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Open Access 10-04-2023 | Original Article

Makerspaces Fostering Creativity: A Systematic Literature Review

Authors: Sohail Ahmed Soomro, Hernan Casakin, Vijayakumar Nanjappan, Georgi V. Georgiev

Published in: Journal of Science Education and Technology | Issue 4/2023

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Abstract

Makerspaces are gaining popularity in the educational activities of all age groups, from primary schools to higher education institutions, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Due to makerspaces’ hands-on learning approach, it is generally believed that learning in makerspaces influences students’ creative and thinking skills. Experiments have been performed to explore this relationship; however, they are limited to a particular type of makerspace and address only some aspects of creativity. Therefore, using a systematic literature review (SLR) approach, we attempted to understand the relationship between makerspaces and creativity in the context of STEM education. The SLR offers a holistic view of makerspaces fostering four aspects of creativity from primary to higher education. This SLR used three primary categories of terms in its search string: (i) makerspace and associated terms, (ii) creativity and innovation, and (iii) variants of the term “STEM.” Using the Summon meta-database, we searched 103 digital databases (including Scopus, IEEE, and ASEE). The initial search considered peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles and conference proceedings focusing on STEM disciplines published from 2000 to August 2021. After following the PRISMA guidelines for reporting systematic reviews, 34 relevant papers remained eligible for inclusion. The selected papers were analyzed using thematic analysis. Various types of makerspaces show empirical evidence of fostering creativity. This review additionally identifies seven factors that foster creativity in a makerspace environment. These findings will be beneficial for applying makerspace tools and interventions to enhance creativity in the context of STEM disciplines.
Notes

Publisher's Note

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Introduction

A makerspace is a place for students to implement their ideas, individually or in teams. It is defined as “a creative and uniquely adaptable learning environment with tools and materials, which can be physical and/or virtual, where students have an opportunity to explore, design, play, tinker, collaborate, inquire, experiment, solve problems and invent” (Loertscher et al., 2013). The tools used in makerspaces are referred to as digital fabrication or digital manufacturing technology (Hawken et al., 2013). They enable computer-supported additive and subtractive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, and easy production of highly customized products. Digital fabrication technology is considered an indispensable part of makerspaces, such as fabrication laboratories (Fab Labs) (Gershenfeld, 2012), personal fabrication settings (Baudisch & Mueller, 2017; Richard & Giri, 2019), invention studios (Forest et al., 2014), design labs, and hackerspaces (Can Nguyen Hai, 2021). Makerspaces are utilized for interdisciplinary applications and research, helping users coordinate between different disciplines to develop complex engineering designs (Kim, 2020). Due to their application and significant impact in various disciplines and fields, literature has directed attention to countless aspects of makerspaces. Specifically, studies have examined their influence on domains such as economics (Prendeville et al., 2016), entrepreneurship (Guerra & deGómez, 2016), public libraries (Brady et al., 2014), design education (Becker, 2016; Georgiev, 2019; Soomro & Georgiev, 2020), medical practices (Lakshmi et al., 2019), higher education (Love, 2022; Ylioja et al., 2019), sustainability (Soomro et al., 2021), and STEM education (Yin et al., 2020). Many studies on makerspaces consider them places that affect creativity and help users such as students, designers, architects, engineers, and health care workers brainstorm creative solutions to real-life problems (Blikstein et al., 2017; Carulli et al., 2017; Duenyas & Perkins, 2020; Giannakos & Divitini, 2016; Glenn et al., 2020). However, while many studies have mentioned that makerspaces foster creativity, few have examined or studied this claim (e.g., Lille & Romero, 2017).
Creativity is associated with skills like creative and critical thinking, problem-solving, imagination, and active learning (Hatzigianni et al., 2021; Sang & Simpson, 2019). This research uses Rhodes (1961) definition of creativity, which encompasses most aspects of creativity: “The word creativity is a noun naming the phenomenon in which a Person communicates a new concept (which is the Product). Mental activity (or mental Process) is implicit in the definition, and of course, no one could conceive of a Person (Individual) living or operating in a vacuum, so the term Press (Environment) is also implicit.” This definition outlines the four P’s of creativity, an important skill in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education studies (Bozkurt Altan & Tan, 2021).
STEM definitions vary across disciplines (Martín‐Páez et al., 2019). Aguilera & Ortiz-Revilla (2021) presented 11 STEM/STEAM definitions reported in the literature. We use the comprehensive, broad, and frequently used definition of STEM. “STEM educational approach defined as integrating two or more disciplines when solving real-life problems” (Bozkurt Altan & Tan, 2021, pp. 3–4). The above definition is also used by other researchers (M. Sanders, 2009; Shaughnessy, 2013; Smith & Karr-Kidwell, 2000). STEM education allows students to think and propose solutions to real-life problems assigned to them with little support from mentors (Sang & Simpson, 2019). The STEM approach to teaching science education encourages student creativity, allowing them to think and learn through experience (Sirajudin et al., 2021). This is where makerspaces and STEM intersect. Makerspaces provide tools and environments for experimentation, where students must turn ideas into physical artifacts. Hence, makerspaces, creativity, and STEM learning are strongly linked due to the nature of STEM education.
In makerspace and STEM education-related literature, we find systematic reviews that cover various aspects. However, a research gap exists in STEM education regarding makerspaces’ role in fostering creativity. In the context of makerspace fostering creativity, Wu et al. (2021) studied the role of the physical environment in makerspaces. Other studies considered only one aspect of creativity in makerspaces. Hachey et al. (2021) explored the creativity process, whereas Supraja et al. (2022) studied the “person” aspect of creativity. Choi et al. (2022) and Lam et al. (2021) investigated co-creativity and design. Moreover, Aguilera and Ortiz-Revilla (2021) conducted a systematic review of creativity and STEM but not in a makerspace context. To address this gap, a systematic literature review (SLR) of this topic was conducted following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) model (Liberati et al., 2009). We aimed to gain insight into the different aspects of makerspaces related to creativity from the perspective of STEM education. Hence, we formulated the following research questions (RQs):
  • RQ1. What aspects of creativity do makerspaces and STEM education address?
  • RQ2. How do the identified aspects of makerspaces foster creativity?
  • RQ3. What are the types of makerspaces and methods used to measure creativity?
This paper comprises six sections. The first introduces the three searched terms (creativity, makerspaces, and STEM) used in the literature review. The following section reports the research on makerspaces, creativity, and STEM education thus far. The third section explains the method used in this research, the PRISMA model. The fourth presents the results retrieved from the literature. The fifth discusses the research questions based on the study results. Finally, we summarize the main findings and conclusions of this study.
Makerspaces are considered an effective tool in the development of creative skills and positively affect users’ thinking, ideas, and ability to produce creative solutions in various domains such as art, science, technology, and engineering (Culpepper & Gauntlett, 2020; Dede, 2010; Saorín et al., 2017; Schmidt, 2019; Sheffield et al., 2017). For instance, Schmidt (2019) described makerspaces as “creative labs” and places for social innovation that foster individual creativity and learning, leading to knowledge and value. Culpepper and Gauntlett (2020) conceived makerspaces as creative platforms for making and learning activities supporting creative and curious individuals. The literature reports that digital editing tools and 3D printers help develop engineering students’ creative abilities (Saorín et al., 2017), describing a strong connection between the makerspace environment and its creative tools. However, such studies are specific to particular aspects of creativity (either person or environment) and the makerspace.
Makerspaces are essential for STEM education due to their capability to promote 21st-century skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration, and to improve confidence in K-12 and higher education students (Abdurrahman, 2019; Blackley et al., 2017; Hachey et al., 2021; Ng & Chu, 2021). For instance, Blackley et al. (2017) studied makerspaces’ capability to improve students’ confidence in STEM education. Hachey et al. (2021) investigated makerspace-based pedagogy development in kindergarteners’ STEM identity development. Despite the importance of makerspaces in STEM education, limited studies have been conducted on creativity.
Considering STEM literature and creativity, Aguilera and Ortiz-Revilla (2021) conducted the most comprehensive SLR on STEM education’s potential to develop students’ creativity. They showed that STEM education positively affected students’ creativity but disregarded the relationship between creativity and makerspaces. Their analysis was based on the 4Ps of the creativity model (Rhodes, 1961). Therefore, the current study aims to conduct an SLR focusing on makerspaces, creativity, and STEM education.

