From Team MakEY Colombia: A proposal to further conceptualise /M/m/akerspaces

Raúl Alberto Mora – Literacies in Second Languages Project, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (Colombia)

Before I get to the main point of this blog, I find it fitting to introduce myself. I am Raúl Alberto Mora, Associate Professor of English Education and Literacy Studies at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) in Medellín, Colombia. At UPB, I also chair the Literacies in Second Languages Project, a research initiative with two main aims: (a) to inquire about the emergence of second language literacies in urban and virtual spaces in our city and (b) to propose new models to implement ideas from critical literacy, multimodality, new literacies, and multiliteracies, to name a few, into the learning and teaching of second languages.

Within our different teams, once I was invited to join MakEY, we set our sights on not being mere spectators but to also do research related to makerspaces. Thus, we established Team MakEY Colombia, a team featuring a blend of veteran PreK-5 teachers who have recently completed their MA studies (Claudia Cañas, Ana Karina Rodríguez, Mónica López-Ladino) and a few younger teachers on the verge of completing their BAs in English-Spanish Education. The goal of Team MakEY Colombia is to do research on the field of makerspaces linked to the learning and teaching of second languages, while implementing elements from literacy studies within the use of makerspaces.

Adapting Gee’s Framework to Makerspace Research

The idea I am about to propose is the result of a Skype conversation with Jackie Marsh about what we have in mind for MakEY Colombia. This proposal (and I’d really love to hear what other MakEY researchers think about this) is inspired by my observations of schools in Medellín and the nascent culture of makerspaces. As of this writing, my team has found at least 3-4 places that qualify as makerspaces. We have also thought about how to translate this idea to schools themselves, based on the places they have available and the possibilities to acquire resources. Not all schools have the possibility to purchase laser cutters and 3D printers. However, many schools have access to storage rooms, arts classrooms, and even laboratories. Looking at this situation, I am proposing an adaptation of Gee’s framework of “capital D lower-case d discourse” to contextualize it to our makerspaces work.

For those not familiar with Gee’s framework, he suggests that a distinction can be made between two types of discourse – upper case “D” Discourse, and lower case “d” discourse. Upper case Discourse is:

…a socially accepted association among ways of using language, other symbolic expressions, and artifacts, of thinking, feeling, believing, valuing and acting that can be used to identify oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group or “social network”.   (Gee, 1996, p. 131).

Lower case discourse refers to ‘language bits’ (Gee, 1993:16); the connected phrases, utterances and so on that are expressed in a specific context.

Before I elaborate on the proposal one caveat: this adaptation of Gee’s work is not a binary. Think about the two ideas I propose as two ends of a continuum. As we explore the maker culture more deeply, we may find that the “capital M” end of the continuum might eventually be the source for “lower-case m” spaces. We may also find that “lower-case m” spaces may later evolve into “capital M” spaces as institutions become more invested in makerspaces. And we may even find hybrid spaces that may contain both “capital M” and “lower-case m” spaces within the same facilities. Just as makerspaces themselves are supposed to be fluid and adaptive, so is this proposed framework.

So, this is the framework we propose for your consideration:

We can talk about /M/akerspaces to describe the larger-scale, hi-tech makerspaces already operating in some parts of Europe, North America, or Australia, to name a few, as well as the emerging spaces in South America and other regions (we have already contacted one of these in Medellín). We’re talking about those large spaces with the 3D printers, the laser cutters, and all the other techy gadgets at full disposal. /M/akerspaces would also refer to related spaces such as Fab Labs, Hackerspaces, and other industrial-level spaces for maker creation. Work on /M/akerspaces would thus describe how to bridge the industrial possibilities of the maker culture to educational (both in and out of school) settings, including links to educational research in higher education.

On the other hand, we can use /m/akerspaces to describe the small-scale, DIY-like efforts to engage students and smaller communities in the maker culture. We’re talking here about makerspaces appearing in garages (as is one case our team documented in Medellín), classrooms, and community centers. Looking at /m/akerspaces also means looking at the maker culture not just from the industrial vantage point (albeit relevant and necessary), but from a grassroots perspective. The maker culture, to an extent, is also about helping build community around the idea of creating and building. /m/akerspaces, in this regard, would be a great opportunity to explore the possibilities and potential that teachers and everyday folk bring to the table.

Why the /M/m/akerspace framework matters to the MakEY Project

We ventured to propose this framework for two main reasons: The first was simply to introduce Team MakEY Colombia as an active participant in the overall MakEY experience. The other was to offer a conceptual alternative that may expand the possibilities of researching the maker culture and how to translate it to educational settings. In the case of Colombia and our team, we see ourselves first looking more deeply at the /m/akerspace culture as something that we can help adapt to language education in the P-20 structure as we also begin to gain access to the /M/akerspace settings. Having the option to look at the /M/m/akerspace continuum may also offer more chances for follow-up studies in regions outside Europe. The /m/akerspace model, as we see it here, places a premium on human capital and ingenuity in the absence of high technology. This is an area where developing countries, then, may become active participants in the comprehension of how to move the maker culture into STEAM curricula at large, and (as that is our primary interest) second language education in particular.

References

Gee, J.P. (1996). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses (2nd ed.). London: Taylor & Francis.

Gee, J.P. (1993). Literacies: turning into forms of life. Education Australia, 19:13-14.

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