New: Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature


by Sylvia Martinez -

A new literature review was just released by the Board of Science Education (an NSF funded program associated with the National Academies) called:

Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature, by Shirin Vossoughi and Bronwyn Bevan

The Board of Sciences has commisioned this and several other papers focused on informal and afterschool STEM learning. More information and links to the other papers are on their website.

The paper is a goldmine of research supporting tinkering and making activities that support learning - not just in STEM and not just in informal settings. Paulo’s research, Papert, and Leah Buechley’s FabLearn 2013 speech are all referenced (and my book too!)

The list of the other commisioned papers is interesting as well. All the papers are linked from this site.


Commissioned Papers

Formative Assessment for STEM Learning Ecosystems: Biographical approaches as a resource for research and practice by Brigid Barron

Citizen Science and Youth Education by Rick Bonney, Tina B. Phillips, Jody Enck, Jennifer Shirk, and Nancy Trautmann

Evidence & Impact: Museum-Managed STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings, by Bernadette Chi, Rena Dorph & Leah Reisman

Children Doing Science: Essential Idiosyncrasy and the Challenges of Assessment by David Hammer and Jennifer Radoff

Broadening Access to STEM Learning through Out-of-School Learning Environments by Laura Huerta Migus

Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature, by Shirin Vossoughi and Bronwyn Bevan



Susan Klimczak's picture

I really appreciate that the authors took the first cut at such a ground-breaking literature review. . . it is an excellent place to start and sets out some broad territory that the rest of us can build upon.  I'd love to get together a group of scholars familiar with the literature and branch off and build the next generation lit review.  And I believe I have a place to start, based on Paulo's priorities for Fab Learn.

This lit review could be shaken up and vitalized through some strategic decentering.  What I mean is taking it off being centered on white, upper middle class, suburban research subjects and narratives.  I'll give some suggestions for places where this could happen.

One example is that the only references to significant African American scholarship is to Linda Darling Hammond and Lisa Delpit and the cite can be boiled down to "what works for the upper class white youth is consistent to what two African American scholars says works with urban and African American youth."   

Another is that the authors seem to reduce the need for diversity in gender, income and cultural background to numbers.  They don't cite any research that shows how women, African American youth actually pose problems, ideate. etc. differently and the potential for the revitalization of innovation in STEM and beyond just having their numbers participation. 


The lit review currently also centers on the US and the "West."  There are rich maker education models around the "non-Western."  The maker movement in the US just ignores the tinkering that goes on for physical and cultural survival in much of the world.  Kevin Doe is a great example of this.  Even in poor rural areas of the US, this is true.  I lived in rural Maine for 10 years in a cabin without running water and electricity and little money from my cool job using a bus and camping equipment as a college campus.  There was a whole culture of making, tinkering, remixing that ranged from the practical to the aesthetic there. 


Another is the missed opportunity to get more multidisciplinary and dive into the genealogy of Lave and Wenger to block out the various ways that different cultural groups approach making, apprenticeship, knowledge.   I spent a year at Harvard thinking about the anthropology of knowledge because frankly it was much more useful to me than critical theory in suggesting practical solutions to thorny problems of creating culturally responsive education projects.


With the literature that is offered, I would have liked to have seen one more level of analysis, complicating of the lreview to address questions like: "Who" were the subjects of the studies that were cited?  Who wrote the studies?  Who is the maker movement reaching?  etc.


Again, I think this lit review is an important first step for moving forward with the literature review that reflects and serves all the makers and people engaging in formal and informal maker ed across US and world.  I believe we must take bold steps to reframe the conversation and uncover in the sunlight the race, gender, ability, geographic  and income-based dynamics of the present discourses that fail to include the rich diversity of the maker movement that doesn't appear in Make magazine and other mainstream sources. 

Nettrice's picture

My dissertation include a review of a collection of scholarly articles that address how groups underrepresented in STEM (and Maker magazine) engage with technology. This includes:

“'Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud': African Americans, American Culture, and Black Vernacular Technological Creativity,” American Quarterly, 58 (3). 

Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life by Thuy Linh N. Tu, Alondra Nelson, Alicia Hedlam Hines.

I also reviewed texts that extend the definition of technology to include non-Western practices such as meditation, cosmograms/mandalas, and even hair braiding.

Shirin Vossoughi's picture

Hi Susan, thanks for your comments on our paper. I really appreciate your response and feedback. While the paper was commissioned to look at the landscape of existing research on making in the US context, we are currently in the process of expanding the review to include international perspectives. I agree that this is essential to decentering dominant narratives and problematizing narrow definitions of making. I also appreciate your discussion of the need to engage with the anthropology of knowledge and would love to hear more about your thinking in this area. Two books come to mind that would be great to discuss further: Ingold's "Making" and Medin and Bang's "Who's Asking: Native Science, Western Science and Science Education."

Much of the literature reviewed does not directly engage with issues of culturally responsive pedagogy, epistemology and difference. As we discuss towards the end of the paper, the challenge of asserting and developing these perspectives without essentializing difference is ongoing and would greatly benefit from existing work on equity & learning in the field. In this vein, I would like to clarify one point: our reference to Linda Darling-Hammond's work was meant to suggest that one broad characterization of effective pedagogy in a making context (Brahms and Crowley's) was consistent with views of effective pedagogy in leading educational research. Our reference to Lisa Delpit's work was intended to highlight existing/historical debates and arguments with regards to cultural assumptions within progressive educational movements, including the tensions and problems that emerge when models of learning based on dominant groups' histories and experiences go unexamined. As we state in that section:

While efforts to shift education in the direction of hands-on, project-based and creative learning experiences are important, the maker movement has not, to date, substantively engaged with issues of remediation, segregation and tracking as they have shaped and continue to shape the schooling experience of working class students and students of color. These policies are deeply tied to cultural assumptions about ability and intelligence, such as the notion that students who are constructed as “underachieving” should be given a more basic set of tasks, rather than intellectually rich tasks with ample support (Cole & Griffin, 1983; Gutierrez, 2008). Thus, while phrases like “self-directed” and "independent” learning, or “celebrating failure” are common in the literature on making (and are often meant to signal a shift away from didactic models of education) we worry that they are out of touch with the realities of schooling for students of color and can easily lend themselves to deficit frames.

This is quite different from "what works for the upper class white youth is consistent to what two African American scholars says works with urban and African American youth." To this end, we worked to draw from a range of scholarship (by Kris Gutierrez, Na'ilah Nasir, Doug Medin, Megan Bang, Aaminah Norris and others) to support the idea equity must be defined as more than access. There is much work to be done in this regard! And it is my sincere hope that the maker movement will do the self-reflective work necessary to challenge rather than reproduce existing hierarchies. I think the points you raise are essential to this... Along these lines, have you come across anything written on the tensions/contradictions of making being so narrowly and ahistorically defined? The preface to the latest edition of Mike Rose' "The Mind at Work" does this in a US context, but I am interested to know if there is anything written from an international perspective. Thanks again for your comments.