In lieu of a longer post, I thought I’d instead say a few words about a video the Maker Lab team and I recently made on how makerspaces spark novel modes of collaboration and learning among graduate students. While pedagogy is an important, recurring theme of much digital humanities (DH) discourse, to my mind an especially interesting take on this topic is the way in which DH challenges graduate students in how they approach their own research. Many of us are new to DH, and as a result, our work tends to evolve considerably over the course of our degrees as we become familiar with DH praxis, theory, and resources.
Makerspaces offer graduate students a chance to consider how the physical spaces in which we interact play a role in shaping the work we do and the skills we develop. While this includes tacit engagement with tools and practices (such as 3D fabrication, microcontroller programming, and photogrammetry, for example), this model can be understood as a technological function of active, engaged learning in a shared space. A good example of how the configurations of such spaces affect our work includes the opportunities afforded to graduate students through the “Hello World!” workshops in the Maker Lab (as part of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute). Participants in a given workshop were encouraged to both contextualize the material in relation to their own projects and work with others to collaboratively understand how tools and skills taught could be applied across a variety of different research topics and problems.
While those of us who participated in these workshops were fortunate enough to learn from top visiting DH scholars (such as Tanya Clement and Bethany Nowviskie) who led workshops on tools that they had helped develop at their home institutions, other workshops were led by graduate students teaching tools that they themselves had recently begun using. The involved, haptic nature of work in these workshops functioned according to a kind of “first hack, then yack” model for teaching: facilitators first hacked the tool (i.e., approach a new tool with a mind towards teaching others about it), then talked to participants about what this hands-on experience yielded in their own attempts. The workshop thus became a space where this process of hacking the tool was re-performed by participants. The result of these workshops has become a space where learning happens by interaction and collaboration—a pedagogy influenced by the maker model that can inform future teaching practices. In short, in the context of constantly evolving digital economies within humanities and social sciences programs, makerspaces offer an effective new model for graduate students to engage with their work at the level of both physical and conceptual environments.
Post by Shaun Macpherson, attached to the Makerspace and HelloWorld projects, with the physcomp and fabrication tags. Featured video for this post created by Nina Belojevic, Arthur Hain, Shaun Macpherson, Katie Tanigawa, and the Maker Lab in the Humanities. Thank you, Cathy Davidson, Derek Jacoby, Kari Kraus, Tara McPherson, and Bethany Nowviskie, for your contributions to the video.