adfa, p. 1, 2011.
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011
Intergenerational techno-creative activities in a library
Margarida Romero and Benjamin Lille
1 Faculté des Sciences de l‘Éducation, Université Laval, Québec, Canada
Abstract. A growing number of libraries are introducing maker spaces for fa-
cilitating the access of a diverse audience to the activities and tools that can fos-
ter the development of digital co-creativity and learning by making artefacts. In
this paper, we introduce the intergenerational techno-creative activities we have
co-designed in the context of the EspaceLab makerspace under the project
#smartcitymaker, and we then analyze the potential of intergenerational techno-
creative activities to overcome the gender and age stereotypes related to crea-
tive uses of technologies. We observe that intergenerational learning does not
occur spontaneously in most cases and makerspace facilitation must promote
intergenerational collaboration for achieving the objectives of facilitating learn-
ing across the lifespan by taking advantage of the forces of each age group.
Keywords: Intergenerational learning · Library · Digital creativity · Maker-
In the past few decades, libraries have been a popular place for sharing books and,
more recently, multimedia documents. In the past few years, we have observed the
emergence of makerspaces in public spaces such as libraries. Makerspaces are physi-
cal spaces, often in educational or public spaces, which aim to interconnect people
who want to engage in constructing and tinkering with objects, new technologies and
digital tools . While the term “makerspace” is widely used in North America, the
term “FabLab” (Fabrication Lab) is sometimes used to describe it in Europe. In both
cases, the spaces unite people interested in technological tinkering and in the co-
construction of artefacts . For Capdevila , “hacker spaces, makerspaces, living
labs, fablabs or co-working spaces are common denominations of localized spaces of
collaborative innovation (LSCI) where knowledge communities meet to collectively
innovate spaces of collaborative innovation”. For this author, common features of
these spaces include openness to the public and shared norms related to the way they
share information, tools and knowledge among the different participants sharing these
collaborative spaces of innovation. According to Dougherty , the community and
the makers’ interconnectedness are at the basis of the maker movement and an essen-
tial trait of the makerspaces reuniting makers of different ages for learning and creat-
ing artefacts together. Intergenerational makerspace activities could help overcome
creative and digital ageism (which will be later defined) by engaging older adults in
the techno-creative makerspace activities. Engaging teens, young and older adults in a
joint techno-creative activities, such as digital game design, allows each of the age
groups to know each other better and ensure their own representativeness in the game
design process and product they develop together [4, 5]. Makerspace activities con-
sider a larger type of activities than digital game design, to include 3D modelling and
printing, and electronic and wood tinkering among others. The high diversity of activ-
ities that are usually developed in the makerspaces allows the older participants to
value their know-how in a wide range of skills: from woodworking, to electrical tink-
ering to the different techniques of sewing, older participants can share a wide range
of diverse skills that could be required when participants are engaged in complex
making projects such as the #smartcitymaker project we will introduce in this paper.
We introduce the #smartcitymaker project and the way teen participants are engaged
towards the design and making and of a city model, which integrates both analogic
and digital techniques and materials to develop the different components of the city.
The weekly activities developed with the teen participants engaged in the Québec city
EspaceLab invite their parents and grandparents to help with the activities in order to
promote intergenerational learning and learning between learners of different ages
(from 8 to 16 years old). The informal context of the EspaceLab in the Monique Cor-
riveau library (Québec, Canada) contributes to blurring some of the age-specific lines
usually found in formal education contexts. In the next section, we introduce creative
and digital ageism as one of the stereotypes to tackle through intergenerational learn-
ing experiences in the makerspace. Afterwards, we introduce intergenerational learn-
ing and the potential for both younger and older adults, specifically in the context of
maker educational projects . Then, we introduce the activities in the EspaceLab
Junior and the project #smartcitymaker and the potential of the project for engaging
participants in intergenerational learning activities. Finally, we introduce different
game mechanics, which can help in promoting intergenerational making.
2 Creative and digital ageism
Makerspaces located in libraries can provide the opportunity to unite different genera-
tions and help fight some of the age-related stereotypes, such as the spontaneous crea-
tivity of younger children  and digital and creative ageism. For Butler  ageism is
the “systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old,
just as racism and sexism accomplish this with skin colour and gender”. In this paper
we consider two types of ageism: creative ageism and digital ageism. Creative ageism
assumes that older people are less creative because of their age. Romero and Hubert
 consider digital ageism as a “form of discrimination appearing through the use of
technologies that have not been adapted for older adults or that conveys a negative
image of older adults through their representation of older adults”.
