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Using Making, Play, and Place to Engage Adult Learners

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Location: Virtual
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Listen and learn : Ed talk

Tarah Cicero  
Dr. Farah Vallera  

COVID took a toll on everyone, and adults were especially stressed managing families, jobs and fear. Students clamored for normalcy and educators wanted to oblige. Hear and see how making, play and place-based learning helped students learn about makerspaces, while exploring a working farm during an interactive summer course.

Audience: Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Windows, Android, iOS
Topic: Maker activities & programs
Grade level: Community college/university
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
  • Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
Additional detail: ISTE author presentation

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

A makerspace is both a space and a mindset. By encouraging play, design, tinkering, and creative inquiry, these spaces and mindsets can create in students transferrable, high-order thinking skills, knowledge, and attitudes/beliefs about myriad topics. However, building and playing for the sole sake of building and playing - without purpose and connection to content and standards - will leave students confused and detached and teachers and administrators frustrated and ready to abandon the practice.

This session will discuss the fundamentals of a makerspace development course that took place on a farm during the pandemic - Summer 2021. The course focused on why, what, where, and how to build and incorporate different types and "levels" of makerspaces into any instructional setting. Since the pandemic limited classroom meetings in higher education institutions, we combined making, play, and place-based learning to give adult learners an incredibly unique learning experience. Not only did they have fully functioning makerspace, but they were able to incorporate nature, sustainability, STEM learning, agriculture, and environmental education opportunities into their learning.

The session's primary objective is to have participants hear and see how adult students learned about makerspaces in a farm-based makerspace. Participants will also hear about the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes/beliefs related to the purpose, design, and development of projects, activities, and proposals surrounding integrating makerspaces into learning environments. By the end of the session, participants will:

1. Identify the characteristics and attributes of makerspaces.
2. Understand the purpose for developing makerspaces in place-based settings.
3. Explore a range of activities, strategies, and tools that facilitate a maker’s mindset and 21st century skills.
4. Hear students' positive feedback from the farm-based makerspace course.


Participants will hear about the place-based makerspace and the experience students had. We will demonstrate the design, development, testing, and dissemination tactics of our course. We will discuss the planning and processes involved in the creation of the course and the space, as well as the technological and instructional design skills and tools students needed for the construction of the assignments.

We will spend 15 minutes discussing the course and experience, along with the importance of making, play, and place-based learning, roughly 5 minutes providing examples of students' artifacts before describing their evaluations of the experiences. We will leave 5 minutes for questions and answers.

Attendees will be encouraged to participate in the activities as students, yet ask questions as we go along to gain an understanding of our design and development processes.

Supporting research

Blikstein, P., Martinez, S., & Pang, H. (2016). Meaningful making: Projects and inspirations for fab labs and Makerspaces. FabLearn.

Blikstein, P., Martinez, S., Pang, H., & Jarrett, K. (2019). Meaningful making 2: Projects and inspirations for fab labs and Makerspaces. FabLearn.

Dougherty, D. (2013). The maker mindset. In M. Honey & D. Kanter (Eds.), Design, make, play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators (pp. 7–11). New York, NY: Routledge.

Eshach, H. (2007). Bridging in-school and out-of-school learning: Formal, non-formal, and informal education. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(2), 171-190.

Fleming, L. (2018). The kickstart guide to making GREAT Makerspaces. Sage.

Fleming, L. (2015). Worlds of making: Best practices for establishing a Makerspace for your school, 1st Ed. Sage.

Hynes, M., & Hynes, W. (2018). If you build it, will they come? Student preferences for makerspace environments in higher education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 28, 867-883.

Kolb, A., & Kolb, D. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 193-212.

Kolb, A., & Kolb, D. (2010). Learning to play, playing to learn: A case study of a ludic learning space. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23(1), 26-50.

Vallera, F., & Harvey, C. (2021). Making and modalities: Upending traditional teacher education course delivery to improve 21st century teaching and learning. In J. Keengwe (Ed.). Handbook of Research on Innovations in Non-Traditional Educational Practices (pp. 132-154). IGI Global.

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Tarah Cicero, Lehigh University

Tarah is the Learning and Development Specialist in Lehigh University's Human Resources department and a student in the MS Instructional Technology program. She joined Lehigh University in 2018 after several years with Wegmans Food Markets and has over 15 years experience in workplace learning and development. Tarah manages the Career Enrichment @ Lehigh employee development program, specializing in instructional design (in-person, live online, e-learning, video, etc.), workshop facilitation, content curation, and program promotion and logistics. In her spare time, Tarah enjoys music, photography, art, running, yoga, travel, and spending time with her partner, Jeff, and retired racing greyhound, Dance.

Dr. Farah Vallera, Lehigh University

Farah L. Vallera, PhD teaches instructional design and instructional technology as a Professor of Practice in Lehigh University's Teaching, Learning, and Technology graduate program and is a practicing instructional design consultant in higher education. Her research focuses on using project-based learning, design thinking, and innovative educational technology in the design and dissemination of engaging learning environments - primarily for higher education and adult learners. Aside from teaching and research in instructional design and technology, she enjoys wildlife rehabilitation, practicing urban agriculture, and volunteering as an agricultural educator for diverse audiences.

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