Author(s):Paula MacDowell (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2016, Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers

Network:25. Research on Children's Rights in Education


Session Information

25 SES 11, Digital and Civic Spaces

Paper/Video Session


Room:OB-E2.16 (ALE 3)

Chair:Jonathon Sargeant


Alongside Youth: Makerspaces for Civic Technologies and Child Advocacy


How might we design social media and social networks (e.g., online makerspace communities) to foster civic engagement and expression amongst youth? Mobile, physical, and virtual makerspaces are reshaping teaching and learning in schools throughout the world, and rapidly popping up in classrooms, libraries, museums, science centers, academic campuses, and diverse environments where learners and creatives work alongside each other. Makerspaces offer young citizens new opportunities to stimulate social and technological change in their lives, schools, communities, and challenging global contexts. Makerspaces invite children to participate in creating the technologies that create our world, as well as to take part in changing who controls, leads, and owns our future.

Characterized by tween fieldwork and designworks, the makerspace research setting of this study was developed to offer girls an empowering environment for exploring civic technologies and youth rights concerning the knowledge made about their lives and learning circumstances. 30 females (ages 10 - 13) participated in roles as co-researchers challenged to create social change games (e.g., the momME alternate reality game), robotic inventions, websites, posters, and public service announcements critiquing how girls are portrayed in the media. Based on the co-researchers’ catalytic or generative artifacts and “little stories” (e.g., Lyotard’s petits récits), this study offers ten design recommendations to guide and support youth civic engagement in equity-oriented makerspaces. Increasing scholarly interest in the international maker movement, maker education, and maker culture reinforces the need for methodological advancements and insights, thereby making this session relevant and timely. Further, this study generates new possibilities for scholarly inquiry with youth as research partners and advocates of social change.

Research Purpose

Although today’s girls are the most avid technology users of any generation, they are significantly underrepresented in its creation and innovation. Academic and industry research from the past 30 years documents that many girls are continuing to distance themselves from technology fields, careers, symbolism, and ideologies (Hill, Corbett & St. Rose, 2010). This has serious consequences for girlhood, womanhood, and the future of technological innovation: “If technology is designed mostly by the half of our population that's male, we're missing out on the innovations, solutions, and creations that 50% of the population could bring” (Ashcraft, Eger & Friend, 2012). Increasing female participation in the global technology sphere is essential to ensure that their experiences, needs, and skills are valued and represented in ways that result in meaningful and positive outcomes for both the lives of girls and the future of our technologically dependent world. Highlighting the need for youth to be recognized and given influence in the educational research concerning their lives and learning circumstances, this session will address the gendered risks and opportunities, technical ingenuity, and digital citizenship that a team of girls articulate and reflect upon at an equity-oriented makerspace within a University campus setting.

Theoretical Framework

This research takes a feminist technology and girl empowerment approach that builds upon the scholarly work of: 1) Allhutter’s (2012) deconstructive feminist theory of mind scripting; 2) Brandtzaeg, Haugstveit, Lüders & Følstad’s (2015) youth-centred research principles for capturing children’s experiences and expressions of civic engagement; 3) Freeman and Mathison’s (2009) constructivist approach for engaging children as “true” partners in researching their learning, growth, and development; and 4) Petrina, Feng, and Kim’s (2008) theories and techniques for researching technology, cognition, and learning across the lifespan. While these scholars occupy a variety of theoretical positions, they are all committed to learning alongside youth as research partners (not research objects), as well as to counter traditional positivist research by developing new ways of inquiring into the complexity of youth cultures and youth learning, especially in relation to technology.


As reported by the Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts (CYCC): “Youth voice is far too often absent from important discussions and decision-making processes about issues that impact them. This is even more concerning for children and youth in challenging contexts because they often live in circumstances that ignore or deny their experiences” (2013, p. 20). This study begins with the premise that engaging girls with civic experiences as technology co-researchers and child advocates can be personally and culturally transformative in pro-feminist, pro-social, and empowering ways— rather than simply reproducing existing gender and generational roles (Ashcraft, Eger & Friend, 2012; Jacquez, Vaughn & Wagner, 2012; Matthews, Hempel & Howell, 2010; Papaioannou, 2013). The specific dataset selected for this study focuses on the catalytic or generative artifacts and “little stories” (e.g., Lyotard’s petits récits) of 30 co-researchers (girls ages 10 to 13) challenged to create social change games (e.g., the momME alternate reality game), robotic inventions, websites, posters, and public service announcements critiquing how girls are portrayed in the media (Mallan, 2003). Artifacts will be addressed as they relate to stories made or analyzed by the girls, including their concerns, needs, talents, interests, literacy, and volition. The artifacts are catalytic for storymaking and, symmetrically, the stories are catalytic to artifact production and sharing. This is a question of the “catalytic validity” of our artifact and story practices (Lather, 1986).

