Learning by Making: The educational potential of school-based makerspaces for young learners' digital competencies (iMake)

Principal investigator (PI): Kristiina Kumpulainen, Professor, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

The project is funded by the Academy of Finland.

Funding period: 01.09.2017 - 31.08.2020

Abstract: There is an urgent need for every citizen to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to participate in a complex and increasingly digitalised society. Digital competencies are listed among the Finnish government's key projects emphasising citizens’ confident, productive, creative and critical usage of digital technologies. Whilst there has been a range of European work that has focused on promoting digital competencies of all citizens, to date, limited research attention has been paid to the development of digital competencies among younger learners. Even less attention, has been paid into educational activities that position children as active, creative and critical investigators of and with digital technologies. The proposed project will address this gap by investigating young learners’ (aged 7 to 12 years old) digital literacy practices and digital competence development in so called makerspaces in two Finnish schools. Makerspaces facilitate hands-on creative activities that enable participants to engage in personally meaningful projects using various digital tools, such as electronics, laser cutters and 3D printers. Drawing on sociocultural theorising and contemporary literacy theories, the project will take account of temporality and several inter-related levels of analysis, namely personal, relational and institutional levels in its inquiry into children’s development of digital competencies in school-based makerspaces. The empirical data will be collected intermittently in two schools over a period of one academic year by means of video, observational field notes, interviews and documents. Longitudinal, video-based data collection will detail micro and macro level dynamics of making activities and the construction of digital competencies in situ across time. The outcomes of the project will offer significant insights into understanding the nature of children's digital literacy practices in school-based makerspaces and the learning opportunities these create for their digital competencies across operational, cultural and critical dimensions. They will also point out possibilities and challenges in the implementation of makerspaces in school settings. The research knowledge produced will inform future development of makerspaces and other novel learning environments in and out of schools for the advancement of young learners’ digital literacies.