Connected Spaces: A Technological Framework for Fostering Collaboration by Linking Novice Makers with Mentors and Peers
The Connected Spaces (C/S) project will research and develop a technological toolkit and design framework designed to connect youth makers with peers, mentors, and technical assistance. Makers tinker, design, create and invent, often working with peers in makerspaces equipped with traditional materials and tools as well as with 3-D printers, electronics, computer design and other technologies. Black, Latinx, and female middle and high school learners may struggle to find maker communities that have members "like them." The project is designed to connect prospective and geographically distributed middle and high school makers who are underrepresented in STEM with peers, mentors, and technical assistance. C/S includes two primary technological components: a digital dashboard for providing connection and knowledge awareness, and the Mentor Projector for supporting collaboration and debugging. Youth and undergraduate mentors will be recruited through university and community organization partners. The project will research whether, as a result of these connections, participating learners will improve their sense of belonging and identity as makers and develop increased interest in pursuing STEM career pathways. Through the research and development process, over 150 participants will be reached directly. Project research findings and resources will be shared online and disseminated widely through conferences and in publications reaching researchers, designers, makerspaces, and educators. C/S will design a set of digital tools that support meaningful collaborations between novice makers, peers, and mentors. Research will focus on understand the relationship between the interactions supported by C/S and students’ knowledge and interest in STEM. Through the development C/S and its rollout across library, community, and university makerspaces in communities with diverse populations, project research aims to answer the following overarching questions: 1) What forms of social interactions and collaborative construction between novice makers can be supported by connecting middle and high school students as a distributed community of makers? 2) How do learners’ perceptions of STEM careers and their desire to pursue them change after interacting with peers, facilitators, and mentors through Connected Spaces? The project will collect data using quantitative and qualitative methods and analyze this data across multiple levels of interaction. Measuring the degree to which this occurs will require documenting the specific kinds of interactions and collaborations as well as evaluating the degree to which these interactions are productive and meaningful. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.