‘Makerspaces in the early years: Enhancing digital literacy and creativity’ (MakEY) is a 30 month project funded by the EU H2020 Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) programme. The project, led by Professor Jackie Marsh at the University of Sheffield, UK, will run from January 2017 – June 2019.

Why is this project needed?

Whilst there has been a range of European work that has focused on the development and assessment of digital skills such as the DIGCOMP study (Ferrari, 2013), there has been, to date, limited attention paid to the development of the digital literacy skills of young children. Further, it is clear that there needs to be a multi-stakeholder approach to the task of ensuring that young children develop the skills and knowledge required for the digital age. Researchers, early years practitioners and industry partners need to collaborate in knowledge exchange and the co-creation of new pedagogies and learning environments, including the development of digital tools and solutions that offer children avenues for digital learning.

It is also important that young children have opportunities to foster their creativity and develop the kinds of creative skills that are important for future employment and learning, such as creative design. In this project, the digital literacy and creative skills of young children will be developed through participation in creative activities in specially-designed spaces termed ‘makerspaces’. These are spaces that enable participants to create a range of artefacts using specialist tools and resources, such as electronics, laser cutters and 3D printers. There has been interest in recent years in the role of digital ‘making’, the design and production of digital artefacts, texts and products (Johnson et al., 2015) and the creation of fabrication labs, or ‘makerspaces’, in which children and young people use equipment such as 3D printers and laser cutters for these purposes (Blikstein, 2013). However, the majority of this work has been conducted with children older than those who are the focus for our project, yet there is a need to enable young children (aged 3-8) to participate in such activities if they are to develop competences and dispositions that will inform their future study. If Europe is going to be able to compete in the global creative industry market in the decades ahead, these developments are key.

Who is undertaking the project?

This 30-month project involves a consortium involving the following partners: academics in 7 EU countries – Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Romania, UK – working alongside professionals in makerspaces: FabLab, Berlin; Iceland Innovation Center (which runs 7 Fab Labs); Innoent, Iceland; Makers, Sheffield UK and Hatch Atelier, Romania, in addition to teachers from Katrinebjerg School, Denmark, librarians from DOKK1 Library in Denmark and museum educators from San Francisco, USA. In addition, a number of international partners are involved in the project including, Brock University, Canada; Indiana University, USA; Memorial University, Canada; Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia; University of Cape Town, South Africa, and Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

What are the aims and objectives of the project?

The primary aims of this collaborative project are to: (i) further research and innovation in the area of young children’s digital literacy and creative design skills in order to contribute to Europe’s future competitiveness and growth; (ii) develop project participants’ skills in research and knowledge creation and thus increase research capacity and enhance career prospects; (iii) develop a network of researchers, creative industry professionals and educators who can collaborate to develop educational materials and tools to foster children’s digital literacy and design skills and (iv) offer recommendations for research, policy and practice (in industry and education) about the way in which makerspaces for 3-8 year-olds can be developed in both non-formal and formal learning spaces in order that young children can develop the skills and knowledge required for the digital age. A key aim of the project, therefore, is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the makerspace sector, enabling SMEs in this area to develop robust business models and appropriate resources for engaging in work with children in liaison with both non-formal and formal institutions.

The project has four key objectives, which are to:

  1. Conduct a comprehensive review of the role of makerspaces in the formal and non-formal educational experiences of children and young people.
  2. Undertake empirical research to determine how makerspaces can foster the digital literacy and creativity skills and knowledge of young children.
  3. Develop a conceptual framework for analysing young children’s engagement in makerspaces.
  4. Make recommendations for policy and practice that will foster innovation and entrepreneurship in SME makerspaces and facilitate the use of makerspaces for enhancing digital literacy in early childhood educational institutions and non-formal learning spaces such as libraries and museums.

This website provides information about the projects taking place in each country, and will be the repository for all of the project outputs, including an “Open Educational Resource’. This will provide resources for early years settings, schools, makerspaces, museums and librarians who are interested in developing provision in this area.

What are the research questions of the project?

The research questions will enable a multilevel analysis of the data at personal, relational and institutional levels:

Personal level

Relational level

Institutional level

What is the anticipated impact of the project?

This project will have theoretical, empirical and policy and practice impact. Theoretically, the project will develop new and innovative conceptualisations of young children’s digital literacy and creative skills and knowledge through dialogue between social and cultural activity theory and new materialism/ post-humanist philosophy. Empirically, the project will address a major gap in the literature. To date, there has been very little research on young children’s digital literacy practices and particularly absent are case studies of this age group’s engagement in makerspaces. This project will contribute to knowledge about the potential makerspaces have for the development of young children’s digital skills and knowledge and creativity, including creative design. The project will lead to important policy and practice insights for addressing the development of children’s digital literacy skills and understanding in both formal and non-formal learning spaces. If European children are to develop the skills and competences required for the kinds of employment and leisure practices they will face in the future, then this work is essential, as is recognised through the establishment of the policy area ‘Digital as a Driver for Growth’ as one of the three pillars of the Digital Single Market Strategy. The significance of the role of non-formal providers in the development of STEM skills and knowledge for society is well established (Falk et al., 2012; Rahm, 2014) and this project will involve children in the development of related knowledge, including coding and digital design in non-formal learning spaces. The project will also have impact on creative industries, specifically those institutions that seek to engage children in cultural production, such as makerspaces. The project will provide them with insights into how to work effectively with children in the pre-school and primary stages and develop sustainable economic models for this work.

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