Different authors have pointed to the interest of intergenerational activities as a way
to reduce age-related stereotypes [10, 11]. Not only can younger participants value an
older person’s knowledge and know-how, but they can be inspired by their less im-
pulsive attitudes towards the use of technology. Working with older adults can also
offer learning opportunities for younger learners, as they are able to develop skills and
acquire topic-related knowledge through collaborative work. Intergenerational collab-
oration can also foster broader personal development amongst younger learners, as
interactions between adults and adolescents are characterized by warmth and ac-
ceptance. Adults expressing an interest in the youngsters and promoting autonomy
may contribute to the development of their identity and their sense of responsibility.
Intergenerational collaboration could also play a role in breaking down some of the
age-based stereotypes that younger learners may have towards older adults and how
they interact with digital technologies.
2.1 Intergenerational learning
While some intergenerational learning programs are designed to foster a one-sided
transfer of knowledge and competencies from youth to the elderly and vice versa,
effective intergenerational learning describes the way by which individuals from dif-
ferent generations are able to come together and learn from one another. It is a “sys-
tematic transfer of knowledge, skills, competencies, norms and values” that allows
both the generations to stay gain a deeper understanding of the other generation’s
culture . While this concept originated in the context of the family, intergenera-
tional learning has evolved and expanded in contemporary society as a function of
non-familial social groups. Due to a geographical shift where families are relocating
and separating farther from relatives, the familial intergenerational shift is wavering.
Also, economic and social changes have resulted in changes in the social contract and
evolving expectations about the relative position of generations in society [13, p. 52].
To some, older adults are more considered as a burden than as a resource. That shift
combined with ageism may result in low social capital, which is defined by Balatti
and Falk  as the resource and access to network and communities, as older adults
sometimes don’t have access to their initial source of social capital: the family. There-
fore, the symbiotic relationship that exists, which centres on growth and learning,
social insights, and new technological skills faces a concerning hit and should there-
fore be explored between non-biologically related individuals to bolster social and
emotional growth. Many programs related to intergenerational learning are grounded
in Erikson’s theory on life span development . He postulated that children and
older adults have parallel developmental needs, and this unique relationship fosters
personal growth and agency. When younger and older generations join together for a
shared activity, they are able to share their own personal experiences related to aging,
experiences, values and aspirations. Older learners may feel after these events that
they have more autonomy than originally realized can actively influence the commu-
nity, and have a deeper understanding of younger generations and newer technologies.
Younger learners may walk away with higher self-esteem and self-efficacy, a deeper
understanding of adults, a belief that they can be appreciated and respected, and that
they can even trust others more fully. Younger learners may also have the possibility
to develop a more positive attitude towards aging. The effects of this reciprocity be-
tween older and younger individuals’ opens minds to new skills and insights as well
as new social structures and technologies influences both parties so that they can feel
empowered and have a new perspective on lifelong learning. Intergenerational learn-
ing may also increase participants’ social capital as learning, a social activity, creates
condition that can foster social capital development by extending, enriching, and re-
constructing social networks and by building trust and relationships. Intergenerational
learning also aims to influence the development of tolerance, understanding, and re-
spect between participants to encourage individual behaviours and attitudes that influ-
ence community participation [14, 16]. Granville  demonstrates the social and
educational potential of intergenerational learning in his case study where young of-
fenders in rehabilitation were provided placements to work in a community service
centre with older adults with physical abilities or dementia. Interviews showed pres-
ence of intergenerational learning as the young offenders developed employability
competencies while older adults developed a more positive attitude towards youth and
a better opinion on their own agency as older adults with physical disabilities or de-
mentia. Intergenerational learning therefore possesses a strong potential in addressing
ageism while also offering learning opportunities for younger and older learning to
develop valuable competencies.
2.2 Intergenerational making
The maker movement culture based on sharing, giving, participating and supporting
 could facilitate intergenerational learning. By encouraging democratic cybercul-
ture that is available to everyone, maker culture and maker spaces can provide oppor-
tunities for intergenerational learning. It provides chances for participation that act as
a mediator of transformation of knowledge and the ability to practice learning within
and between generations . Maker space activities can bring together parents,
grandparents and youngsters to tinker and create together while also understanding
not only science and technology concepts but also those of the arts and social scienc-
es. Intergenerational making activities, like intergenerational learning, can provide
opportunities to learn from one another and share new knowledge. Maker spaces are
open to do-it-yourselfers of varied backgrounds and ages. Maker space activities that
combines digital technologies with crafts and more traditional technologies such as a
sewing machine can therefore require different a variety of competencies and skills
that can be attained by collaboration of younger and older learners. Using maker
spaces for joint projects requiring both experience-based and technological know-how
could be an opportunity not only for different types of intergenerational learning but
also for achieving the goal of inclusive design. Moreover, the sharing of knowledge,
projects and achievements encouraged in maker space activities can foster family and
community involvement for younger and older participants. Intergenerational making
activities therefore possess a great potential for participating in the improvement of
cross-generational relationships and for sustaining learning across the lifespan.
