Monday, February 16, 2015

Setting the stage for diversity in maker spaces and high tech learning environments

On Valentines Day I wrote a post on TechSavvy Girls blog featuring some fun geeky projects that could be used to engage girls in high tech (on Valentines Day and beyond).

Somehow that post got me thinking about other ways that I've found to engage diversity in in my high tech classes through the years and how the same strategies could be used to engage a diverse community of makers.

I think that one of the key strategies is understanding how important "the early stages" of a new maker community can be towards setting the stage for attracting a diverse maker community. Whether your diversity includes different genders, cultures, economic status, it is certainly the different abilities and the different ways of thinking and relating with the world that will generate the most innovative solutions to complex problems now and in our future.

So I thought today I'd share a small but key bit of learning that some of us discovered in our work on increasing nontraditional gender participation in Career and Technical Education. When setting up a new program in Career and Technical Education, it was very important to consider explicit strategies for engaging nontraditional gender participation in the initial stages of program development. Whether we were talking about the Metal Fabrication courses or the Health Careers program, If a program started off with a mix of male and females, then it had a much better chance of continuing to attract both males and females. A new program (or maker space) will tend to attract visitors who are curious about the new program. If visitors to the program see themselves in the picture, then word about your program will spread to more than 50% of the population.

But left to its own devices, the biases or stereotypes around us may primarily lead one gender to the program or space. Once that happens, it is harder to turn it around.

This may seem to be common sense, but the inclusion of explicit strategies to create a diverse community is sometimes an after thought that gets a back burner in the initial days of setting up a 'maker space' or a "learning space". There are always so many details to tend to.. but tend to this detail earlier and your return on investment will be much greater than if you come at it after the program or space is launched.
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