Characterized by tween fieldwork, designworks, and civic technologies, the co-researchers collaboratively generated a rich dataset using the Tween Empowerment & Advocacy Methodology (TEAM), a new system of methods and techniques for data collection, synthesis, and representation. TEAM emphasizes relational ethics through media and civic engagement, artifact production, and mind scripting, (Allhutter, 2012; Brandtzaeg, Haugstveit, Lüders & Følstad, 2015). TEAM encourages and supports youth to question the taken-for-granted assumptions within hegemonic media and technology discourses (Petrina, Feng & Kim, 2008). The TEAM approach is valued as integral to this study’s transformative potential: engaging girls as research partners serves as an emancipatory practice that allows them to resist stereotypical notions of girlhood and to transgress their doubly insubordinate status in the technology sphere— worldwide, both gender and generational dynamics have historically marginalized girls’ involvement (Hill, Corbett & St. Rose, 2010; Freeman & Mathison, 2009; Matthews, Hempel & Howell, 2010).

Expected Outcomes

Drawing upon research practices that are inclusive, respectful, and sensitive towards girls (without dilution, conformity, or privileging one voice as absolute), this inquiry raises important questions about youth rights and roles concerning knowledge made about, for, from, with, and against them (Brennan, Barnett & McGrath, 2009; Papaioannou, 2013; Petrina, Feng & Kim, 2008). While big or grand narratives may be articulated, findings focus on the more modest and localized stories and agentive artifacts that the co-researchers’ contribute, evidencing their digital citizenship and ability to inspire social change. For example: girls in-interaction-with civic media and technology to independently create artifacts that express their concerns, interests, and ingenuity.

Deeply respectful of children’s intellectuality, humanity, and technical capabilities, this research contributes new methods and techniques for building equity-oriented makerspaces with youth on their own terms, in their own ways, and for their own purposes. Girls need to know that their perspectives matter and are significant in technology culture— thereby overturning traditional gender and generational stereotypes about who they are, what they ‘should’ be, and how they ‘should’ act. Girls also need cultural contexts and educational spaces where their artifacts, opinions, and stories are valued and heard around the world (as counter-narratives to hegemonic media messages)— for these and “other ‘mundane’ tales... [are] the sources from which their identities are formed” (Mallan, 2003, p. 261). The overall goal of this session is to ignite a blaze of discussion and provoke diverse perspectives on designing youth-driven makerspaces and globally-connected learning environments where children’s voices are respected, valued, and heard (Brandtzaeg, Haugstveit, Lüders & Følstad, 2015; Jacquez, Vaughn & Wagner, 2012; Ratto, 2011; Schrock, 2014).


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Ashcraft, C. & Eger, E. & Friend, M. (2012). Girls in IT: The facts. Boulder, CO: National Center for Women & IT.
Brandtzaeg, P., Haugstveit, I., Lüders, M. & Følstad, A. (2015). Participation barriers to youth civic engagement in social media. Proceedings of 9th International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 15). Oxford.
Brennan, M., Barnett, R. & McGrath, B. (2009). The intersection of youth and community development in Ireland and Florida: Building stronger communities through youth civic engagement. Community Development, 40, 331–345.
CYCC Network (2013). Youth engagement: Empowering youth voices to improve services, programs, and policy. Retrieved online:
Freeman, M. & Mathison, S. (2009). Researching children’s experiences. New York, NY: The Guliford Press.
Hill, C., Corbett, C. & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Foundation.
Jacquez, F., Vaughn, L., & Wagner, E. (2012). Youth as partners, participants or passive recipients: A review of children and adolescents in Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR). American Journal of Community Psychology, 1–14.
Lather, P. (1986). Issues of validity in openly ideological research: Between a rock and a soft place. Interchange, 17(4), 63–84.
Mallan, K. (2003). Performing bodies: Narrative, representation and children’s storytelling. Flaxton, QLD: Post Pressed.
Martinez, S. & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering & engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.
Matthews, T. L., Hempel, L. M., & Howell, F. M. (2010). Gender and transmission of civic engagement: Assessing the influence of youth civic activity. Sociological Inquiry, 80 (3), 448–474.
Papaioannou, T. (2013). Media and civic engagement: The role of web 2.0 technologies in fostering civic participation among youth. In D. Lemish (Ed.), The Routledge international handbook of children, adolescents and media studies (pp. 351–358). New York, NY: Routledge.
Petrina, S, Feng, F. & Kim, J. (2008). Researching cognition and technology: How we learn across the lifespan. International Journal of Design and Technology Education, 18(4), 375–396.
Ratto, M. (2011). Critical making: Conceptual and material studies in technology and social life. The Information Society, 27(4), 252–260.
Schrock, A. (2014). ‘Education in disguise’: Culture of a hacker and maker space. InetActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 10(1), 1–25.

Author Information

Paula MacDowell (presenting)
The University of British Columbia