Instruction Technology

Detroit Maker Faire, 2015

Detroit Maker Faire, Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. (July 25-26, 2015)

Detroit Maker Faire, 2015

Maker Faire came to the Detroit area this July by stopping at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. The museum provided a historic backdrop for the celebration of innovation and maker culture. Maker tents and tables could be found woven throughout the museum and outside in the Henry Ford parking lot and driveway. Hundreds of people were in attendance, moving from gadget to gizmo, checking out the creative work by makers featured in the faire.

Three image collage featuring a red blow-up robot, a person dressed as Captain America, and President Kennedy's car.
Left – Maker Faire robot; Top Right – Captain America cosplayer; Bottom Right – President Kennedy’s car

This was my first time attending a Maker Faire event and this carnival of exploration, gadgetry, and tech was more elaborate than I could have ever imagined. I quickly learned why this was a two day event because it’s easy to find yourself engrossed in the activities at a table or in the middle of a 20-minute conversation with a maker or fellow attendee! The atmosphere was warm and welcoming and makers were willing to give you their best elevator pitch or let you test out their latest creations. From innovative to bizarre, there were varying and unique approaches to the maker idea, which made for quite the memorable experience!  As a first time attendee, there were quite a few things that really stuck out to me and which I have highlighted below.


I learned several new things

I was not expecting to learn as much as I did in one weekend, but I walked away with a vast new pool of knowledge. Do you know how to pick a lock? Because I do from attending one of the responsible lockpicking presentations given by Toool. Do you know how to build a birdhouse? Habitat for Humanity Detroit showed me the steps to build a wooden paradise for my winged friends. I could go on, but I think you get the point. The amount of knowledge these makers bring to one place in unfathomable, so don’t be shy to chat with folks or get your hands dirty.


Everyone’s a maker

I applaud that makerspaces strive to be inclusive and the inclusiveness of this faire was incredible to see. Everyone was encouraged to participate in events and there was truly something for every person at the faire. I never dreamed that I would have considered myself a maker, but this event is almost like an orientation to maker culture, and before the weekend ended I was wearing an “I’m a maker” button on my lanyard with pride. Don’t worry if you’re not a maker before to go because you will be before you leave!

I did not know I had an interest in LED lighting until talking with folks at Protofusion and witnessing the fascinating Hypnocube. Thanks to Liter of Light, I was able to act upon my newfound interest and built a battery-powered LED light in a jar (it even changes color). Upon returning from the Maker Faire, I’ve already purchased some LED light strips for myself and cannot wait to experiment.


Collage featuring a LEGO car on a track, yellow plastic model car kit, and multiple soldering irons aligned on a table.
Top – LEGO car that was built and programmed by youth; Bottom Left – Saltwater powered car building kits; Bottom Right – Soldering irons setup to make LED buttons


The Youth Presence

I was impressed by the number of youth who were makers and also their incredible knowledge and skills. I had the pleasure of speaking with two youth who demonstrated a driving LEGO car, which they had built and programmed to follow a track around a small city. The car was controlled by a smartphone app and the user could select a location, like the Solar Station, and the car would drive to that point. I was fascinated by their cleverness in building this setup as well as their public speaking skills and knowledge.

Several robotics clubs, high school and college groups, and other youth projects were on display at the faire. In addition to youth featured booths, there were many booths and activities that were specifically targeted toward or were inclusive to youth. Some of the activities at this year’s faire included Minecraft games, robotics booths, Hot Wheels ramps, musical fruits and vegetables, and model cars, and more. I enjoyed seeing such a strong presence of youth and it help diversity the event and make it fun for families and groups.


Maker culture and geek culture

Something I most enjoy about maker culture is that often intersects with geek and popular culture. I would by lying if I said I wasn’t giddy when I saw folks strolling the halls in movie-quality costumes of Chewbacca and Darth Vader, or when I spotted a Mad Max themed car in the Power Racing Series race. Several vendors featured artwork of their favorite pop characters and folks of all ages were in costume or getting photos taken with those who were.

