Flipping Assessment in a Makerspace on Its Head

Many educators and school leaders alike often wonder how students can be appropriately assessed in maker environments. One of the questions that I am asked most frequently is:

How do we assess in a makerspace?

In my book, Worlds of Making:  Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School, I touch upon assessment and say that a makerspace can have activities associated with the Standards and even can be assessed; however, making doesn't always have to be–indeed, I would argue, MUST not always be–tied to traditional assessment.  All too common is the mindset that traditional methods of assessment are the only valid means to measure learning.  

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Makerspaces in schools are unique learning environments and as a result, educators should use unique assessment methods. Assessment in a makerspace should be flipped on its head.  'Flipping on its head' is an idiom that means something has been figuratively turned upside-down.  It has been altered so profoundly that up is down, left is right, and a person's experience and expectations have been completely transformed.  This is the kind of assessment our makerspaces need.  

In a maker environment, it is important to find ways to acknowledge the granular skills students gain as well as 'soft skills'- things such as teamwork and communication skills.  In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of capturing and celebrating all forms of professional learning.  This is also true in makerspaces. Rather than formalizing a makerspace so much so so that it becomes a classroom, it is important to develop methods of assessment that give students credit for the skills that they gain in your space, celebrate those accomplishments, and validate that learning.  My own students will tell you that the last thing they want is for our makerspace to be turned into a class, but at the same time, that they want credit for the skills that they gain.  

As a result of my students' requests, we have begun using micro-credentials in the form of digital badges in our makerspace.  These badges acknowledge the skills students gain in our space.  In order to earn a digital badge in our space, students must provide evidence that they have successfully met the criteria for earning a badge.  The digital badges the students earn are 'clickable', allowing anyone who wants to see the description for the badge as well as the criteria for earning the badges.  

Three of our badges we have available in our makerspaces are related to 3d Printing and Design.  Below are the images of each badge, along with the metadata behind our badges:

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Once a digital badge is earned, students may share them across social media, embed them into websites or blogs, upload them to their resumes or college applications.  The badge becomes their property and they can decide what they want to do with it.  Not only do students own their badge, but they own the learnings associated with it.  The badges have allowed our students to tell the complete story of their learning, allowing them to more effectively persue college majors, jobs and careers related to the skills they have gained in our space.