The gather phase includes initial topic discovery and building knowldege to inspire the direction of the thesis. It is a continual collection of research that shapes the theory, questions, and potential applications of thesis topic areas.

Mind-mapping the relationships between research topics.

Topics Explored

The research journey for this thesis traversed expansive and interconnected topics, unveiling influences across diverse areas of exploration. The mind-map, resembling a triple diamond design process (my personal take on the double diamond), offers a visual representation of the divergent and convergent flow of research over the 18-month period. As each path of focus unfolded, it revealed intricate connections and intersections, illustrating the dynamic and holistic nature of the research process.

Early in the literature review phase, I compiled data on the number of scholarly articles pertaining to the keywords surrounding the research areas I was interested in. I started with interdisciplinary collaboration and STEAM education, which led to the discovery of makerspaces as a topic with less academic research, especially in the realm of design research. 

I then looked at keywords within literature on makerspaces to hone in on a niche research area. ‘Makerspaces’ & ‘Co-design’, ‘systems thinking’, ‘design futures’, ‘organizational design’, and ‘workshops’ are among the keywords this research is situated.

Literature Review

Topics covered:

  • STEAM Education: Hands-On Project-Based Learning and Modern Workforce Skills
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Research: ‘Wicked Problems’ and the Anthropocene
  • Boundary Objects: Tools for Cross-, Multi-, Inter-Disciplinary Communication
  • The Shift to a Skills-Based 'New Economy'
  • Grassroots Opportunities for Learning
  • A History of U.S. Manufacturing and Innovation
  • Emergence of the Makerspace Movement
  • Makerspace Ecosystems: Mini-Case Studies of Local and Global Changemakers
  • Operational and Cultural Phenomena in Makerspaces
  • The Future of Makerspaces

STEAM education, the blending of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, serves as a foundation for essential life and work skills in the 21st century, fostering early exposure to hands-on interdisciplinary learning and collective engagement. The practice of interdisciplinary research is on the rise because of the universal need to solve for complex, socio-cultural, and socio-environmental challenges (Castan Broto et al., 2009). This is extremely important in the face of the 'Anthropocene', the new epoch of geological time dominated by human impact on earth. 

Because human activity is the driving factor of environmental change, we need to find more collaborative ways of resolving systemic issues that are not isolated to one sector or discipline. It is often said that we will not resolve these issues with the knowledge and thinking we used to create them in the first place (a quote by Einstein and sentiment shared among many change leaders). Considering how material, human, and non-human entities co-shape our worlds, education in the Anthropocene must be “interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, or cross-disciplinary; intersectional; ecofeminist or posthumanist; indigenous; and participatory” (Gough, 2021).

While the need for this type of engagement is apparent, the majority of hands-on, interdisciplinary STEAM education is often taught in grade school settings, especially in schools with library makerspace facilities. This collaborative approach to project-based learning is also offered in higher education institutions, especially in the design and science fields. However, obtaining a college degree is not universally accessible.

As adults, we engage with third spaces (social spaces outside of school and work) to learn new skills, foster social cohesion, and build social capital. Makerspaces, a type of third space, emerge as accessible hubs for hands-on STEAM learning and community engagement, bridging gaps in education accessibility beyond formal institutions.

Preliminary Research Gathering

Comprehensively exploring interconnected topics, I employed a divergent approach initially collecting a diverse range of academic papers, blog posts, and videos. Throughout this phase, I made detailed notes and tested various research methods, allowing for an informed and dynamic evolution of the thesis's direction.

To visualize the connections between research topics, I used mind and concept mapping based on research findings. These maps morphed and evolved throughout the research process, adding and removing research areas as the project progressed.

Researcher's Reflection, Fall 2021

STEAM education is seen as a successful way to introduce students to multiple disciplines in order to gain understanding of how to engage interdisciplinary because of the integration of the Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity/innovation are among the top skills that are enforced by this style of project-based learning.

Based on my assessment of the innovation landscape, it is clear that there is a lot of interest in arts education as a separate topic outside of the STEAM umbrella. There are more games targeted at teaching STEAM than there are articles on training educators about STEAM education.

Of the ways STEAM education is taught, Makerspaces have the least academic research, although from some of the literature I've reviewed it seems that they are an extremely successful way to get students to interact with the fields under the STEAM umbrella.

On the following page I use primary research methods to analyze the impacts of makerspaces including interviews, auto-ethnography, and observational study techniques. 

By integrating firsthand perspectives, personal reflections, and direct observations, the research uncovers nuanced insights into the intricate dynamics within the makerspace ecosystem.

© Mary Kahle, 2024