Method

SLR was conducted following the PRISMA model (Liberati et al., 2009), which provides deep theoretical knowledge and a systematic approach to exploring a topic (Petticrew & Roberts, 2008). SLR based on the PRISMA model (PRISMA, 2022) helps enhance the clarity and transparency of reports. PRSIMA model is executed using a four-phase flow diagram to perform a systematic literature review, which includes identification, screening, eligibility, and inclusion/exclusion of articles. By fulfilling these requirements, standards of evidence-based reporting of results can be satisfied, which enhances the reproducibility of the findings through clear, accurate, and complete reporting of a well-defined research question. A series of PRISMA-based steps, such as search criteria, databases, and keywords, were used to select research studies for conducting an SLR. “Search Criteria, Databases, and Keywords” section discusses the steps in detail. “Article Selection Process” and “Article Inclusion and Exclusion” sections discuss the inclusion and exclusion of reports and use a flow diagram to illustrate them (Fig. 1).
A thematic analysis approach (Holton, 1988) was used to analyze the results. Thematic analysis was introduced by Holton and is used to identify patterns in a qualitative dataset. There are two approaches to interpreting a pattern of ideas: the “shared meaning idea” or “domain summary.” This study interpreted a pattern as a set of shared meaning ideas grouped under a core concept or theme (Willig & Rogers, 2017). As described in the Results section, we identified four core themes from the selected papers. In addition to thematic analysis and in response to the third research question, the Results section also discusses the creativity assessment methods used in makerspaces and the different types of makerspaces reported in the literature. The results related to “creativity assessment methods” and “types of makerspaces” studied in the literature were extracted by analyzing each article included in this SLR.

