The Tech Café, A Social Action Makerspace: Middle school students as change agents

Lewis Lahana

The Tech Café, A Social Action Makerspace: Middle school students as change agents
Lahana, Lewis
Thesis Advisor(s):
Meier, Ellen B.
Ed.D., Teachers College
Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design
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Makerspaces are fertile grounds for students to develop innovative products infused with STEAM principles and cross disciplinary content knowledge; build technological fluency; and support positive developmental growth. Yet, rarely do Makerspaces prioritize these outcomes. Rather, they tend to revolve around the creation of novel objects using cutting-edge technology; craftwork unhinged from their historical, social, political, or academically-relevant underpinnings; and/or the hacking of so-called “black boxes”. What happens when an educator designs and implements a research-based and content-driven in-school Makerspace? Drawing on field observations, interviews, artifact analysis, and the Developmental Assets Profile (DAP) survey, this mixed methods study explored the experiences of students from two urban middle school classes (n=51) who participated in a social action themed Makerspace called the “Tech Café.” Working from a transformative research perspective, the Tech Café also sought to address the “participation divide”— a term suggesting that higher socioeconomic status students have more opportunity to produce media creatively than students of low socioeconomic status. Qualitative results indicated that students reported increased agency in their ability to effect positive change in their world. They engaged in powerful collaborations with diverse members of the school’s learning community as they worked toward solutions using low- and high-technology tools. Their products included a cigarette smoke detecting shirt, an edible insect bug stand, and a stationary making kit utilizing recycled paper. Student profiles incorporated their chosen social issue; steps and challenges in product creation; and outcomes pertaining to technological fluency and sense of agency to affect change. Findings showed that students may have benefited from scaffolding to deepen their understanding of important social issues through research. Quantitative results of the DAP were statistically analyzed according to measures of Positive Identity, Positive Values, Commitment to Learning, Empowerment, and Social Competencies and indicated that no statistically significant differences existed in the pretest-posttest survey scores of participants (n=30). However, a descriptive analysis of score improvement showed that students who successfully created products in the Tech Café moved to higher DAP score ranges more often than those who did not create products. The study concludes with recommendations pertaining to the implementation of Makerspaces in schools.
Social action
Educational technology
Instructional systems--Design
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Suggested Citation:
Lewis Lahana, , The Tech Café, A Social Action Makerspace: Middle school students as change agents, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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