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Repetitively showing the value of a makerspace
How do you persuade administrators to invest in hands-on learning?
I published my conversation with Daniel Brateris, the Director of Experiential Learning at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), as a podcast and article on Make’s website. Daniel manages the makerspace and manufacturing facilities at NJIT and he was part of the process to build out these spaces as well as overseeing how they are used by faculty and students. The State of New Jersey put up money to fund the development of these new spaces, which are state-of-the-art.
Getting facilities like these built is usually a top-down process requiring many levels of adminstrative oversight and approval. I asked Daniel how they went about getting buy-in from the school’s administration and faculty. How did he persuade them that it was a worthwhile investment that would benefit the students?
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He answered that it was “not a straightforward process” and “it might be different for each institution.” However, he said something else that I thought really rang true:
The key was just repetitively showing the value of it, showing that it could be done safely and showing that it was something our students were interested in. We just kept chugging along that path. Eventually we had convinced enough people that it was meaningful, it was worth the money and the effort and that we had enough expertise to make it happen. It was not an easy process, and I don't think that's any discredit to NJIT. I think it's actually a credit that they were just making sure we were putting our resources in the right spot.
I have been asked many times how do you convince the leadership at the top of the value of a makerspace, which typically arises from individual efforts by teachers or students. It’s essential to get funding for equipment and staff and to grow the makerspace and its community. Daniel’s is one of the better answers I’ve heard and it matches what I’ve seen in practice.
There isn’t a perfect “pitch” that sells a makerspace, no one argument that justifies the expenditure. However, in my experience, when you show leaders or administrators the space and they see students working in the space, they get it. Yet you have to keep doing that over and over again. You have to do it for skeptical faculty and at some places, for parents as well. You have to use every opportunity to show the space and let the students talk about its value. In this way, given enough repetition, the makerspace will sell itself.