Search Criteria, Databases, and Keywords

The search was conducted using Summon (Home - RU SUMMON, 2021). This meta-database provides access to 100 digital databases (e.g., ACM Digital Library, ABI/INFORM Collection, Taylor & Francis Online, ScienceDirect Journals, JSTOR Art and science series) and allows searching for a string of keywords in all databases without changing syntax. A separate search was conducted on Scopus, ASEE, and IEEE to ensure the inclusion of all relevant articles. Scopus, IEEE, and ASEE were separated because these databases were not covered by Summon. The search was conducted for all papers published until August 2, 2021. Table 1 shows the filter criteria and corresponding values used for this SLR in Summon (Home - RU SUMMON, 2021) and the Scopus. ASEE and IEEE databases and lists the terms used in the initial search. Based on this study’s search criteria, we included every publishing venue (i.e., journals and conference proceedings) indexed in the ASEE, IEEE, and Scopus databases. Moreover, no publishing venues indexed in the databases covered by Summon (a meta-database that performs searches across multiple databases) was omitted. Therefore, we also identified articles from publishing venues covered by Summon (see Stage 1 in Fig. 1).
Table 1
Search criteria
Search string (Summon)
(Fulltext:(fablab* OR makerspace* OR "fab lab" OR "maker space" OR "fabrication laboratories" OR "invention studios" OR "maker environments")) AND (Fulltext:("STEM" OR technolg* OR science OR math* OR engineer*)) AND (Fulltext:(creat* OR innov*))
Search string (Scopus)
Title-abs-key ( ( fablab* or makerspace* or "fab lab" or "maker space" or "fabrication laboratories" or "invention studios" or "maker environments" ) and ( "stem" or technolg* or science or math* or engineer* ) and ( creat* or innov* ) ) and ( limit-to ( pubstage , "final" ) ) and ( limit-to ( subjarea , "engi" ) or limit-to ( subjarea , "comp" ) or limit-to ( subjarea , "math" ) or limit-to ( subjarea , "phys" ) ) and ( limit-to ( doctype , "cp" ) or limit-to ( doctype , "ar" ) ) and ( limit-to ( language , "english" ) )
Databases
Scopus, ASEE, IEEE, Summon
Document Type
Scholarly peer reviewed journal articles and conference proceedings
Language
English
Subjects filter
Education, Engineering, Science, Physics, Mathematics, Computer science
Date
August 2, 2021
The search string comprised three primary categories of terms. The first was makerspace and associable terms, such as “fab lab,” “invention studio,” and “maker environments” (Schmidt, 2019). The second was “STEM.” Various combinations of STEM have been used in the literature. For instance, “STEAM OR STEM” (Conde et al., 2021), “STEM/STEAM education” (Aguilera & Ortiz-Revilla, 2021), and “STEM OR science OR technology OR engineering OR mathematics” (Anwar & Menekse, 2021; Ibáñez & Delgado-Kloos, 2018; Prieto-Rodriguez et al., 2020). In this research, “STEM OR science OR technology OR engineering OR mathematics” was utilized, as it expanded the scope of results. The third category of terms was “creativity” and “innovation.”

Article Selection Process

The selection process consisted of six stages, as illustrated in Fig. 1. At stage 1, we used four database search engines (Summon meta-database, Scopus, IEEE, and ASEE) to identify papers based on the search criteria depicted in Table 1. This yielded 6,751 results in total. At stage 2, filters were applied to exclude magazine articles, trade publications, theses, book chapters, book reviews, newsletters, news articles, web articles, and duplicates automatically, and consequently, 2,428 articles were left. At stage 3, one of the researchers manually read the abstracts and excluded those that were off topic, using the following assessment criteria: (i) articles must deal with makerspaces, Fab Labs, or related physical spaces; and (ii) articles should evaluate or analyze any dimension of creativity (i.e., person, process, environment, or product) within the context of STEM domains. Consequently, 142 articles were selected for further full-text screening. At stage 4, 111 out of 142 articles were removed based on the following four reasons (also specified in Fig. 1). First, 66 of the articles had not studied/examined the topic of creativity; second, 13 articles were not related to makerspaces; third, 13 articles, were not in the context of STEM; and fourth, 19 were literature review articles. At stage 5, 34 articles were found to be eligible for inclusion, and at stage 6, they were submitted for qualitative analysis.

Article Inclusion and Exclusion

To be included in this study, articles had to be dealing with topics such as makerspace, Fab Labs or similar spaces, and aspects of creativity (i.e., person, process, environment, or product) related to STEM disciplines. An example of an article that met the inclusion criteria is Timotheou and Ioannou, (2021), who explored the development of collective creativity in the context of STEAM education-based maker activities, which were performed in a makerspace environment.
At stages 3 and 4, articles that did not meet the inclusion criteria were excluded from our analysis. The most common reason for exclusion was that despite containing terms such as "creativity" or "create" in the title or the abstract, the articles were not focused on an analysis or study of creativity. For instance, Ng & Chan, (2019) contains the word “creativity” in the abstract and introduction section, but the article was not reporting on an analysis of creativity. Other articles were excluded because they were missing at least one of the three search terms. For instance, although Hecht et al. (2014), Cornetta et al. (2020), Robinson et al., (2019), Bill and Fayard (2018), Pfeiffer et al., (2019) and Tillinghast et al. (2017) addressed STEM and makerspace aspects, they did not investigate them in relation to creativity. Other studies focused on creativity but were not conducted in a makerspace context (e.g., Bruhl & Klosky, 2020; Pucha et al., 2016; Schar et al., 2017). Since the search was performed on the "full text,” the search results yielded numerous non-eligible articles. For example, some of these contained relevant search terms only in the list of references (e.g., Ellery, 2016) or in the author affiliation section (e.g., Ellery, 2016). Others were excluded since they belong to areas such as material science included "fabrication" or "engineering" keywords (e.g., Azim et al., 2019; Kerns, 1989; Widdis et al., 2013). Another reason for obtaining irrelevant results was the existence of generic terms in the search string with the wildcard (*) entry using the root word with an asterisk (e.g., "create*"). The idea of the wildcard was to include all possible endings of the root word in the search. For instance, the term "creat*" includes "create" and "creation," which have a high possibility of occurrence even if the article is not on the topic of creativity.

