Please cite: Hughes, J. M., Morrison, L. J., Kajamaa, A. & Kum-
pulainen, K. (2019). Makerspaces promoting students’ design thinking
and collective knowledge creation: Examples from Canada and Fin-
land. In A. Brooks, E. Brooks & C. Sylla (Eds.), Interactivity, Game
Creation, Design, Learning, and Innovation (pp. 343-352). 7th EAI In-
ternational Conference, ArtsIT 2018, and 3rd EAI International Confer-
ence, DLI 2018, ICTCC 2018, Braga, Portugal, October 24–26, 2018,
Proceedings. Springer International Publishing: Cham, Switzerland.
Makerspaces promoting students’ design thinking and
collective knowledge creation: Examples from Canada
Dr. Janette Hughes Laura Morrison and Anu
Kajamaa Kristiina Kumpulainen
1 University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Faculty of Education, 11 Simcoe Street North,
Oshawa ON L1H7L7, CA
2 University of Helsinki, Faculty of Educational Sciences, P.O.Box 9, 00014 Helsinki, Finland
Abstract. Despite the growing popularity of makerspaces in education, we cur-
rently have little understanding of the conditions and processes that promote stu-
dents’ design thinking and knowledge creation in these digitally-enriched learn-
ing environments. To address these research gaps in current research knowledge,
we draw on two ethnographic case studies on students’ maker activities situated
in Canada and Finland. In the Canadian study, the focus is directed to analysing
students’ design actions carried out in a five day long “microcycle” of learning
by individual students in a Maker Lab. In the Finnish study, attention is directed
to investigating forms of students’ collective knowledge creation during an elec-
tive course in a makerspace, The Fuse Studio. This paper shows that design think-
ing is a potentially fruitful way to build students’ global competencies and to
approach knowledge creation in a makerspace environment as students engage
in interest-driven making, requiring various levels of instructor/peer support,
from independent making to guided inquiry.
Keywords: Makerspaces, Design Thinking, Knowledge Creation, Digital Learn-
Makerspaces are collaborative and creative spaces where people come together to hack,
build, innovate and ultimately, to learn — either formally or informally. Maker peda-
gogies are generally associated with STEM or STEAM (where the Arts are integrated
into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education; however, making is in-
herently interdisciplinary, hands-on, inquiry-based, and driven by student interests and
passion. Educators in Canada and Finland are now increasingly harnessing mak-
erspaces as learning environments to promote inquiry, imagination, creativity, curios-
ity, and perseverance in STEAM learning and beyond. Most notably, making is con-
sidered to promote the development of important global competencies and transferable
skills, such as creative and critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, leadership,
Despite the growing popularity of makerspaces in education (Honey and
Kanter, 2013; Kumpulainen, 2017), we have currently little understanding of the con-
ditions and processes that promote students’ design thinking and knowledge creation
in these novel digitally-enriched learning environments. Furthermore, what accounts
as a makerspace in formal education deserves further attention. In this paper, we ad-
dress these gaps in research knowledge by introducing and combining, in a novel
way, two theoretical lenses, namely design thinking and knowledge creation in the
study of makerspaces in Canada and Finland. The makerspaces in the two research
sites are largely similar. Yet, the pedagogical approaches of the making and design
activities in these two research sites are slightly different: The Canadian Maker Lab
emphasizes design thinking, a fluid and non-linear methodology that typically in-
volves tackling complex problems in local and global communities. Using design
thinking, learners are considered to be able to exercise their agency to define real
world problems that they are passionate about by first empathizing and trying to un-
derstand the human needs involved. They brainstorm to generate multiple solutions
and begin to prototype and test their solutions. The Finnish site underscores students’
interest-driven engagement in STEAM design challenges that are introduced to them
in a digital infrastructure for learning, The FUSE Studio. The STEAM challenges of
the FUSE Studio (named Keychain Customiser, Electric Apparel, Coaster Boss and
Solar Roller etc.) that students can choose from have been structured to introduce stu-
dents with new ideas and to support them through more complex iterations of those
ideas. The challenges ‘level up’ in difficulty like video games and are accompanied
by various tools, such as computers, 3D printers and other materials (e.g., foam rub-
ber, a marble, tape and scissors, which we refer to as “artifacts”), as well as instruc-
tions on how to process the challenges (Stevens & Jona, 2017).
