Makerspaces (AKA hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs) are creative, do-it-yourself (DIY) spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. A large number of them have been opened in libraries and more recently in public spaces and on campuses.

The makerspace may contain 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools that most individuals can't afford to own but want to learn to use.

I read an EDUCAUSE "7 Things" sheet back in 2013 on makerspaces that had predicted that "As makerspaces have become more common on campuses and have found their place in public libraries and community centers, their influence has spread to other disciplines and may one day be embraced across the curriculum. Eventually makerspaces may become linked from campus to campus, encouraging joint project collaboration." They even went as far as to say that the work done there "may one day be accepted and reviewed for college credit in lieu of more conventional coursework."

From my observation, they seem to have made more inroads in K-12 than in colleges. This month, there will be a Makers Day here in New Jersey (March 21 - see which I will unfortunately miss as I will be at another conference. I'd like to see what people are doing in NJ because I am working on a presentation that involves makerspaces for another conference in May.

The benefits of having a makerspace in an academic setting or available to students offers many opportunities. Providing the space and materials for physical learning works because it can be cross-disciplinary, provide technical help for work they are undertaking. It seems more STEM, STEAM or suited to engineering and technology but if you look at the projects in some of the links below there is a lot that id outside those areas. If you see students work in these spaces, you have to be impressed how students take control of their own learning with projects they define, design and create.

Although I work in higher education, anyone who teaches at any grade level knows that students love hands-on projects. I think that these spaces are a very fertile ground for work that bridges ages - a great place for K-20 work and a way to connect parents and the community to schools.

FIND OUT MORE is probably the world's largest community of Makers, from Maker Faire and Make: Magazine

Watch Makerspaces in Libraries and an example from the Westport Library

A list of makerspaces in libraries

Make it at your library 

Makerspaces in K-12 schools

Some of the tech tools and resources used are very sophisticated, such as a 3D Printer or an electronic cutter, but they might be much more familiar, such as the Xbox Kinect 3D scanner or a computerized sewing machine

Standards and Interoperability.

I'm glad that when I plug in something to my AC wall outlets, they fit and work. All my headphones, microphones and earbuds fit into my laptop and my phone. I like interoperability. I like standards.

That love of standards isn't universal when it comes to education. I've written earlier about the problems that the implementation of the Common Core State Standards has had in American schools. Standards work when everyone agrees to them.

A post on the Canvas by Instructure blog points out that this also true in educational technology. Standards for software and hardware make it possible for tools to work with each other and on multiple devices. That is not a 100% ubiquitous agreement in standards, but the percentage is thankfully high.

The Canvas LMS and others, like Blackboard and Moodle, are adopters of the Learning Tools Interoperability™ (LTI) standard which allows a better user-experience on most learning platforms.

Higher education has embraced and benefited from this standard although some applications (such as Student Information Systems) do not play well with each other or on all platforms. The K-12 world has not benefited as much, mostly because technology providers for many K-12 tools and resources have not adopted the standards.

You would be angry if that plug did not fit in the port or didn't work even if it did fit.

Google Classroom Moves Out of Preview

logoIn June, I wrote about Google's limited preview of Classroom. The new tool is not a full virtual classroom but more of a tool for teachers to stay in touch with their students, give assignments and feedback.

Now, Google says more than 100,000 educators from 45 countries have signed up to try it. They have ended the preview phase and anyone with a Google Apps for Education account can now use the service.  It is available in 42 languages.

I have suspected for a few years that Google would offer teachers access to a free content management system. Classroom does that, although in a limited way.

A teacher can post updates and homework assignments and add/subtract students from their classes and give feedback including grades. The service is being aimed at K-12 teachers. Classroom doesn't connect with student information systems. It doesn't have threaded discussions and some tools that other open source or commercial CMS/LMS offer. Well, not yet...

It does connect, as you would expect, with Google Drive and the productivity applications, such as Google Docs and Slide in the Google Apps for Education suite.

In a Google world, a student works on her Chromebook with Google’s apps to write a paper and submits it through classroom. One educational ecosystem.

So, what is the ultimate objective for Classroom? Is it designed to get schools to use Google apps rather than ones from Apple or Microsoft? Is it a way to sell more Chromebooks to schools or (via Google Play for Education) open a path to sales of Android apps and books?

Will Classroom expand to higher education? Will Google one day be offering course content? How about credits?

A video about some experiences of teachers and students who gave feedback on the Classroom preview. 

Find out more:

A Seven Dollar Operating System For The Masses

USB flashdrives are so common now that they are given away like candy. Here is one flash drive that  might deserve more attention. Two entrepreneurs are behind the start-up Keepod which is being called an operating-system-on-a-stick.

They have raised money on the fund-raising site Indiegogo. Their test bed for the project is the slums of Nairobi in Kenya where very few people use a computer or have access to the net.

Keepod means that an old (discarded?) PC can be revived with the drive. It is an interesting approach to recycling computers for the masses.  PC schemes that resulted in machines becoming "clogged up" and running at a snail's pace after multiple users had saved different things to a single hard drive.

The Keepod team has teamed with LiveInSlums (a non-governmental organization) and used the flash drives with students and staff at WhyNot Academy in East Africa. It is a school that finally got electricity two years ago. The team bought a router and a Sim card to hook the classrooms up to the Internet and brought five old laptops with their hard disks removed using a Keepod as the boot up drive.

If a computer has a working screen, keyboard and basic processor it should work with a Keepod stick that contains a unique desktop version of Google's Android 4.4 operating system. The stick will  remember settings, passwords and websites visited and store any files or programs downloaded on the other half of its 8GB storage capacity. The information can be encrypted and is protected by a password needed for operation when it's plugged in.

Video introduction to Keepod