Results

The research articles included in this SLR were analyzed for the aspects of creativity they addressed. The thematic analysis revealed four central aspects. The first was “person,” reflecting the students’ creative competence, and was classified into two subcategories: individual aspects of creativity and the collective creativity of students. The second theme was “environment,” reflecting the environmental factors influencing the students’ creativity in a makerspace. This theme comprised two subcategories: social and physical. The third theme was “process,” referring to the creative processes used while making a product, and the fourth was “product,” reflecting the creativity in the outcome or product. Table 2 summarizes the complete analyses.
Table 2
Classification of selected articles into aspects of creativity, types of makerspaces, and education level
S. No
Reference
Creativity
Education level
Makerspace
Person
Environment
Process
Product
Primary
Middle & High school
Higher Education
Basic
Intermediate
Standard
Individual
Collective
Social
Physical
 1.
(Andrews et al., 2021)
   
X
    
X
   
 2.
(Hatzigianni et al., 2021)
X
     
X
  
X
  
 3.
(Jin et al., 2020)
X
      
X
    
 4.
(Juškevičienė et al., 2021)
  
X
 
X
  
X
  
X
 
 5.
(Timotheou & Ioannou, 2021)
 
X
    
X
  
X
  
 6.
(Reynaga-Peña et al., 2020)
X
       
X
  
X
 7.
(Chekurov et al., 2020)
     
X
  
X
  
X
 8.
(Hoople et al., 2020)
  
X
     
X
  
X
 9.
(Bertrand & Namukasa, 2020)
    
X
  
X
    
 10.
(Carbonell et al., 2019)
X
       
X
  
X
 11.
(Couch et al., 2019)
X
 
X
    
X
  
X
 
 12.
(Maaia, 2019)
    
X
  
X
  
X
 
 13.
(Selznick, 2019)
X
       
X
  
X
 14.
(Walan, 2019)
   
X
X
     
X
 
 15.
(Taheri et al., 2020)
X
       
X
  
X
 16.
(Geist et al., 2019)
X
    
X
  
X
  
X
 17.
(Trahan et al., 2019)
    
X
X
 
X
  
X
 
 18.
(Albala et al., 2018)
     
X
  
X
  
X
 19.
(Clark et al., 2018)
X
       
X
  
X
 20.
(Borges et al., 2017)
    
X
   
X
  
X
 21.
(Giannakos et al., 2017)
  
X
X
   
X
X
  
X
 22.
(Khalifa & Brahimi, 2017)
 
X
  
X
   
X
  
X
 23.
(Saorín et al., 2017)
X
  
X
    
X
  
X
 24.
(Sheffield et al., 2017)
X
     
X
   
X
 
 25.
(Farritor, 2017)
X
 
X
     
X
  
X
 26.
(Noh, 2017)
X
       
X
 
X
 
 27.
(Marshall & McGrew, 2017)
     
X
  
X
  
X
 28.
(Lille & Romero, 2017)
X
X
      
X
  
X
 29.
(Fleischmann et al., 2016)
 
X
 
X
    
X
  
X
 30.
(Somanath et al., 2016)
X
      
X
   
X
 31.
(Bevan et al., 2015)
  
X
 
X
  
X
   
X
 32.
(Forest et al., 2014)
X
  
X
    
X
  
X
 33.
(Dave et al., 2010)
X
      
X
  
X
 
 34.
(Beyers, 2010)
  
X
 
X
  
X
  
X
 
Figure 2 shows the yearly breakdown of each aspect of creativity and educational makerspace: (i) the height of bars in each column, and (ii) links between bars. The height of each bar illustrates the number of studies addressing a specific aspect of creativity in makerspaces. “Person (individual)” is the most studied aspect of creativity; almost one-third of papers discuss the creativity of individuals participating in studies. In contrast, “person (collective)” related to co-creativity is the least (7.8%) studied aspect of creativity. “Product” is also one of the least addressed aspects (11.8%). Makerspaces in higher education are the most studied aspect (50%) from an educational perspective (see the third column). The topic of makerspaces is significantly less studied in primary education (12%). In the second column of Fig. 2, links between bars show the yearly breakdown of each aspect of creativity and the type of makerspaces studied in the literature. For instance, the “person (individual)” aspect of creativity has been extensively studied from 2010 to 2021, while “product” gained attention only after 2017. Makerspaces in higher education were also studied between 2010 and 2021. However, they started being studied in primary education in 2017, suggesting that makerspaces are an emerging trend in makerspace and creativity research. Similarly, while the “person” aspect of creativity is a well-explored topic, more attention should be placed on the co-creativity aspect on the “product” aspect of creativity.
Figure 3 shows the relationship between the type of makerspace and creativity, i.e., the different creativity aspects studied at the corresponding educational levels. The notable issues include (i) “product” is not studied in primary education; (ii) the co-creativity aspect is not studied in high-school level education; and (iii) makerspaces are well explored in higher education, and hence most aspects of creativity are investigated.

