Making The Future School: An Analysis of Teens’ Collaborative Digital Fabrication Project

Maker culture emphasizes informal, networked, self- and peer-led learning, motivated by fun and self-fulfillment, and learning through mistakes. However, studies often describe activities involving a lot of guidance. As guidance may lead to both the process and outcomes influenced by those guiding the activity, it is also important to examine how projects evolve without the supporters’ push. We take a nexus analytical approach to explore 1) how teens’ background, interactions with others, and available materials and spaces are at play when they shape their ideas and outputs in a collaborative maker project with minimal support, and 2) how these factors can be considered to better support learning in such projects. The work carried out by five teens in a local FabLab was based on peer collaboration within changing apprentice mentor pairs. When they ideated and prototyped for a future school, researchers provided minimal support, mainly online. Without their push, teens quickly modified tasks which both guided and narrowed down their thinking. Their experiences from school environment and the FabLab space served as an inspiration as they designed solutions to overcome current problems in the current school setting or digital fabrication process. When making, they gravitated towards processes they had previous experience of or which they enjoyed, perhaps partly affected by the competing discourses of maker culture and expertise we observed to be present in the FabLab space. While building on existing skillsets, this may leave the potential of novel trajectories and expanding one’s skills and competences unexplored. Teens’ self-esteem improved as they turned from apprentices to mentors for their peers. This allowed them to process their learning from a different perspective. In general, our results paint a detailed picture of the roles of different participants in a maker project and provide an example of how familiar discourses of education persist in teens’ designs. Looking at the project through the lens of Nexus analysis contributes to an increased understanding of the space for action and participants’ histories, and interactions on the process, valuable for researchers studying DF and making, and practitioners working in makerspaces and FabLabs with different user groups. On a more practical level, our work contributes to a deeper understanding on how to include teens into non-guided and community-driven maker practices. We provide practical implications on how to support learning in collaborative making projects in informal learning situations, and regarding the role of the different actors and the environment in such situations. We also identify avenues for future research in this area.