3 #Smartcitymaker project in the EspaceLab Junior
3.1 EspaceLab, an intergenerational makerspace situated in a public library
EspaceLab is the first Québec fablab to be part of the MIT FabLab network. For
Debaque, president of EspaceLab, we must stress the desire to develop a “culture of
pooling” resources. The location of EspaceLab within the Quebec City library net-
work facilitates is key strategic aspect to support the access to the makerspace for
everyone, independently of their age or their technological skills. EspaceLab is an
open and intergenerational makerspace that brings citizens closer to design and tech-
no-creative manufacturing. In the image below we can appreciate an informal team
composed by adults, a teen and a toddler who had informally engaged in understand-
ing the functioning of a Sparki robot. By being open to all the public, EspaceLab also
offers the opportunity for underprivileged children to have access to digital technolo-
gies that would be harder to have access to.
Fig. 1. EspaceLab open door activity reuniting intergenerational participants
3.2 EspaceLab Junior
While the EspaceLab offers general services such as introductory workshops and
tutorials aiming to develop participants’ comprehension of the digital tools available
at the fablab, EspaceLab also offers EspaceLab Junior which offers the opportunity
for participants, learners from eight to sixteen years old, to co-design techno-creative
projects. EspaceLab Junior has an intergenerational learning objectives which aims to
extend Quebec library services to an intergenerational audience composed of teens,
their parents, other young and older adults and provide them the opportunity and con-
text to learn and engage in digital creative and educational activities. EspaceLab Jun-
ior activities aims to promote the 21st century competencies, in a playful and practical
way. Among these skills, problem solving, digital creativity, collaboration and com-
putational thinking could be developed through the co-design and achievement of
techno-creative projects such as #smartcitymaker. 21st century competencies could be
developed not only for younger learners, but also for older adults that are engaged in
Fig. 2. EspaceLab Junior techno-creative activities
By being an environment open to all the public, EspaceLab Junior allows adults
and older adults to engage in the #smartcitymaker project. Engagement is facilitated
because many of the parents of the children work in techno-creative fields , such
as engineering and computer science, and therefore can instill in their children a thirst
for these types of activities. While most adults come from techno-creative fields, not
all of them have a working knowledge of the tools available at EspaceLab Junior. For
example, one grandmother only wanted to transport her grandchildren to the library
where EspaceLab Junior was held, but when she saw the types of activities that the
children were engaged in, she first decided to watch and observe and progressively
engaged in the learning activities. While, at first, she wanted to understand the digital
and tangible technologies for her own interest, she was soon offering her own input
and insights to children on project progression. Maker activities therefore offer a col-
laborative setting where all participants are aiding one another in order to solve com-
plex problems, such as the co-creation of or the tinkering with tangible and digital
artefacts. The informal setting of EspaceLab Junior also allows for any willing chil-
dren or adults that wish to join an activity to do it at any time. The informal setting
aims to encourage intergenerational collaboration.
Fig. 3. EspaceLab Junior intergenerational collaboration potential
The #SmartCityMaker is a research project that aims to develop learners’ 21st-century
competencies by proposing a theme-immersed techno-creative project in which learn-
ers are engaged in a learning-by-making approach through co-designing and co-
constructing a model of a city. #SmartCityMaker is composed of pedagogical se-
quences where technology is used to foster learners’ design thinking  by placing
learners in a complex task that requires a high level of creativity. #SmartCityMaker
adopts an approach that offers digital resources that are combined with a tangible
model of a smart city. Townsend  defines the smart city as “places where infor-
mation technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects,
and even our bodies to address social, economic, and environmental problems”. In
that context, participants in EspaceLab Junior are building a smart city model with
recycled and affordable material (construction paper, tape, painting), electrical com-
ponents (smart city lighting system), electronic components (Makey Makey electronic
system linked with Scratch visual coding software) and pedagogical robots (cars of
the smart city). The combination of digital and tangible objects could offer an oppor-
tunity for learning through embodied cognition, as learners are able to physically
interact with the pedagogical artifacts. Intertwining craft with digital artifacts could
foster learners’ engagement in complex programming concepts and practices. As
Peppler and Kafai  valued, these three aspects are important in media art practic-
es. #SmartCityMaker aims to foster creativity, collaboration and computation. Con-
structing a city model in the classroom is a complex based activity, which requires a
certain number of sessions to be completed. The city theme has been chosen by the
potential for interdisciplinary projects to build on the city model. Cities are complex
systems, which engage all the curriculum disciplines at different stages. From geogra-
phy technic for being able to read and transpose a plan, to history and mathematics
required to reconstruct a building, all the disciplinary objectives of the Québec curric-
ulum  can be related to the city theme. Moreover, the concept of a smart city “as a
city that uses digital technology, data analysis and connectivity to create value and
address its challenges” [15, p. 2]. The smart city theme offers a large diversity of
possible projects, which requires digital solutions to improve the problems identified
by the students in their daily lives.
