IMLS Funds Development of Academic Maker Competencies, Rubrics

In July, the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, University of Massachusetts­–Amherst Libraries, and University of Nevada–Reno were jointly awarded a three-year, $241,845 National Leadership Project Grant, “Maker Immersion: Developing Curriculum Design and Assessment Skills for Academic Makerspace Course Integration,” from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

three college students presenting in front of white board in class
UMA students presenting project at the end of pilot semester in "Makerspace Leadership and Outreach" course taught in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library's Digital Media Lab.
Photo credit: Sarah Hutton

As academic library Maker work increasingly expands into undergraduate classroom curricula, librarians and Maker space staff find they lack the standardized vocabulary they need to communicate with instructors. In particular, there is a growing need for definitions of the cross-disciplinary, transferrable skills involved, and an established method of assessing them.

In July, the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) Libraries, University of Massachusetts­–Amherst (UMA) Libraries, and University of Nevada–Reno (UNR) were jointly awarded a three-year, $241,845 National Leadership Project Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The grant, “Maker Immersion: Developing Curriculum Design and Assessment Skills for Academic Makerspace Course Integration,” will build on the work of a 2017 IMLS grant–funded pilot study, which explored the impacts of academic library Maker spaces on undergraduate student learning and identified a series of standardized competencies—skills developed while problem-solving and working on projects in Maker spaces or similar learning environments.

The first year of the new grant-funded pilot will be spent testing the previously established competencies, which the partners revised after the initial grant had run its course, and developing rubrics based on them. Beginning this month, the three partners will pilot Maker literacies curricula in 20 undergraduate courses, bringing in seven more collaborator institutions. Subject faculty, librarians, and Maker space staff involved in these courses will then provide feedback to help revise and improve the rubrics, which will ultimately be used to assess student learning.

During the next two years, the partner schools will develop and execute two weeklong immersion programs to train faculty and instructors on best practices for integrating use of Maker spaces into their courses. They will learn how to use the competencies and rubrics to develop assignments and curricula, and to assess student learning. An asynchronous, online iteration of the immersion programs will also be made publicly accessible.

The project’s goal is to create a national network of teaching librarians and Maker space staff who will be able to lead their institutions in integrating and assessing Maker-based learning.



When UTA opened its FabLab in the library in 2014, FabLab Interim Co-director Katie Musick Peery and Gretchen Trkay, at the time the interim co-department head for Outreach and Scholarship, began looking into how they could help instructors integrate Maker work into their courses. They started out talking to subject liaison librarians about what was available at the FabLab, much in the same way that librarians would reach out to faculty members about what the library had on offer.

What they discovered, said Trkay, was that most liaisons were not particularly comfortable talking with faculty about resources so far outside the scope of traditional library work. The FabLab librarians would need to take a more creative approach.

The following year the libraries created the Experiential Learning and Undergraduate Success department, with Trkay as director. One of its missions was to better integrate the FabLab into the UTA curriculum without that work having to be driven exclusively by FabLab staff. When talking to faculty in her previous role, Trkay told LJ, information literacy competency standards had been a useful framing device to explain how the transferable skills that libraries teach overlapped with instructors’ defined learning outcomes. She had wondered: How can we create a similar mechanism for course integration and Making?

Most of the available literature about Maker-based education, they found, focuses on K–12 STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) initiatives rather than higher education. The two decided that exploration of Maker standards in academic institutions required a multi-year, grant-funded study, and applied for IMLS funding.

As part of the grant submission process, Trkay and Musick Peery put out the call for an external partner. Tara Radniecki, head of UNR’s DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library, was familiar with the FabLab’s work. Although UNR had installed its first 3-D printers in 2012, she recalled, "We were at a point with our Maker space [where] we really hadn't made that firm jump into being integrated into the curriculum. So this was a perfect opportunity for us."



Once the grant had been secured, UTA and UNR looked for a mix of schools to work with, in order to test Maker competencies in a range of settings. They were also interested in a variety of Maker space types; UTA’s, for example, was heavily focused on fabrication, but they also wanted to include spaces that worked with digital media and virtual and augmented reality, as well as a combination of established spaces and those just getting off the ground.

UMA joined the project in 2017. The Digital Media Lab, a cross-disciplinary Maker space in UMA’s W.E.B. Du Bois Library, had opened in 2013 and was seeing similar issues as the other institutions when it came to engaging liaison librarians. The space—which is open to all UMA students, faculty, and staff, regardless of major or department, and hosts students from local K–12 schools as well—had originated as a resource for digital work, including oral histories and filmmaking, and had only begun integrating fabrication work in 2015.

