A Kitchen for Tech

Cooking up a makerspace for some delectable Professional Development.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ann Musgrove, Frank Tomsic, Jessica Knott, David Goodrich, and Angela Gunder

CREDIT TechTestKitchen OLC.pngEducation conferences are full of wonderful ideas, presentations, and demonstrations about pedagogy and the newest technology tools. What is often missing is a place to gather, discover and discuss what these ideas and tools can do for you – a place for hands-on exploration, to make mistakes and find solutions. This is the concept behind the makerspace called the Technology Test Kitchen (TTK). The TTK is an active-learning installation where you can try out technology-enhanced solutions for learning (recipes) that have been vetted by the “chefs,” or create your own with the support of colleagues. A visit to this makerspace fills the gap between exposure to a concept and a deliverable solution.

In the spirit of active learning spaces, the TTK is designed to be open, loud, perceivably chaotic, transparent and easily accessible.

Aligning Professional Development with Learning Trends

The concept for the TTK was developed by a group of educators and technologists who identified a disconnect between the trends toward student-centered learning and existing, passive professional development opportunities. In addition to the pedagogical discrepancies, the group identified a similar disconnect in effective technology use to support active learning.

The solution to both challenges became the TTK, with the primary goal being to model and facilitate technology use in support of new perspectives on student-centered, active teaching. The TTK is a space to create, collaborate, and promote emerging technologies in support of engaged, experiential learning.

Key Ingredient #1: A Space Designed for Active Learning

In the spirit of active learning spaces, the TTK is designed to be open, loud, perceivably chaotic, transparent and easily accessible. The layout is comprised of dedicated areas for participants to pause, peruse, discover and share with others what is being learned in the exploratory process. To do this, the TTK is situated in a high-traffic and highly visible area of a conference hall, and attention is decentralized by the placement of furniture and electronic components to facilitate collaboration rather than passive demonstration.

Resources, whether emerging or time-tested, are situated to promote not only discussion and advice, but also rapid and collaborative prototyping. While the definition of “emerging technology” varies widely from individual to individual, each participant is invited to re-envision emergence in the changes and perceived evolution of their practice. Some even ride the cutting edge, defining emerging technology as that which is newly released and ill-defined.

Regardless, the goal of the participant interactions is to use technology to create better learning solutions. The prototyped solutions range from simple ideas described in conversation to complex mental models generated using a whiteboard, a tactile object, or even learning objects that are ready to deploy into existing courses. The prototyped learning interventions can even be tested on site, with educators, advisors, and peers who share common interests in promoting effective teaching and learning practices.

Key Ingredient #2: Creative, Collegial Chefs

The chefs who facilitate these dynamic, participant-centered interactions are themselves a collegial group of individuals who seamlessly phase in and out from installation to installation.

A typical group of chefs consists of instructional designers and educational technologists who work in training and academic positions. Although each chef brings vastly different talents and experiences, the core principles and practices stay the same. The TTK values new ideas and talents, openness and acceptance of varying levels of experience, and mistakes as a step toward a solution. Exhibitors of OLC Accelerate and educators attending the conference are invited to pair up as a competing team. Deadline for submissions for this competition is September 15, 2016.

In the Technology Test Kitchen, we work to incorporate technology in all of its forms and definitions through hands-on experiences. In that spirit, the TTK is inclusive, collaborative, constructivist and celebratory.

The TTK has evolved over the years from single instances at conferences, to discussions and research surrounding the topic of designing and implementing digital makerspaces to support hands-on, experiential professional development. Each iteration takes the form of not only the volunteers who facilitate, but the participants who pass through and interact. As such, the personalities and unique perspectives are key elements to the success of the space, and this interpersonal interaction serves as the way in which the legacy of the TTK is carried on.

Getting Hands-On in the Kitchen

Truly, the best way to discover the TTK is to experience it firsthand, and the space will only continue to thrive with active participation, open minds and a spirit of determined exploration.

Those interested can explore and interact with the Technology Test Kitchen at the next scheduled installation, November 16-18, at the OLC Accelerate Conference, in Orlando, Florida. Additionally, those seeking ways to get involved are encouraged to connect with the authors for further information on future iterations of the TTK, as well as forums and channels to participate in the continued evolution of the space. Contact information is available at http://www.technologytestkitchen.org.

Ann Musgrove, Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at Florida Atlantic University; Frank Tomsic, Director of the McCormick Educational Technology Center at Rush University; Jessica Knott, Learning Design Manager at Michigan State University; David Goodrich, Learning Experience Designer at Michigan State University; and Angela Gunder, Associate Director of Digital Learning and Instructional Design at The University of Arizona — are all part of the current Technology Test Kitchen team.


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