Person

A “person” was identified as a student, instructor (individual), or a team of students (collaborative) working on a project. Accordingly, “creativity” can be classified as individual creative competence or collaborative creativity.

Individual Creative Competence

This category was concerned with factors contributing to creativity at the individual level. In the context of makerspaces, it was found that the activities carried out, tools, and projects developed by students aided them in developing creative competence, particularly in educational settings. For instance, Saorín et al. (2017) found that using digital editing software and 3D printers fostered creative abilities in engineering students. Furthermore, their perception of the activity carried out in this context positively influenced their creativity skills. Taheri et al. (2020) found that makerspaces foster creativity, self-confidence, and entrepreneurial skills and improve problem-solving, communication, and collaboration skills. The makerspaces used in primary education also support students in developing individual creativity and critical thinking skills (Hatzigianni et al., 2021). Other studies on high school students working in makerspace showed that makerspaces inspire students to become innovators by influencing their perception (Farritor, 2017; Forest et al., 2014). In another study carried out in six makerspace-based courses delivered in higher education, Carbonell et al. (2019) found that makerspaces positively affected engineering students’ innovation orientation and sense of belonging to these types of environments. Clark et al. (2018) also found that courses carried out in makerspaces enhanced undergraduate students’ design-thinking skills and creativity. These researchers also showed a positive change in students’ self-assessments about their creative skills. Hence, we can understand that educational environments, such as makerspaces, including technological developments such as 3D printing, positively affect students’ creative competencies and problem-solving skills, providing self-confidence and inspiration to become innovators.

Collective Creativity

Co-creation is an act of collaborative creativity shared by two or more individuals (E. B.-N. Sanders & Stappers, 2008), usually, students working on group projects under their mentors’ guidance. Three studies have addressed the co-creation and creativity of makerspaces. Although this topic is scarcely discussed in the literature, it provides initial evidence that makerspaces positively affect collective creativity. For instance, Timotheou and Ioannou, (2021) showed that STEM activities in a makerspace contribute to the development of collective creativity and a statistically linear relationship between collective creativity and project success. Lille and Romero (2017) suggest a carefully designed maker-based pedagogy to help enhance students' creativity while working in groups during the creation process and within the produced outcomes. Consequently, it is deciphered that makerspaces are ideal environments for encouraging a culture of creative co-creation. This is due to the joint activities performed by groups of students to accomplish a project. Literature suggests that external elements, such as the environment, play a role in enhancing creativity.

Environment

The environment was classified into social and physical categories and analyzed accordingly (Batey, 2012; Rhodes, 1961). Findings from both sub-themes are described as follows.

Social Environment

The social environment reflects the interactions occurring between students and instructors. The social environment of makerspaces can be a powerful tool to facilitate student participation in creatively stimulating educational processes. One way to foster students’ creativity is to engage them in learning digital fabrication tools with an appropriate pedagogical design (Giannakos et al., 2017). By studying human interactions in makerspaces, Trahan et al. (2019) found that creating an atmosphere where students and teachers were allowed to fail in accomplishing a given task encouraged them to experiment, explore, and integrate other participants in their activities. Couch et al. (2019) also found that a STEM-rich environment inspires young high school students to become inventors when presented with opportunities to interact with communities in issues regarding science, technology, and engineering mathematics. This suggests that the working environment and social interactions with professionals from STEM disciplines inspire students to become inventors.
A student-centered educational makerspace where high school students produced tangible prototypes in an environment without right or wrong answers allowed them to enhance cognitive skills regarding lateral thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation (Beyers, 2010). Similarly, Bevan et al. (2015) reported that STEM, a social environment where students helped each other in problem-solving activities, enhanced individual learning. Additionally, they found that STEM-rich activities and interactions performed in makerspaces helped students develop creative, improvisational, and problem-solving skills through making and tinkering. Thus, it can be argued that the social environment of makerspaces provides opportunities for people to be expressive, enhances the chances of producing creative outcomes, and motivates their involvement in creative activities.

Physical Environment

This theme reflects how the physical environment of makerspaces, including digital fabrication tools, influences creativity. Forest et al. (2014) studied the impact of the physical environment on makerspaces. They found that 90% of students thought makerspaces motivated them to enroll in careers involving creativity, design, innovation, and invention. Their study additionally demonstrated that hands-on education stimulates students’ innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Fleischmann et al. (2016) used digital fabrication technology in makerspaces for product co-creation by involving users in the fabrication and product design processes. Computer-aided design (CAD) tools, which are part of the physical environment of makerspaces, were found to be effective in fostering students’ creativity (Saorín et al., 2017). These studies suggest that the physical environments in makerspaces incorporating digital fabrication technology related to additive manufacturing are critical in fostering creativity. However, the effects of subtractive manufacturing technology on student creativity have not yet been evaluated in the literature.