“Most of the collaborations we had done on curriculum development were [directly] with faculty,” said Sarah Hutton, head of student success and engagement. “I thought this would be great opportunity to help develop some more standards to help engage librarians and library staff in thinking about these experiential competencies in Maker spaces."

UTA and UNR brought in Boise State University, ID, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well. Over the course of the first grant, each partner developed competencies through their own curriculum; at UNR, for example, the Historical Geography and Digital Art classes were tapped. While the schools and classes varied widely, however, their findings were similar across the board: Librarians had difficulty talking to faculty members about the Maker space as a pedagogical tool.

“One of the biggest challenges was getting the librarians comfortable,” Radniecki told LJ, and “up to speed with everything they needed to know in order to go confidently to a faculty member and say, ‘this is the Maker space, this is what it can do for you. Let me help you integrate it into your assignment, or create an entirely new assignment.’”


male student reaching toward headset
UMA student project from "Designing with 3D CAD & BIM" course taught in collaboration with the W.E.B. Du Bois Library's Digital Media Lab. 
Photo credit: Alex Schreyer


The partners hope to have the rubrics complete by the beginning of October, and will test them with participating schools in the spring.

These rubrics are based on the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) Rubrics, and the project partners hope that instructors will use them as a jumping off point for developing their own curricula.

"The AAC&U VALUE rubrics is a language that faculty are already speaking, and that helps to bring these conversations into alignment and give librarians more confidence" when communicating with faculty about Maker spaces, explained Hutton.

”Hopefully we'll create an online library of sorts, a database where people can come in and see existing assignments, can find all the competencies, can find the rubrics [and] how we're assessing those,” said Radniecki. The database will be searchable, so users can look for a particular discipline and see how other schools implement Maker competencies in their classes. “It'll be a place to inspire and encourage people to start thinking critically about how they can take this and apply it in their own spaces,” she added.

They will be testing competencies in a broad range of small and large, public and private, geographically diverse institutions, including at least one tribal or historically black college. Eventually, seven additional partners will be selected. The common denominator, said Radniecki, is “that the [Maker space] librarians are active and engaged, and would be able to work with faculty and get classes to utilize the Maker space with these competencies and assessment plans."

During the grant’s second year two immersion workshops, hosting approximately 75 attendees each, will use the materials developed in the first grant and refined through the second grant’s first phase, and present them to librarians and Maker space staff.

“A big aim of the immersion program, once we've refined all of these tools, is to do that professional development with librarians,” Musick Peery told LJ. “They have the subject area knowledge of how to run their space well and how to use the equipment, and some of them might have a lot of curriculum development experience as well. But for those who don't, [the program] will be delving deeper into how to develop those learning outcomes and tie them to the equipment that they have in their space, and really partner with the faculty who have their own subject area expertise."

These in-person immersion programs will also help build a cohort who can serve as a support network for each other as well as future participants. “When UTA was first opening their space, we went through many of the same issues,” said Trkay. “I think that will be extremely useful for everybody participating in this immersion program, to have those ongoing conversations after the programming has concluded.”

After the grant period expires, the project’s sustainability will be ensured through the online platform, which will be developed during the third year. “The hope is that as time goes by, it's a go-to resource for librarians and libraries looking to have an active curriculum that focuses on students as creators,” Trkay told LJ.



While the partners expect that their work will help a widening circle of librarians, Maker staff, and instructors as the project progresses, they have already seen its impact at their own institutions.

At UTA, a large public university ranked the fifth most ethnically diverse in the country, and where the student body is over 50 percent first-generation college students, the skills that Maker spaces represent are a growing key to the new job market. UMA, a public land grant institution, serves not only its own campus but local community members and K–12 students. Because much of their interaction around Maker spaces involves one-shot instruction—which doesn’t allow for time to dig deeply into rubric development—grant partners have enjoyed the chance to think critically about this work over an extended period of time.

"At UNR it's helped us solidify the Maker space's role in academic achievement, which is something we've been wanting to prove—how the Maker space contributes to student success or researchers' success on campus,” Radniecki told LJ. “For student success it's been ad hoc. We've had some classes and assigned projects in the space, we can teach things in the space, but without that critical competency and the accompanying assessment piece, we really couldn't understand what the full impact was."

The project’s ultimate intent—to create a structure and shared vocabulary for librarians to communicate the value of Maker spaces on their campuses—is already well under way. “You have some people who are ready to jump in to any new thing and try it, but we tend to stick with the lane that we're in, in many cases,” said Trkay. “Our goal is to build confidence in librarians to think of themselves as teaching partners, and utilize all of these wonderful tools that are at our fingertips."

Author Image
Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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