In sum, our paper addresses the following research questions:
• How does a theoretical design challenge support students in the design pro-
cess of their own personal passion project? What specific global skills and
competencies are developed in the theoretical challenge and in the personal
• How do students engage in collective knowledge creation through STEAM
2. Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framing of our work is informed by design thinking (Doppelt, 2009;
Kafai & Peppler, 2011; Gobble, 2014) and knowledge creation approaches (Paavola,
Lipponen & Hakkarainen, 2004; Kajamaa, Kumpulainen & Rajala, forthcoming). We
consider these two approaches useful as they represent the core elements entailed in
makerspaces and making.
2.1 Design Thinking
Social demands for certain skill sets are changing and with the implementation of
maker pedagogies, students are given the opportunity to develop those foundational
skills that are necessary for success. Design disciplines are those which provide open-
ended ways that students can approach problem solving through authentic, real world
applications (Kafai & Peppler, 2011). Makerspaces are rooted in design disciplines,
so they align with the concept of problem solving through open-ended approaches to
create unique learning opportunities for students. It is in these opportunities that the
skillsets necessary for success are developed.
Over the years, as our society has evolved from one of consumer to one of
creators in many aspects, the concept of design thinking has emerged as a critical as-
pect of our everyday lives (Gobble, 2014). Many people align design thinking with
the aesthetics of something, however in reality it encompasses much more than just
how something looks (Gobble, 2014). Different models that are used in design think-
ing utilize different tools and frameworks as vehicles to create a more human centred
approach to problem solving (Gobble, 2014; Brown, 2009; Cahn et al., 2016). Creat-
ing authentic applications of real world situations elicits design thinking, which pro-
motes collaboration and communication, as well as empathy and citizenship, which
are commonly used in real-world problem solving.
2.2 Knowledge Creation
In makerspaces, based on the principles of design thinking students are encouraged to
make their knowledge explicit in their innovation processes by constructing novel so-
lutions to the challenges and problems in question. Knowledge creation takes place in
the social activity of students and teachers and it is a crucial process for students’
learning and knowledge advancement (Engeström, 1999; Engeström, Engeström &
Suntio, 2003; Paavola et al., 2004; Kajamaa, Kumpulainen & Rajala, forthcoming).
Knowledge creation is mediated by various tools embedded in the activity. These
tools can entail both conceptual (signs, language) and material artefacts (Vygotsky,
1978). Similarly, the results of knowledge creation processes are often tangible ob-
jects (e.g. creation of an artefact or a completion of a challenge presented on a com-
puter screen), but they may also result in “conceptual artifacts" (Wartofsky, 1979;
Engeström, 1999; Paavola et al., 2004; Kajamaa, Kumpulainen & Rajala, forthcom-
Our previous study shows that in a makerspace context, knowledge creation
may take place in different, and often intertwined forms (vertical knowledge main-
taining). It can also manifest as students making their own initiatives to creatively
break away from the given situation and instructions (horizontal knowledge break-
ing). In some cases, it may evolve into an innovative process where the student
groups and sometimes also students together with their teachers collectively challenge
and question one another and the existing knowledge to co-create future-oriented
learning activity (knowledge expansion) (Kajamaa, Kumpulainen & Rajala, forthcom-
To answer our research questions, we used two approaches. To analyze the data from
the Canadian context, we used a design-based research (DBR) approach that focused
on the design thinking processes of individual students (Barab & Squire, 2004). To
analyze the data from the Finnish context we applied a new framework developed by
Kajamaa, Kumpulainen and Rajala (forthcoming) for the study of different forms of
knowledge creation in technologically enhanced makerspaces.
In Canada and Finland, the research took place in STEAM-focused makerspaces
[links will be added]. In Canada, the makerspace was situated in the Faculty of Edu-
cation at [university name] and in Finland the makerspace was both online and in a
city-run comprehensive school with 535 students and 28 teachers at the primary level.
In 2016, as a response to the new curriculum requirements, the school introduced the
FUSE Studio (www.fusestudio.net) - a design and making environment - as one of its
elective courses. The Canadian Maker Lab was established to conduct research into
production pedagogies in general, and maker pedagogies in particular.