Process

A “process” is the sequence of activities performed during creative endeavors (Batey, 2012; Guo & Woulfin, 2016). In the case of makerspaces, activities where students develop tangible prototypes can be considered a process. Making activities are based on “learning-by-doing” and the constructionist learning approach. These activities usually provide students with the required technical assistance to transform their ideas into tangible prototypes. Such activities are considered part of STEM education (Juškevičienė et al., 2021). Walan (2019) examined drama activities in a makerspace, and found that they enhanced interest in STEM and 21st-century skills, including creativity. Adopting the STEM education design-thinking process (Tu et al., 2018) in makerspace activities develops skills like problem-solving and creativity by allowing students to focus on the process rather than the outcome (Juškevičienė et al., 2021). Such an approach reduces fear of failure and encourages students to enhance their participation (Lor, 2017). Apart from the creative design-thinking model, the process of making a prototype allows the instructor to promote computational thinking and problem-based learning in K-12 students (Juškevičienė et al., 2021). Borges et al. (2017) showed that activities rich in physical and logical-mathematical experiences help develop formal operational thinking (which is the fourth cognitive development stage per Piaget’s theory). These types of activities can be supported and enhanced by manipulating materials demanding the use of 2D and 3D designing tools and computer numerical control (CNC) machines. Activities challenging students physically, logically, and mathematically contribute to developing cognitive and formal operational skills essential to become innovative. In this regard, Khalifa and Brahimi (2017) recommended employing 3D design and 3D printing tools for creative learning in makerspaces. When makerspaces were used for primary and high school education, researchers found that learning through making could foster creativity (Giannakos & Divitini, 2016; Glenn et al., 2020). Constructionists believe that knowledge is constructed and that learning occurs when students create artifacts, especially when these creations are relevant and meaningful to them. An example of this can be seen in Beyers (2010) where students learn to implement creative ideas through prototyping in a makerspace environment. Imagination is widely believed to be vital in developing innovative solutions (Hughes, 2017; Torun et al., 2011). However, the ability to produce creative solutions will be reduced if imagination is limited due to a lack of skills to implement it in practice. Therefore, helping students implement ideas by offering technical assistance can encourage them to develop more creative solutions. Accordingly, such technical assistance can include CAD tools, such as laser cutters, 3D printers, and parametric and non-parametric 2D and 3D design software.

Product

The main components of an innovative product or outcome are originality, uniqueness, practicality, usefulness, and functionality (Abraham, 2016; Rhodes, 1961). The creativity of outcomes (prototypes/products) can be fostered through interdisciplinary collaboration (Geist et al., 2019), pedagogy (Trahan et al., 2019), and the use of digital fabrication tools (Chekurov et al., 2020) in makerspaces. Geist et al. (2019) provide an example of fostering creativity through interdisciplinary collaboration. Their study proposed creative solutions to real-life problems through interdisciplinary collaboration between nursing and engineering students. They proposed a creative solution and developed creative and commercially viable prototypes of certain products in a makerspace. Chekurov et al. (2020) showed that using additive manufacturing tools, such as 3D printers, helped produced creative product designs. Other studies have indicated the positive role of digital fabrication tools in designing and creating sustainable, creative, and viable products in makerspaces (Albala et al., 2018; Fleischmann et al., 2016; Roma et al., 2017). Hence, we can conclude that the three factors that positively influence innovative products developed in makerspace are interdisciplinary collaboration, digital fabrication tools such as 3D printing, and student-centric maker-based pedagogy.

Types of educational makerspaces

Makerspaces used for primary-level students are called basic makerspaces and use simple tools such as pencils, erasers, rulers, tape, computers, various reusable materials, and educational robots (Hatzigianni et al., 2021; Timotheou & Ioannou, 2021). In contrast, makerspaces for middle and high school students are relatively rich in available tools, such as 3D printing, basic electronics, laser cutting or programming, and sewing (Dave et al., 2010; Juškevičienė et al., 2021; Trahan et al., 2019; Walan, 2019). These makerspaces are known as intermediate makerspaces because of the accessible technology.
Primary, middle, and high school makerspaces use the “learning-by-doing” approach to develop students’ creative thinking, communication, and collaboration skills (Bertrand & Namukasa, 2020; Carulli et al., 2017). Besides the learning-by-doing approach, joyful engagement in the learning process and a supportive environment were major factors motivating students to learn and think creatively (Hughes, 2017). Moreover, creative abilities and skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration developed faster in STEM education makerspaces. Consequently, most studies related to primary and high school education address only two of the 4Ps of creativity: person and process.
Makerspaces used in higher education institutions mostly consist of tools available in basic standard makerspaces, such as 3D scanning, CAD, and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) tools. These environments are mainly used by students from disciplines such as engineering, medicine, technology, educational science, and interdisciplinary studies.
The makerspaces used in higher education address the four aspects of creativity. Considering the person aspect of creativity, one study found that digital editing tools and 3D printers positively influence users’ creative skills (Saorín et al., 2017). Additionally, integrating makerspaces with digital fabrication technology in the formal education of engineering students was beneficial to their creative and entrepreneurial skills (Taheri et al., 2020). Considering the process and environmental aspects of creativity, an empirical study on architectural and design education students found a positive relationship between the cognitive behavior of designers working in parametric environments and creativity in designers’ outcomes (Lee et al., 2015). In medical education, students are familiar with digital fabrication technology to design and provide customized solutions to real-life problems to improve healthcare (Albala et al., 2018; Geist et al., 2019; Marshall & McGrew, 2017). Considering the product aspect of creativity, one study found that collaboration between different disciplines while using makerspaces can lead to innovative products (Geist et al., 2019). Additionally, innovation as an outcome of university makerspaces is discussed in the literature. For instance, Farritor (2017) considered university makerspaces as a source of innovation and presented characteristics of university makerspaces that enhance the innovation capacity. These characteristics include diversity, density, and mixing of ideas, mechanisms for ideas to connect and grow. Along with the students’ intrinsic motivation and the unstructured activities found in makerspaces, the above can be seen as additional factors promoting innovation in university makerspaces (Farritor, 2017).

