Kas Pereira is the Director of the Makerspace and Makerspace programs at the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College, an organization that supports professional learning for educators. Kas has used Unrulr over the last year to engage her cohorts and build a collaborative learning community.
I was able to sit down with her and ask her some questions about how she facilitates her Makerspace learning program.
Tell us a bit about your Makerspace teacher learning program.
It’s a nine-month educator development program that culminates in California State Certificate of Achievement in Makerspace Coordinator. It's the only California state approved-makerspace coordinator training program currently available.
Our goal is to help participants not only learn the essential tools of the Makerspace like 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC, etc., but also learn the mindsets and processes that support successful making. It’s basically a model for how they might work with their own students.
We have a couple different formats for our program. Our summer cohort is an intensive, two-week, every-day experience with four follow-ups over the next six months. The other model is one Friday night and one Saturday per month for nine months.
The cohort has face-to-face meetings, but they also have online coursework that's going on in the background all the way. We’ve been using Unrulr for them to stay connected between sessions in a less formal, assignment-driven space.
Why is it important to keep your cohort connected?
The most important thing is that they have the ability to be connected in the context of each other’s work. I could make them submit a journal entry to me once a week, but then I'm the only one seeing them; that's super not helpful. By seeing what other people are doing, they can be inspired by each other.
What’s the impact of making the participants' work visible to their peers?
The quality of work is greatly improved. I go out of my way to make it super clear that I'm the absolute easiest grader because I have a lot of opinions about grading and creativity. It’s a creative space. I asked you to make something. Did you make something? Great! 100%. I really try to take the evaluation out of it.
But there’s something about sharing with a community that makes you want to show off your best self. When you're seeing those people doing all these amazing things, you kind of push yourself to also do something amazing. You don't want to be the one person who's not doing that.
Most recently, with the Rube Goldberg projects, the first couple people who posted their stuff on Unrulr posted these incredible videos; I mean, just way over the expectation. I was thinking, “Oh, my goodness, keep it easy!” And so then everybody else is pushing up their game, and the end result is way better.
How do you encourage a cohort to engage as a community-- particularly one that is asynchronous?
They have a weekly expectation for posting in Unrulr. The assignment is called “something creative”, and it does not matter what it is. They need to do something creative that weekend, post on Unrulr, and then they go in and they very naturally just look at each other’s work and celebrate it. It's not really part of the assignment, but you can really see the community blossom naturally in that space.
But also having a weekly expectation, like you will be on this one time a week, is really helpful because it's really easy to just not do it. It's really easy to just let it go. And so sort of creating that habit for people to be on it-- the regularity-- helps a lot versus, “Oh, I'm just going to go on one time and post 10 things, and I'm done.” You kind of have to be interacting more for that community to be effective.
I also try to contribute to the community. I set a chunk of time aside each week to scroll through and comment on things, too, so everyone has at least one comment at any given point. But a lot of times I'll go in there, and there's already four or five comments on every post.
But I really think having the expectation on frequency versus content is helpful because when you put an expectation on types of content, then you're really limiting people's enjoyment of what they're doing.
What else have you tried so that the cohort can connect through seeing each other’s work?
I’ve tried other tech tools for this, but it didn’t go well-- They had to do it on the computer, and they had to take a picture on their phone and upload it; there's logging in; there's getting to things; you're working with a rich text editor; it's like a whole thing. So engagement was super stilted and basically driven by meeting requirements. You've got two posts a week per person, but what they're saying is meaningless. No one's really engaging with each other at all.
But it’s supposed to be something that you can just do really quickly, in the moment that you're thinking of it. So we have a category for just inspiration. And if you see something that is interesting, snap a photo of it. And I'll stop there and think, “I'm super impressed. This is a great idea!” And that's it.
We’ve talked before about the importance of documenting process in project-based learning. Why do you think it’s important?
This quarter, we have a long, phased design project. Each week has a phase that they're working on. Right now they're working on the research phase. As they get into the building and prototyping phase, they need to document their progress, but I'm open to how they want to do that. So if they want to just take pictures and stick them onto the final document, that's fine. If they want to document in Unrulr, and then do a journey post, that's fine. It's kind of up to them how they do it.
Next Wednesday, I have a board presentation, and they’re saying, “Show a makerspace thing.” Before, I would’ve said, “Okay, you’re going to watch videos of people knocking marbles over!” But now because the cohort members have been reflecting on all the stages of the process, we have something more meaningful to look at. That’s so much better in terms of understanding how well people are engaging, or how in-depth people are getting, than just seeing that final piece that ends up being submitted at the end of their projects.
On a side note-- I’m curious. You previously worked as a high school teacher. What is one of the biggest differences in working with teachers?
With teachers, there's a lot of unlearning. Makerspace is a little easier because people tend to come into it with a headspace of “we’re going to try weird things.” But in other programs, there's a lot of spaces where people are saying, “This is irrelevant to me. This doesn’t help me at all. I'm not going to even try this. This isn't the way that I teach, or this isn't what I believe in.”
And we have to push back on some of those mindsets. Our programs are all about facilitating student-driven learning and giving the learner more freedom and responsibility to put structure around their learning. Ironically, I get the impression that some of our teachers are thinking, “This is super annoying that you're not telling me what to do.”
Adults today have had a long time to learn, “I'm not good at this thing, and I’m not even going to try it because I might fail.” And kids tend to be a lot more open to stuff-- to trying and failing and trying again. We have to give them that chance.
Thanks for your thoughts and insights, Kas. Have a wonderful summer.