Makerspaces are informal communities of practice where participants engage in hands-on project-based learning and professional skill development. Experienced makerspace mentors, either volunteers or staff, play a critical role in facilitating these communities. University X is a liberal arts and R1 research institution that employs 50-60 undergraduate student staff to support a diverse community of 4,000+ makerspace users. Student staff at Makerspace X are first hired as Program Assistants, but as they gain more experience, can apply to become advanced Program Specialists. Near the end of the 2021 Fall semester, several Program Specialists identified emerging challenges with onboarding new staff. Many were reporting lower levels of confidence with tool operation due to a lack of makerspace access during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. New staff also felt generally isolated from the larger staff community for similar reasons.
Program Specialists worked with full-time staff to propose a solution: launching four Communities of Practice (CoPs) to develop professional skills and community amongst new staff members. CoPs have been successfully used for structured professional development in both teacher education and technology use, two critical skillsets required to work at Makerspace X. Each CoP, facilitated by an experienced student staff member, focused on a different tool domain (3D Printer, Laser Cutter, Textiles, Wood Shop). The four CoP facilitators tackled open-ended projects and discovered skills alongside new staff, disrupting the hierarchical notion of “expertise” in favor of modeling lifelong learning and intellectual humility. They crowdsourced creative designs, investigated new tools together, and collaboratively developed a shared Makerspace X staff identity.
Since the launch of the CoPs in September 2022, full-time staff and Program Specialists have monitored the efficacy of the program through a variety of assessment methods. These methods include pre-/post-cohort participant surveys, qualitative interviews with CoP facilitators, project artifacts from CoP participants, and focus group interviews conducted among CoP participants. Preliminary findings are promising, with an average 40% increase in confidence with relevant professional skills. CoP facilitators have also reported a significant increase in community building and belonging across new staff, as evidenced by the narratives and artifacts they collected from participants. This WIP paper describes the collaborative development process leading up to the Fall 2022 CoP launch, and the initial assessment results from the full Fall 2022/Spring 2023 implementation.
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