Creativity and Assessment Methods

There were six methods found in the literature to assess the creativity of STEM-based projects in makerspaces. Table 3 summarizes these methods: (i) The creative solution diagnosis scale (CSDS), which assesses the product aspect of creativity (Cropley & Cropley, 2004; Cropley et al., 2011; Timotheou & Ioannou, 2021). (ii) Critical thinking assessment tests (CAT), which use written information to evaluate a person’s creativity (Geist et al., 2019; Harris et al., 2014). (iii) The abreaction test is a graphic-based test to evaluate the person aspect of creativity and provide results for nine quantifiable factors (Carbonell-Carrera et al., 2019; Saorín et al., 2017). (iv) The Torrance test for creative thinking (TTCT) is a verbal and figure-based test to assess the creative thinking abilities of participants (Noh, 2017; Torrance, 1972). (v) Rubric-based assessments of creativity assess creativity in maker-based activities (Lille & Romero, 2017) (Clark et al., 2018). (vi) A summative assessment of prototypes made by participants addresses the product aspect of creativity in makerspaces (Fleischmann et al., 2016). (vii) The export jury assessment (Chekurov et al., 2020) consists of the assessment of outcomes by exports. The research methods used in the selected papers included, (a) matched survey responses (i.e., repeated measures) (Andrews et al., 2021), (b) inductive video coding where codes were extracted from the data (Hatzigianni et al., 2021), (c) a mixed-method strategy comprising the systematic integration of qualitative and quantitative research (Juškevičienė et al., 2021), and (iv) a Likert scale-based pre- and post-questionnaire specifically designed for activities conducted in makerspaces. The Likert scale-based pre- and post-questionnaires are the most common methods used in the literature (Andrews et al., 2021; Couch et al., 2019; Jin et al., 2020; Saorín et al., 2017; Selznick, 2019; Taheri et al., 2020). It can be concluded that each of the above creativity assessment methods can be selected based on the creativity aspect under assessment and the type of data available (e.g., the abreaction test).
Table 3
Method for creativity assessment and corresponding aspect of creativity.
S. No
Creativity assessment method
Aspect of creativity
References
I
The creative solution diagnosis scale (CSDS)
Product
(Cropley & Cropley, 2004; Cropley et al., 2011; Timotheou & Ioannou, 2021)
II
Critical thinking assessment tests (CAT)
Person
(Geist et al., 2019; Harris et al., 2014)
III
The abreaction test
Person
(Carbonell-Carrera et al., 2019; Saorín et al., 2017)
IV
The Torrance test for creative thinking (TTCT)
Process
(Noh, 2017; Torrance, 1972)
V
Rubric-based assessments of creativity
Process
(Lille & Romero, 2017 ; Clark et al., 2018)
VI
Summative assessment of prototypes
Product
(Fleischmann et al., 2016)
VII
Export jury assessment
Product
(Chekurov et al., 2020)

Discussion

What Aspects of Creativity Do Makerspaces and STEM education Address?

Four aspects of creativity have been addressed in the literature in the context of makerspaces and STEM education. The first aspect is “person,” focusing on the individual creative competence and co-creativity of participants working in the makerspace. This is the most studied aspect of creativity in educational makerspaces. This can be because participants (i.e., the person) are the central and prominent part of the makerspace for which supportive tools and technology are afforded. However, few studies address co-creativity in the context of educational makerspaces. Among these, Fleischmann et al. (2016) explored the designer’s role in a community for creating a sustainable product in makerspace, while Lille and Romero (2017) assessed the creativity of a team of students working on a maker-based project. Timotheou and Ioannou (2021) studied the relationship between co-creativity and project success in makerspace. These studies were published in the last four years, indicating that research in this area is still developing.
The second aspect of creativity is classified into social and physical environment factors that influence creativity, referred to as “environment.” The literature has extensively explored social and environmental factors influencing creativity, as indicated in Table 1. For instance, Farritor (2017) suggests that interactions in a makerspace between engineering and non-engineering students (e.g., art, history, and business domains) foster the chances of producing innovative outcomes. The diverse social interaction combined with multiple and variated ideas from different disciplines is enriched by a simulated environment. However, compared with the vast number of studies on the social environment in makerspaces, research on the physical environment and its facilities remains underexplored. Only additive manufacturing machines supporting creativity, such as 3D design and printing tools, have been studied (Carbonell-Carrera et al., 2017, 2019; Saorín et al., 2017; Melian et al., 2017; Melián Díaz et al., 2020). Carbonell et al. (2019) found that projects demanding the use of 3D printers or laser cutters significantly influence innovation orientation, including the development of design skills and technology self-efficacy. Saorín et al. (2017) found that CAD tools foster students’ creative abilities. Moreover, Melián et al. (2020) showed that using digital manufacturing techniques positively influences the graphical creativity of students. Nevertheless, the role of other important digital fabrication amenities, such as programming, electronic circuit design and development, and 2D and 3D milling, affecting creativity is yet to be studied.
The third aspect of creativity addressed in the literature is “process,” referring to making activities in makerspaces. The processes used in all types of makerspaces were somewhat similar and well-defined. This could be why few studies (for instance, Walan (2019)) addressed this aspect. Walan (2019) investigated students’ drama activities while developing a product. The existing research gap in the study of developmental processes in intermediate and standard makerspaces to enhance creativity offers an opportunity for experimentation in this direction.
The fourth aspect under consideration is “product,” an outcome of the activities performed by participants, usually a tangible prototype. Notably, it is the least addressed aspect of creativity in the context of makerspaces and is mostly studied in higher education institutions. For instance, Geist et al. (2019), who studied a higher education makerspace collaboration between nursing and engineering disciplines, found evidence that students gained critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, the outcome of that collaboration was a creative and commercially viable prototype to improve health market. This suggests the potential to study the product aspect of creativity in STEM education makerspaces in primary and high school education.

