Maker Literacies in Canada

Jennifer Rowsell in Brock University Canada, a partner on the MakEY project, will be starting a new funded research project in September 2017 on maker literacies, which involves six projects that combine the expertise of artists and media producers with educators in the Niagara region. Built on the maker tradition, the research will embrace creative and collaborative production by providing technologies, resources and materials to make texts and objects through experimentation and problem-solving.

The research team will work with schools in the Niagara region, drawing on local expertise in creative industries.  For the educators and arts professionals collaborating on the project, there is the potential to develop new partnerships, and Maker Literacies provides the first steps to thinking through and practicing how these could work, in parallel with MakEY’s work in this area. The research draws on the combined talents of its collaborators — working together, educator/arts professional pairings decide what would work best, design a lesson, and implement it for each project.

The research team will ask the question: What does it mean to be a “twenty-first century” thinker? There have been policy initiatives, media attention, and research projects devoted to re-imagining learning in the twenty-first century, but they tend to find answers in the technologies rather than in the ways that people act and think through technologies. People who work across a range of business, media, and creative sectors possess this brand of practical and ideological knowledge. These skills have been employment conditions of Canada’s workforce for quite some time. Based on our comprehensive review of the field of literacy studies, there are very few research studies that have adopted this perspective to answer the call for twenty-first century teaching and learning pedagogy.

The project has three key objectives.

  1. First, to contemporize approaches to literacy, professionals will be invited into K-12 classrooms to collaborate with educators on multimodal projects and adapted forms of assessment to 21st Century learning.
  2. Second, to adopt design frameworks and processes, professionals will teach approaches to a mode (e.g., graphic design) and work with educators to create assignments that evaluate student learning.
  3. Third, to invite students to see talent in their own community, the project will feature professionals within the immediate Niagara community and connect projects with community hubs such as museums and centres for the arts.

This research will produce an open source website, a conference at Brock University, an edited collection, and a special issue of an open access journal.

The proposed research builds on and extends current scholarship in three key theoretical areas: 1) professional ways of knowing, 2) multimodal pedagogies, and 3) community engagement.

The proposed project is not simply about learning representational skills from experts, but about ensuring that opportunities for expression and design surround students in their communities, and that there are people around them who are highly skilled at aesthetically representing embodied aspects of life and identity mediation.

Maker Literacies will combine these very same conceptual pieces by having experts teach technical design and production skills coupled with ways of framing emotions, feelings, and ideas to powerful effect. Built on an apprenticeship model of learning, Maker Literacies will mirror learning where a studio master works with apprentices on a trade, art, or mode.

Community is the bedrock of this proposed research, as community art professionals illustrate the talent, innovation, and burgeoning media and technology industry of the Niagara region. Youth unemployment in Niagara is higher than the Ontario average and the region has been losing young people because there are fewer jobs than before. The research team is interested in how artists and media professionals bring about change, as well as their ability to disrupt existing patterns of employment through innovative approaches to meaning making and new forms of employment.

We look forward to linking up MakEY with this project as it progresses!

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