Voices from a Makerspace: Speaking with Female Undergraduates

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Recent years have seen a rise in academic makerspaces in response to the growing trend of providing informal learning spaces for undergraduates (Barrett et al., 2015).  In spite of a commitment to inclusivity academic makerspaces find that women and minorities are underrepresented in the space (Beuchley, 2016.)  This emerging ideas session will discuss research ideas to give voice to female undergraduates' decisions to participate or not in academic makerspaces.


Veronica Armour is an educator and learning designer interested in the interdisciplinary connections between people, knowledge, and information, human centered design, and innovation that inform face-to-face and digital environments for 21st century learning. She is an instructional designer in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University where she also teaches part-time for the Information Technology and Informatics program.  Her current work involves designing the student experience for the Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurship Academy at Rutgers University. She is also exploring the potential of the design thinking process and mindset to interrupt cognitive bias and develop new models for equity in learning experience design. Her research questions include the interconnectedness of design thinking, entrepreneurship, and 21st century skills. She has served on the Executive Board of the Emerging Learning Design organization and is currently involved with the NJ Makers community.  She has experience with developing online courses, workshops, and events related to teaching and learning with technology, active learning, and maker activities.  She is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops at the local and national level.  As Raspberry Pi Certified Educator she enjoys tinkering with technology and hosting workshops to inspire interest in STEM activities.

Extended Abstract

The issue of a gender gap in relation to STEM majors is not new and has remained fairly consistent since the 1990s with women accounting for less than 50% of Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics majors despite earning 57% of all bachelor’s degrees.  In fact, according to a recent report on women in science and engineering the last ten years have seen a decrease in women’s level of participation specifically in the fields of Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics (NSF, 2017.)  Given these statistics and that the maker movement is predominantly defined as the domain of white men it is accepted that women are also underrepresented in makerspaces (Bean et al., 2015; Beuchley, 2016; Guthrie, 2014; Hynes & Hynes, 2017; Morocz et al., 2015; Roldan et al., n.d.) The issue of underrepresentation of women in makerspaces is well documented in both research and news media (Bean, Farmer, & Kerr, 2015; Beuchley, 2016; Guthrie, 2014; Morocz et al., 2015; Roldan et al., n.d.; Vossoughi, Hooper, & Escudé, 2016.)  The research addressing this issue is fragmented and has yet to provide a cohesive understanding of women’s attitudes towards and their experiences with makerspaces in order to inform the design of makerspaces that appeal to women. 

What we do not know is to what extent women are underrepresented in academic makerspaces and what that means about overall appeal of the campus maker community and design of academic makerspaces.  Research in this area is incomplete and focuses on small sample sizes.  

The purpose of this emerging ideas session will be to discuss and get feedback on a study that I will be undertaking to gain insight on attitudes towards academic makerspaces on college campuses by female undergraduates in STEAM majors.  The central research question is: What are the attitudes of female undergraduates in STEAM majors toward academic makerspaces on college campuses? And subquestions include the following: (1) How do undergraduate women in STEAM majors describe their experiences at campus makerspaces? (2) How do undergraduate women in STEAM majors describe the ideal makerspace? (3) What do undergraduate women in STEAM majors report as motivating factors for participation in campus makerspaces? (4) What do undergraduate women in STEAM majors report as barriers to participation in campus makerspaces?

Barrett, T., Pizzico, M., Levy, B. D., Nagel, R. L., Linsey, J. S., Talley, K. G., … Newstetter, W. C. (2015). A Review of University Maker Spaces. Retrieved from https://smartech.gatech.edu/handle/1853/53813

Bean, V., Farmer, N. M., & Kerr, B. A. (2015). An exploration of women’s engagement in Makerspaces. Gifted & Talented International, 30(1/2), 61.

Beuchley, L. (2016, Fall). Closing Keynote: Inclusive Maker Ed. Presented at the Stanford FabLearn, Stanford University. Retrieved from http://edstream.stanford.edu/Video/Play/883b61dd951d4d3f90abeec65eead2911d

Guthrie, G. (2014, September 8). Where Are the Women in Makerspaces? | Make: Retrieved September 25, 2017, from https://makezine.com/2014/09/08/where-are-the-women/

Hynes, M. M., & Hynes, W. J. (2017). If you build it, will they come? Student preferences for Makerspace environments in higher education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-017-9412-5

Morocz, R., Levy, B. D., Forest, C. R., Nagel, R. L., Newstetter, W. C., Talley, K. G., & Linsey, J. S. (2015). University Maker Spaces: Discovery, Optimization and Measurement of Impacts. Retrieved from https://smartech.gatech.edu/handle/1853/53812

NSF. (2017). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. Arlington, VA: NCSES - US National Science Foundation (NSF). Retrieved from https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17310/

Roldan, W., Hui, J., & Gerber, E. M. (n.d.). University Makerspaces: Opportunities to Support Equitable Participation for Women in Engineering. Retrieved from https://egerber.mech.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Gerber_...

Vossoughi, S., Hooper, P. K., & Escudé, M. (2016). Making through the lens of culture and power: Toward transformative visions for educational equity. Harvard Educational Review, 86(2), 206–232. https://doi.org/10.17763/0017-8055.86.2.206