Fig. 4. City model developed through the #smartcityprojet in the EspaceLab
#SmartCityMaker project is also carried out in the required course “ICT uses for pre-
school and elementary school,” offered at the third year of the pre-service teachers
program in Université Laval (Canada). Constructing a city model in the classroom is a
complex based activity, which requires a certain number of sessions to be completed.
In the first sessions of the project, the #SmartCityMaker is constituted of activities,
which are developed with a higher degree of teacher regulation. The first activities
engage the learners as city planners, and each small team should define the urban rule
to design and build the building in their neighborhood. Buildings are assembled with-
in the team, and the different neighborhoods are merged at the end of the second ses-
sion of the course. Students carry out the second part of the project in parallel through
team-based projects. Each team is required to address an educational issue that they
may face in their career and analyze it. They are then asked to design a pedagogical
intervention considering Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) possibilities. Subse-
quently, students are invited to discuss the educational limit of their activity and the
potential transferability of the activity in another educational context. Figure 5 intro-
duces the different phases and tasks within the #SmartCityMaker project. In the initia-
tion phase, students are organized in teams based on their level of confidence on the
use of ICTs in order to ensure teams are homogeneous from this perspective. The first
activities aim to develop the team building (forming and storming) and the norming
stage (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977). Norming is orchestrated through the urban rules
definition task where the teammates decide together how they will work as a team and
what are the urban rules of their neighborhood in the #SmartCityMaker project.
Fig.5 #SmartCityMaker iterative process
Within the #SmartCityMaker class-based projects, students are asked to transfer class-
developed competencies in the community. One of the modalities of transfers accept-
ed is to participate in an intergenerational maker activity in EspaceLab Junior.
4 Cues for fostering intergenerational making in the EspaceLab
By encouraging intergenerational collaboration in which people from all ages and
gender are engaged in techno-creative activities, maker activities can help in over-
coming gender and age stereotypes related to creative uses of technologies. Despite an
important potential for informal intergenerational learning of competencies and topic-
oriented knowledge through the values of the maker movement culture shared in the
EspaceLab, and the #smartcityprojet EspaceLab Junior initiative, the dynamic is not
systematic and only some of the adults and older persons engage spontaneously with
the teens engaged in the activities. We need to go further in the active promotion of
intergenerational learning opportunities by ensuring a climate which foster collabora-
tion in risk-free and judgment free context. For this we should encourage the values of
mutual aid, positive interdependence [24, 25] and attitudes of initiative taking, flexi-
bility, leadership, accountability, conflict management and collaborative and complex
problem solving competencies [26–28]. We also need to further orchestrate some
activity designs that encourage intergenerational collaboration by identifying compe-
tencies possessed by participants from every generation and by taking them into ac-
count in activity design. Participation could also be elicited by implementing gaming
mechanics in maker activities such as collaborative competition and by adding a nar-
rative to maker activities. Such structuration of maker activities would also need to
respect values of maker culture such as openness, democratization and inclusion of
all. Like other scholars [6, 29–31], we believe that it is important to move away from
top-down approach in analyzing and implementing intergenerational maker activity
and instead analyze how all participants can be directly involved in maker activity
design as well as analyzing their motives for participating in making activities. Older
adults and youngsters could therefore discuss and design their own making activities.
We also need to ensure that adults and older adults that are not comfortable with the
tools used at EspaceLab feel secure in taking part in maker space activities. Also, we
need to identify adults’ and older adults’ skills that could be invested in maker space
activities so that anyone can contribute to the progression of maker projects. Creating
two open questionnaires that would be given before the activity could be the first step
in understanding motives, representation and beliefs of participants in intergenera-
tional making activities that could then help us encourage intergenerational collabora-
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