At the Canadian site, the researchers worked with a group of fifteen students ranging
in age between 7 and 14 years old. Eight of the students were male and seven were fe-
male - 11 of whom had no identified exceptionalities and four of whom had excep-
tionalities that included giftedness, anxiety, ADHD, ASD and other learning chal-
lenges. The students had a range of experience with, and access to, technology and
different digital tools both at home and in school from previous grades. The students
participated in a March Break Camp to spend five full days using the design thinking
process to work on a personal project in the Maker Lab.
In the Finnish site, the research focused on 94 students aged between 9 and
12 years old. Due to the elective nature of the FUSE course, the groups consisted of
students from several classes. Group 1 consisted of 32 students (22 boys and 10 girls),
Group 2 consisted of 30 students (19 boys and 11 girls) and Group 3 consisted of 32
students (19 boys and 13 girls). Each group was supported by two to four teachers and
3.3 Research Design
In Canada, the design process was used in two ways during the March Break Camp --
first, it was used in a daily theoretical exercise with the students (responding to the
challenges of training a new puppy) and second, it was used to frame the participants’
week-long design project. At the Ontario site we adhered to the following cyclical
five-stage design framework adapted from the Engineering is Elementary website
(Museum of Science, Boston):
Fig. 1. The Design Framework used at the Ontario site.
The framework included: 1. Ask (what is a personal project or problem that needs to
be solved); 2. Imagine (what already exists that could solve this problem or could be
hacked or re-mixed to better respond to the problem); 3. Plan (what resources are
needed, what steps will be involved in realizing the end product); 4. Create (a proto-
type of the product for testing with others); 5. Improve (what worked, what could
have been improved). Each day of the camp was devoted to a different (and sequen-
tial) stage of this design process
In Finland, we investigated students’ maker activities in a novel “mak-
erspace”, the FUSE Studio — a digital learning environment focused on enhancing
student- and interest-driven science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics
(STEAM) learning. In the FUSE Studio, students were free to select which ‘chal-
lenges’ to pursue, who with (or alone) and when to move on. The core idea was to
promote young learners’ STEAM learning and to cultivate STEAM ideas and prac-
tices among those who are not already affiliated with them, and by so doing broaden-
ing the access to participation in STEAM learning (Stevens & Jona, 2017). Figure 2
shows a student interface (view) of the FUSE challenges on a computer screen.
Fig. 2. ‘My Challenges’ student interface
3.4 Data Collection and Analysis
In Canada, the study began with a pre-project survey as a base marker of the students’
beliefs about making. We asked students whether they considered themselves “makers”
and what kind of making they engaged in at school. We also asked the students whether
they were given opportunities to do “passion-based” (interest driven) making. Through-
out the project, the researchers recorded detailed field notes, collected the students’
planning notes and reflections, photographs, still images/video recordings of their de-
sign thinking processes, whole group conversations, and individual exit interviews. The
researchers also engaged in informal discussions with the students, of which notewor-
thy comments, themes, ideas or feedback were recorded through text or voice recorder.
This type of open-ended data was collected with the objective of developing common
themes (Creswell, 2004).
In analyzing the Canadian data, we drew on content analysis (Berg, 2007)
and as we combed through the various data sources in our first reading, we looked for
emergent codes. On the second reading, we looked for patterns and grouped similar
codes into categories. On the third reading, we narrowed our focus to examine how
design thinking led to the development of a series of global competencies, and in this
paper, we specifically focus on problem solving.
In Finland, the primary data was comprised of 111 hours of transcribed
video recordings and field notes of students (N = 94) aged between 9 and 12 years old
and their teachers carrying out making and design activities in the FUSE Studio. The
video recordings were collected intermittently over a period of one academic year.
The video data and field notes were transcribed and analyzed using interac-
tion analysis methods (Jordan & Henderson, 1995). Our analytic approach can be de-
fined as abductive, involving repeated iterations between theory and data. Our analy-
sis was based on Kajamaa, Kumpulainen and Rajala (forthcoming) framework of the
different forms of students’ knowledge creation. We inductively analyzed the discur-
sive acts from the students’ and teachers’ talk, depicting forms of knowledge creation.