Several people dressed as various characters from the Star Wars movies.
Star Wars cosplayers and figures. Top Left – Princess Leia and Chewbacca; Top Right – Darth Vader and Imperial Officer; Bottom – Two R2-D2 droids and a Jawa.

Recommendations for first-time attendees


There were a few things I learned this year as a first time attendee that I wish to pass on for others who may be attending a Maker Faire event for the first time.

  • Get a release wristband so you can participate in all the events and activities throughout the faire.
  • Bring the youth. Many activities are geared toward youth 6 and older.
  • One day may not enough to see everything there is to see. Consider attending multiple days.
  • Follow Maker Faire hashtags on social media to scope out interesting or trending activities.
  • Certain activities happen only during particular times so download the Maker Faire app for a schedule of events.
  • Take both photos and video. Some items are best captured by video.
  • Network. This is an opportunity to meet new and interesting people or find ways to pursue an interest you may have.
  • If you are unable to attend an Maker Faire-led event, consider searching for other maker events in your area.
Consultations Instruction Libraries

How can we better empower learners during consultations?

In my position as an Instructional Technologist at the University of Michigan Libraries, I get to work with a diverse range of students, staff, faculty, and community members. One of my primary job roles is sitting one-on-one with leaners, also referred to as patrons within the library, to show them how to use an application such as Photoshop or Camtasia.  Since our patron community is quite diverse, so are the levels of computer, technical, and communication skills that patrons possess. I would consider a large part of my job is not providing instruction of the application or tools, but empowering my learners to believe that they can use said tools.

I provide instruction for many visual products, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Final Cut Pro, Camtasia, or WordPress. Most of these applications are technically rich and are often intimidating for beginners. The most common phrases I hear patrons say to me during these consultations are a flavor of  “I am bad with technology” or “computers hate me” or “I’m a digital immigrant”. This made me realize that these people are coming into the consultation with these beliefs about themselves or their skills before they even touch a computer. This has become a barrier in instruction and I wanted to know how could I potentially alter these beliefs.

The one statement that most sticks out to me is that so many people refer to themselves “digital immigrant”. The terms “digital immigrant” and “digital natives” were first coined by Marc Prensky in his 2001 article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, featured in the On the Horizon journal. Prensky uses this terminology to distinguish a technical engagement divide between those who have grown up immersed in technology and those who haven’t. In the article, he focuses on the education of digital natives and how digital immigrants – as instructors – are not meeting the needs of their digital native learners with engaging pedagogy. I believe that some learners use this language incorrectly to discredit themselves and technical skills, but it’s not the incorrect use of the term that interest me, but rather the fact that they identify with this term.

Understanding that some leaners have these personal identities and see themselves as being a person who exhibits “poor” technical skills, helped illustrate why so many of my patrons would discount themselves before touching the computer. I believe that identifying as a “digital immigrant” or other term is much more powerful than just having doubts about one’s ability. I began thinking of small ways I could alter my consultations to help empower the patron more and avoid confirming any negative doubts or identities they may have about themselves. Below is a brief list of some of the tactics I have developed.

Get to know to the patron.

Before I begin any instruction, I take a few minutes to get to know my patron, their skills, and understand their needs. I clearly outline what we will be covering in the consultation and give them an opportunity to express any concerns and fears they may have. This is a chance for me to manage their expectations and let them know exactly what to expect. I find it important to continue this dialog throughout the consultation, especially if things are not going as planned.

  • Introduce yourself with your name, title, and pronouns so that patrons know how to address you. Also provide some background of your skills and expertise, especially if it is specific to the consultation.
  • Talk to the patron and have them describe their background, goals, skill level, and any concerns they may have.
  • Do not make assumptions of anyone’s skills or background.
  • Break down the consultation process for your patron. Let them know exactly what you will be covering and have them set personal goals/objectives for the consultation.
  • Keep dialog open, especially when things do not go as planned.

Give them control.

