Examining maker education through a phenomenological lens

I was first introduced to phenomenology during a taught module on campus and it was that focus on the philosophical underpinning of my research that became another lightbulb moment of clarity. The location might not have been the Left Bank, and I was drinking daytime coffee, but I reckon that the effect of this philosophy of experience was as profound on me as it was on Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir when first introduced to them by Raymond Aron in 1932:

“We spent an evening together at the Bec de Gaz in the Rue Montparnasse. We ordered the speciality of the house, apricot cocktails; Aron said, pointing to his glass, ‘You see, my dear fellow, if you are a phenomenologist, you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!”

(Simone de Beauvoir, 1965)

Sartre never did share his interpretation of that cocktail but later went on to study Husserl’s work, making a phenomenological contribution himself with a published paper on intentionality in 1939. The historical roots of phenomenology have been described as a movement rather than a period of time (Speigelberg, 1960) and Edmund Husserl is recognised as the principal founder, often referred to as the ‘father of phenomenology’ (Farina, 2014). It is partly this dynamic and evolving approach of phenomenology that first caught my attention, and how it aligns with the philosophical foundations of the maker movement that I become interested in its adoption as an appropriate methodology for my own research. Similarly, as Burke (2014) described the period from 2005 onwards as a defining time when “the (maker) movement was born, at least as a collective concept” as communities of practice and the collaboration of makers came together in one space, Seymour Papert has also been acknowledged as the founder of the constructionism in education and ‘father of the maker movement’ (Lachney and Foster, 2020).

It’s emphasis on the study of lived experience and what teachers can reveal about maker education is why I believe that phenomenology can offer exciting educational research opportunities. Since its rapid adoption in schools, maker education has become a research topic of interest for a range of disciplines, but the diffusion of studies has been at the expense of developing coherent theory, pedagogy and practice (Weiner, Lande and Jordan, 2018). Given that a large body of evidence has emerged about maker education in schools, the approach of ‘learning by making’ is not interchangeable with schooling and reaches the divide between formal and informal learning, thus blurring the lines of where learning happens (Halverson and Sheridan, 2014).

As such there is an increasing need to grow the body of empirical evidence and conceptualise experiences of maker education over a number of years as an object of study for educational research, a perfect time to work phenomenologically with teachers as co-researchers. As Husserl (1970) described ‘life world’ as what we experience pre-reflectively or thought of as common sense, my study will involve teachers re-examining those ‘taken for granted’ maker education experiences to uncover new or forgotten meanings.

“There is still more to see here, turn me so you can see all of my sides, let your gaze run through me, draw closer to me, open me up, divide me up; keep on looking over me over and again, turning me to see all sides. You will get to know me like this, all that I am, all my surface qualities, all my inner sensible qualities”

(Husserl, 2012)

References

Beauvoir, S.D., 1964. de. 1965. The Prime of Life.

Farina, G., 2014. Some reflections on the phenomenological method.

Halverson, E.R. and Sheridan, K., 2014. The maker movement in education. Harvard educational review84(4), pp.495-504.

Husserl, E., 1970. Logical Investigations. Translated by JN Findlay. Humanities Press.

Husserl, E., 2012. Analyses concerning passive and active synthesis: Lectures on transcendental logic (Vol. 9). Springer Science & Business Media.

Lachney, M. and Foster, E.K., 2020. Historicizing making and doing: Seymour Papert, Sherry Turkle, and epistemological foundations of the maker movement. History and Technology, pp.1-29.

Sartre, J.P., 1939. Intentionality: a fundamental idea of the phenomenology of Husserl.

Spiegelberg, H., 1960. The phenomenological movement, 2 vols. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff1, pp.137-43.

Weiner, S., Lande, M. and Jordan, S.S., 2018. What Have We” Learned” from Maker Education Research? A Learning Sciences-base Review of ASEE Literature on the Maker Movement. Review & directory-American Society for Engineering Education.

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