Hacking the Classroom: Embracing the Maker Concept As a Technology Education Pedagogy

THE PROBLEM

The story across the world is the same: schools are behind in embracing technology; technology is the future; children must learn to use computers as a fundamental part of their education…etc. Whether teachers work in a rural school in Africa or a huge public school district in the United States, the basic idea is the same: 21st century students need some kind of “technology” in their hands. Schools struggle enormously with unwieldy technology budgets as they try to update as often as possible and increase the number of specialists who support their initiatives. Schools are often forced to face the fact that they cannot need the technological needs of their students.

Perhaps it is time to ask if educators are taking the appropriate steps to deal with this imposition of the digital age. I define “appropriate” as something that to many educators would look like steps…backwards. Rather than spending ridiculous amounts of money on technologies that eclipse themselves every few years, perhaps schools should instead invest in the process of learning how technology works. One excellent way to do this is to erase the “latest and greatest” buying impulse and agree instead to reuse, recycle, and rethink the technology already available in any given classroom.

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce the Maker Classroom!

THE SOLUTION

Urban hacking is becoming a popular pastime for many people. The increased popularity of Maker Faires shows the importance a significant number of people have placed on creativity and sustainability. Maker Faires are the “bastard children” of the going green movement and simple geekery, and they have produced some extraordinary devices and solutions concerning reusability and sustainability. The concept is a wonderful thing to teach students and reinforce every day in their lessons and projects. Urban hacking is also a problem-solving activity that provides practical knowledge of technology as well as environmental awareness.

The combination of educational technology pedagogy and urban hacking could potentially create a classroom with inexpensive, innovative, and sustainable technologies that students themselves would be better able to control and maintain. No doubt it would use technologies that the most jacked-in students might scoff at on first sight, but I suspect by giving students the power to create technology would overcome the initial turn-off. Kids can use the coolest stuff at home and make the coolest stuff in school. They can also learn the affordances and constraints of different technologies as well as ask honest questions about how much technology they need versus want. Discretion is sorely wanting amongst students today given how accustomed they are to obtain the “latest and greatest” thing. To be sure, adhering to the philosophy of Making is a cost-cutting measure, but it also increases the amount of time students spend on technology because the concept assumes technology is involved in every aspect of a student’s school experience. The Maker Concept encompasses a number of project-based learning styles and can be applied across all school subjects.

The end product of the Maker environment would be a multitude of students with practical skills in technology use and maintenance, increased creativity and social awareness concerning the environmental impact of new technologies. For students in poorer educational settings, urban hacking provides them greater access to technologies that they otherwise might not have. It also affords opportunities for career growth into more immediately available careers, such as information technology and computer maintenance and repair should students need this option either for immediate employment after high school or as a source of income to finance post-secondary study.

EXAMPLES FOR THE MAKER FAIRE CLASSROOM

DIY “modbooks”: students learn to take apart an older computer (in this example, a MacBook) and reuse it as a tablet computer for about 50 dollars. Small multitouch screen kits are reasonably priced, as are older computers that students would learn to take apart.

Assembling solar cells for classroom use: A bag of broken solar cells costs about three dollars. From this bag could easily come solar panels large enough to power laptops. An example of how to do this is here: http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Solar-Panel/step4/cell-with-conductive-pen-line/

Lifehacker’s “Hackintosh” computer series: The newsblog Lifehacker posted a way to create a smaller, faster Mac Mini for about a third of the price of what an equivalent Mac Pro would cost. See their solution here: http://lifehacker.com/5815715/how-to-build-a-hackintosh-mini-for-less-than-600

FUNDING AND MAINTENANCE

No project concerning technology is entirely cost-free. The Maker plan is built on the supposition that schools who adopt it have access to some sort of technology.  Many schools have older Macintosh products gathering dust, thus the basis for the ideas in this project. The project also requires teachers or IT professionals with the skills to teach their students how to create and maintain the technology created in the Maker Faire classroom. The initial investment must then already be there, or schools without equipment must have either a little money to invest or have older computers donated from an outside source. There are numerous computer donation programs that might serve as a source for equipment, and there are online sources for creating DIY technologies, offsetting some costs in terms of learning materials. By having students learn to maintain their own devices, the strain on IT departments reduces, requiring less staff who can devote more of their time to integration solutions than day-to-day maintenance. The sophistication of the equipment also depends on what is available. The examples I used are on the more expensive end of the concept.

As for purely monetary funding sources, schools could reconfigure their technology budgets to spend less on equipment and more on staff to guide the project. Over time, the concept would sustain itself readily, further reducing technology budgets. Organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might also be willing to fund the initial implementation of such projects.

A few other sustainable funding sources might include:

  • Hosting Maker Faires. Participants would pay fees to show their wares, and visitor fees could provide annual monies.
  • Creating Apps. As students become more efficient at maintaining the environment, they would also learn to create apps as solutions to problems with tablets and mobile phones. For example, if students create an app that lets other students access a learning management system from their mobile phones, the school can sell the app for a nominal price in order to generate funds for the classroom.
  • Running a Computer Repair Center. Maker Faire schools could offer computer repair and maintenance services to the larger community, creating a continued source of revenue.
  • Selling hacked equipment. Some equipment created by the students might serve others well.

As you can see, the Maker Concept for the classroom has real potential as a philosophy as well as an elegant solution to a persistent problem when it comes to technology and education.

For an introduction, view below.

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