4.1 Individual students design thinking in the Maker Lab
Framing the Passion Projects Through Focused Problem-Solving. To help partici-
pants develop the problem-solving skills they would need during the creation of their
passion projects over the course of the week, they were guided through focused and
intentional problem-solving activities each day of camp. The challenges were themat-
ically centered around the training of a new puppy and required participants to think
creatively and to persevere in finding solutions to their puppy training problems. As
the students worked through their first ‘puppy challenge’, they were stretched to con-
ceive of realistic and humane ways to train their new puppy. Beginning ideas included
low-tech and easy to implement, yet impractical, solutions such as building a box in
which the puppy would live and relieve him/herself, thus removing the issue of fo-
cused training altogether. Other solutions included the use of more elaborate, futuris-
tic technology. One participant designed a jet-pack for the puppy that would sense
when s/he needed to relieve him/herself and would fly the puppy to a designated area
of the backyard. While this idea was certainly more creative and innovative, it was
again less practical and raised ethical issues, such as animal cruelty. As the group
shared their working solutions (drawing on collaboration and communication skills),
discussion arose surrounding the well-being of the dog in at least a few of the scenar-
ios. One boy raised the question, “which [of these] could put a lot of strain on the
dog?” He pointed to the jet-pack example and explained that this would put “a lot of
strain on his organs”. So, this was identified at the beginning of the week as an area
for development and improvement. While most of the ideas theoretically provided a
solution to the problem posed, they each required feedback, reflection and revision to
generate viable solutions. Each day, a new challenge connected to training the puppy
was introduced and encouraged the campers to continue to use the design process in
order to refine their solutions. As a result, the students’ problem-solving skills were
developed by drawing on some of the other global competencies such as collaboration
(i.e. asking peers for assistance in their making process and input in their designs and
final products), perseverance (i.e. continuing to troubleshoot and problem-solve when
faced with technological and/or design challenges), empathy/citizenship (ie. in the de-
velopment of an artefact in response to real-world or imagined problems) and creativ-
ity (i.e. in their innovative/unique solutions).
Problem-Solving in the Design Process. As they worked through the stages of their
designs, each camper was forced to pause at crucial moments to consider the feasibil-
ity of their designs and how they might need to reconsider and refine their choices of
direction or materials (similar to the theoretical puppy training challenge). One pair
that was working together on Harry Potter wands as their passion projects (the main
design projects separate from the theoretical puppy-training design challenges posed
each day) decided they wanted to create wands that light up at the tip when they cast
their spell. They planned out their week and articulated the steps they would take to
achieve their end goal (verbally and in their design planning notebooks). Continuing
on in their design process, they used sewing and Lilypad - a codable E-textile tool - to
create a prototype of their wands. To complete their prototypes, they were required to
learn about circuitry and a traditional skill that many find frustrating - sewing. To
complete this task, both students went through a number of problem solving tasks,
from learning how to thread a needle to how to wire the circuit to ensure that it
worked the way they wanted. This process was not easy for the pair and they encoun-
tered many challenges along the way; however, with support from one another, lead-
ers and other campers, they persevered and succeeded in this portion of their project.
Following their prototype creation, the pair were required to modify their de-
sign multiple times, adapting their prototypes each time. The problem-solving aspect
of the design process became very evident at this point in the project as the duo used
TinkerCAD to create the 3D model file of each of their wands. It was quite simple
creating the wand shape; however, when they realized that they had to make the in-
side hollow, they ran into the problem of how to make sure there was enough space
inside the wand to fit all of the wiring. The most challenging aspect of the project for
them was creating the circuits and although they became frustrated and were close to
quitting, through collaboration, patience and hard work, they were able to add the illu-
mination element to their wands.
4.2 Students’ collective knowledge creation in the FUSE Studio
Our analysis of the students’ knowledge creation processes in the FUSE Studio re-
vealed the dynamic interplay of three forms of knowledge creation: Namely, vertical
knowledge maintaining, horizontal knowledge breaking and knowledge expansion.
Below, we illuminate one example of the dynamic interplay of these three forms of
The vignette shown below highlights the exchange between two students and
their teacher during the FUSE challenge titled, “Keychain customizer”. During this
exchange, the boys — about to save their work on the computer programme — are
approached by the teacher to check in. Although the boys express that they want to
design their artefact in such a way that it could hang the right way up, the teacher ex-
plains to the boys that it would be better to hang it upside down. The teacher also tells
them how thick or thin to make the ring. The students then question the teacher by at-
taching the ring to the top of the letters, nevertheless. Despite this effort, the teacher
overrides the students’ perceptions on what a ‘nice’ keychain would look like and
how it should be hung (pseudonyms are given to the students in the excerpts):
Teacher: I think that this ring is too weakly attached to the letter I. It’s too much on
Eetu (student): But Onni (student) said it was ok.