One-on-one consultations are a fairly personal form of instruction and I try to be aware and respect boundaries and personal space during these sessions to ensure my patron is comfortable and feels in control.  I keep communication open and continue to check-in and ask how they’re feeling about the process and will adjust my instruction, personal space, or make any other necessary changes to better suit their needs. I try to encourage my patrons to acknowledge their personal learning styles or workflows and I try to provide them with choices to help them work as closely as we can within their skill-set and comfort zones.

  • State your boundaries. Let them know if they can interrupt you with questions or
  • Always ask before taking over their computer, mouse, or devices – even if it’s just to show something quick.
  • Make sure the patron sets the pace of the session and allow them them have control over their learning.
  • Encourage patrons to take notes, record the consultation, or do whatever it takes to ensure they are comfortable and confident in their learning.
  • Empower patrons of their personal learning styles and workflows and steer the consultation to fit their needs.

Make mistakes.

Back when I was a teaching assistant during graduate school, I was terrified of saying something wrong in lecture or making a mistake during a demonstration because I was worried that it would discredit me in the eyes of the learners. Years later I realized that this strive for perfection had actually alienated some of my learners. I never realized this until I had separate occasions where I would make a mistake during a consultation or workshop and a person would say something along the lines of “I’m happy to see that you make mistakes, too”. I didn’t realize it, but through my “perfect” instruction I had created an unattainable expectation of my learners. If I didn’t make mistakes then how could they? I now embrace mistakes and even use planned mistakes as examples in my workshop sessions. I will also write some of these workshops centered around the most common mistakes and frustrations within an application.

  • Do not be afraid or upset when you make mistakes in front of learners. It’s actually a good thing! Let the beginner know that experts make mistakes too.
  • Use mistakes to your advantage. Mistakes are a great way of learning and taking advantage of them could lead to very positive teaching moments.
  • Purposely make mistakes. Consider using them as part of your instruction.

Shift focus.

I noticed that learners will often take the blame of something that is actually not their fault, but the fault of the software of equipment. This is the most heart-breaking to me because it is completely unnecessary. I always try to let a patron know when it was not their fault and illustrate the problem and how it happened.  I will occasionally take it a step further and blame the application for minor things that the patron has done. For example, when making an illustration using Adobe Illustrator you use multiple, tiny points to create a drawing. Patrons often quickly understand how to create and select points as it’s an easy concept, but often times they struggle in clicking the right spot to select a point. Instead of blaming the patron and explaining how to click points once again, I will remind that the points are quite small and how Illustrator is very specific about where you click. This is also when I will bring up screen resolution and the zoom tools. It would have been easier for me to tell the patron they were doing it wrong, but they would not have been empowered to change the settings of the application to suit their needs.

  • Shift focus on the learner and not the technology. The technology should work for us and not visa versa.
  • Don’t let learners take the blame of things that were not their fault, specifically technical issues.
  • Show the learner how a mistake happened and center it on their needs and not the technology.
  • Blame the application or equipment if needed. Some things are not friendly to every user, so acknowledge this and place blame on poor design. Thankfully Photoshop, the office copier, and your new cell phone do not have feelings that can be hurt.

Provide a safety network.
Patrons are sometimes nervous when leaving a consultation because they are worried they may forget an important detail. Let them know that it’s okay and that they have a safety net, which could consist of another consultation with them, directing them to online guides or handouts, referring them to the university technology center, or giving them your direct office phone number. Do whatever would help the patron feel the most confident and comfortable upon leaving the session.

  • Make yourself available and let them know when it is best to ask your questions or come in for a consultation.
  • Provide any online or physical resources that may be useful to the patron continue or strengthen their learning.
  • Schedule follow-up appointments or send check-in emails to make sure things are going well after a consultation.

That is everything from my list, but I am interested in hearing what others do to help improve their one-on-one consultations or instruction session. What other tactics can be used to help shift learner identities from being negative to being empowered? How do you empower those who feel technology is not for them? Please feel free to comment or email me with some of your feedback on this topic!