Learning Spaces

All About Makerspaces

What is a makerspace?

A makerspace can be defined as a collaborative lab or studio space where students create, think, share and grow using an assortment of materials and technologies. These spaces can have high-tech "maker equipment" such as 3D printers, laser cutters and coding kits or simple, no-tech tools such as Legos, Playdoh and cardboard. Every makerspace is unique, and what materials and technologies are used often depend on the types of projects the space is built for and who exactly it serves.

As such, there is no one definition of a makerspace. Even the name "makerspace" varies: fab lab, TechShop, hackerspace or hacklab are all terms used by practitioners to describe the environment. A quick Google search will reveal dozens of different (but similar) descriptions on what exactly a makerspace is. Two examples:

  • "Used by students, faculty and staff, makerspaces have become arenas for informal, project- driven, self-directed learning, providing workspace to tinker, try out solutions, and hear input from colleagues with similar interests." - Educause.edu
  • "A Makerspace / Hackerspace allows groups of people to pool resources and create a community of people with varied interests. These interests may include but are definitely not limited to: circuitry, robotics, soldering, woodworking, fabricating, programming, networking, hacking, bending, etc." - Bozemanmakers.org

Where did makerspaces come from?

Makerspaces were born out of the concept of hackerspaces, which began popping up in the mid-1990s as a space for computer programmers and engineers to meet, share resources and "hack" hardware, software and other physical objects. These "open community labs" were often found in community centers, industrial or warehouse spaces, universities and public libraries.

By the mid-2000s, the price of makerspace tools such as laser cutters, computer numeric control (or CNC) machines and 3D printers became more affordable and began appearing in more public institutions. The terms "hackerspace" and "hackers" gave way to "makerspace" and "makers", largely because hackers suffer a negative reputation in the mainstream media. As such, most public institutions avoid being associated with the concept.

Today, students of all ages and varying fields of study use makerspaces - not just computer programmers and engineers. Elementary schools, high schools and college campuses across the country are embracing the concept of makerspaces for students in the arts as well as the sciences to explore and learn collaboratively.

What are its benefits to students?

Makerspaces promote self-directed learning; that is, they allow students take control of their own learning process and academic success through hands-on, collaborative projects. Makerspaces are safe havens for students to "think outside the box", work with peers and experiment with materials or advanced machines without the constant oversight of a teacher. Plus, makerspaces are often cross-disciplinary, allowing students in several different fields to work creatively in the same space.

This (ideally) strengthens students' real world skills, increases academic achievement and builds self-confidence. When students feel confident, they're more likely to embrace future challenges and opportunities.

"7 Things You Should Know About Makerspaces." Educause. 9 April 2013. Web.

Shanshan, Yu. "Makerspaces as learning space: An historical overview and literature review." Department of Secondary Education, University of Alberta. 2016. Web.

Miller, Andrew. "What is a Makerspace?" Makerspaces.com. Web. Accessed: 30 Jan. 2017.

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