lessons.

There’s a company in Montreal that uses AI to improve potato production, the quality assurance of potatoes. I want to speak to this guy. And if he’s available or someone on his team, I want them to come to speak to our students so that they can explain what they’ve done. So those are the nuggets of the maker movement that we’ve appreciated a lot that we can reuse elsewhere.

Dale: What are some of your thoughts you have in a, maybe not quite post pandemic world, but, the maker movement and makerspaces and making situated in a different world than the one we had maybe 18 to 20 months ago.

Ann-Louise: With the loss of access to the makerspaces, one of the things that I did is I started building much more partnerships with the community for students. The Innovation lab at Concordia is an institutional project that allows me to spend more time speaking with external partners.

And I think one of the things we need to think about is like who is going to be this army of partners and to spend time connecting the students with the city, rather than keeping them in one closed space. And that in itself saved me during the pandemic year.

The whole idea of Milieux Make, which is the media makerspace, was that it allowed me to create a porous membrane to the university. And what I mean by porous membrane is that I was able to bring in maker-in-residence and give them an access card so that they could come in. The university is always open.

So even if I had a late night event, I could invite people in and not just students. So now post pandemic, I think we have to look at building more things outside of universities, building more partnerships, but also participating in the creation of infrastructure that can work in a more open way. Building incubators where we have some presence, building creative spaces where we have some presence, where our students could go and get different exposures to community groups, to artist collectives, and to art hives to incubators.

So that, to me that’s something that we need to work on and it will require work, but it’s completely feasible.

Dale: Seeing it as a network of spaces and a network of people in say a city or even around a university is rather than an isolated space. I think that’s a really good thought. Ann-Louise, thank you for spending time and telling me about yourself and your work and Amber the Maker.

Ann-Louise: It’s super pleasant to speak with you.

Dale: Thank you for listening to this podcast. If you enjoyed it, please share with a friend.

A list of previous episodes of Make:cast can be found here.

Photos and Image provided by Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty