Characterising Epistemic Engineering Practices in a School Makerspace

Project Number
OER 12/14 MT

Project Duration
January 2015 - September 2018


In studies of cognition, an exciting new perspective in the last couple of decades has been the position of cognitive enactment, embedding, extension and embodiment (as an umbrella term, cognitive externalism). Put briefly, researchers are accepting that the mind consists of more than the brain, but also the physical body, the objects, and the people around it. In practical settings, this perspective helps explain, for example, the utility of gestures in conversation?they can make reference to key aspects of an explanatory apparatus not immediately present, but formerly shared between interlocutors. Given the externalism hypothesis, an important focus area of concern would be the role of external processes in epistemic cognition. Analogically, if beavers create ecological niches (dams) which confer evolutionary advantages, a similar process of epistemic niche construction needs to be considered for human cognition. Individuals can be thought of to be better or worse marshals of their immediate environment to aid their cognitive processes. Through such activities, we anticipate that learners can acquire intuitive understanding of scientific concepts. Because the externalism hypothesis compels us to consider such manual activity as cognition, per se, and also because such application of epistemic action is likely to be uneven, we expect that there will be individual differences in these practices. The aim of this study is to characterise the forms of epistemic engineering practices typically present in makerspaces. Using a quasi-ethnographic study recording and analysing video data of participants engaged in makerspace activities, we will set out to develop and refine categories of epistemic actions. These findings are likely to inform our understanding of the kinds of learning that take place in such spaces, and how the use of these spaces may be optimised.

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