Onni: But isn’t this ok?
Teacher: I would like it to be a lot more firmly attached. I would, in fact, attach it (the
ring) to the letters (referring to their initials) and probably from the bottom maybe.
Eetu: But then this name would be upside down.
Teacher: Then it would hang from the bottom, but the keychain is not always hanging
The student attaches the ring to the top of the letters nevertheless.
Teacher: And I would also use the “tube” – tool to make it thinner.
Eetu: It’s already as small as it can be.
Teacher: No it’s not. Carefully adjust it so that it can be used as a keychain (student
uses the tool). Now that’s better than the previous one (student keeps adjusting) Not
that narrow, that’s as it doesn’t exist at all. It’s not firm enough so that it will hold.
In this example, the students were enthusiastically focused on their joint activity of
designing keychains and made active use of the artefacts available in the FUSE Stu-
dio. The students’ attempted to use their agency and knowledge in their making activ-
ity: the activity was initiated by a FUSE challenge, but the students started to follow
their own ideas and ways of working. We interpreted this as horizontal knowledge
breaking, as it provided evidence of the students’ breaking away and expanding their
activity from traditional schooling towards design and creativity. The student-driven
activity was then interrupted by the well-framed instructions given to them by the
teacher. The teacher disregarded the student’s initiative. This tension could have po-
tentially triggered opportunities for knowledge expansion, if the teachers and the stu-
dents had started to negotiate and make attempts to create collective solutions to
guide their future actions.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
In this study, we investigated students’ design thinking and forms of knowledge crea-
tion in two educational makerspaces in Finland and in Canada. In terms of design
thinking, the Canadian case revealed that the makerspace is a space where students
can develop global competencies such as problem-solving, collaboration, empathy
and communication. Both of the studied makerspaces provided useful material condi-
tions supporting students’ design thinking and knowledge creation. They provided the
students with a rich variety of digital tools and more traditional (craft) materials that
the students actively, and often creatively, utilized within these contexts.
In the Canadian Maker Lab, design thinking was introduced through the en-
gineering design process framework (adapted from the Engineering is Elementary
website). In the findings section we presented an example of the theoretical puppy
training challenge the participants engaged with at the beginning of each design day.
The competencies developed through this challenge supported the students in their
own, personal design projects. The theoretical challenge also assisted them in consid-
ering the real-world application and/or practicality of some of the components of their
designs. In the findings, we also discussed some of the skills the students developed
and the challenges the students encountered in their personal projects which ranged
from learning and debugging the technology (i.e. constructing circuits) to engaging in
iterative attempts to add to and improve their final products (i.e. the Harry Potter
The FUSE Studio in the Finnish context included a unique design and mak-
ing infrastructure and a social context, which enhanced different forms of the stu-
dents’ collective knowledge creation. Overall, in our data, the students’ strict follow-
ing of the structures and instructions given by the FUSE computer program and the
facilitating teachers (i.e. knowledge maintaining) dominated the design and making
activity. Yet, relatively often, the students exercised horizontal knowledge breaking
and used their own initiatives to break away from the situation creatively. Sometimes
this created tensions as the students questioned the customary ways of making and de-
signing. The challenging and questioning of the existing knowledge led in some rare
cases to knowledge expansion where groups of students, sometimes also with their
teachers, encountered the tensions, negotiated, and thereafter co-configured novel, fu-
ture-oriented learning activities. In the Finnish context, the flexible intertwining of the
multiple forms of knowledge creation is a current pedagogical challenge for educators
and conscious efforts are needed to improve the processes and conditions giving rise
to qualitative different forms of knowledge creation in the students’ maker activities.
Our analysis provides novel findings also in connecting design thinking to
the theoretical notion of knowledge creation. Our research shows that the main differ-
ence between these approaches relates to the initial level of agency of the students in
determining what kinds of making they will engage in. However, these approaches
also importantly add to one another as teachers grapple to understand what kinds of
pedagogical supports to provide students during the design/making process. In both
cases, the participants were given varying levels of guided inquiry support from oth-
ers, both instructors and peers.
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