How Do the Identified Aspects of Makerspaces Foster Creativity?

There are several approaches by which educational makerspaces can foster students’ creativity working on STEM-based projects. Figure 4 summarizes the main educational approaches identified in the present literature review. There are seven approaches to discuss:
(i)
Implementing an adequately designed maker-based pedagogy that joyfully engages students in learning. This allows students to fully express themselves without fear of failure, allowing them to experiment, explore, and learn fundamental skills, such as lateral thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation (Beyers, 2010; Jin et al., 2020).
 
(ii)
Student-centered project-based learning, where students create prototypes that are meaningful to them. Such a pedagogical approach can enhance the interest and motivation of students working on different projects, with a consequent positive effect on the creativity of the produced solutions (Beyers, 2010).
 
(iii)
Interdisciplinary collaboration in makerspaces is a social science approach. Such cooperation contributes to knowledge sharing and offers multiple solutions, making it a suitable space for encouraging a culture of co-creation (Fleischmann et al., 2016; Geist et al., 2019).
 
(iv)
Enhancing prototype processes is also a social science approach, which blends other activities, such as drama, in creating prototypes to foster creativity. These not only enhance the students’ interest during the making process but also contribute to more creative outcomes (Walan, 2019).
 
(v)
Working in the physical and social environments of makerspace is a social science and psychological approach. This influences students’ perceptions and motivates them to become innovative and creative (Hatzigianni et al., 2021).
 
(vi)
Encouraging students to imagine is also a social science and psychological approach. Instead of limiting students’ imagination due to their limited technical skills to implement their ideas, providing technical skills can help them implement creative ideas (Hughes, 2017; Torun et al., 2011).
 
(vii)
Digital fabrication tools, such as digital editing software and 3D printers, is a third social science and psychological approach. The emergence of CAD tools, the abundance of online support for 3D modeling, and 3D printing technology allow students to think of possibilities for producing innovative products, thereby positively influencing their creative competence (Saorín et al., 2017).
 

What Methods are Used in Makerspaces to Measure Creativity?

Six creativity assessment methods were used in the literature; these are listed in Table 3. A few studies used established creativity assessment methods. Most studies extracted conclusions from data reported by students or based on researchers’ observations, which is a subjective way of creativity assessment. Therefore, it is suggested that an objective assessment of creativity in makerspaces can be made using predeveloped creativity assessment methods, leading to reliable results. For instance, for the “product” aspect of creativity, the CSDS; for the “personal” aspect, the CAT, TTCT, and the abreaction test; and for the “process” aspect of creativity, rubric-based assessment methods can be used. However, no method was used directly in the literature to assess the “environmental” aspect of creativity. The assessment method can also be applied based on the type of data produced in the experiment. For instance, graphical and verbal data from an experiment can apply the abreaction test and TTCT, respectively. Graphical data includes 3D printed artifacts or their CAD models and such activities and their outcomes can be assessed through the abreaction test. The information generated from interviews with participants before and after an activity is considered verbal data, and such cases can apply TTCT.

Development of Creativity Aspects Over Time

The topic of creativity in makerspaces is recent and has only gained attention in the literature in the last 14 years. Of the four aspects of creativity discussed in previous sections, the most prolific one is “person” (Fig. 4). Studies carried out in the last eight years focusing on the “person” aspect of creativity can be classified into the following four categories: 21st-century skills (concerning “skills that increasingly demand creativity, perseverance, and problem-solving combined with performing well as part of a team.” Duncan, 2009), pedagogy, tools, and self-perception. Developing 21st-century skills in makerspace was studied in 2018, 2020, and 2021. Related studies found that learning in makerspaces improves students’ design thinking and 21st-century skills (Clark et al., 2018; Taheri et al 2020; and Hatzigianni et al., 2021). Works on Pedagogy highlighted that learning by doing helped enhance the participating groups’ creativity through co-creation in maker-based projects (Lille & Romero, 2017). Timotheou and Ioannou (2021) investigated collective creativity and showed that makerspaces foster learners’ creativity. Further studies on tools showed that digital fabrication machines like 3D printing enhance students’ creativity (Saorin et al., 2017). Research on self-perception showed that makerspace culture inspires students to innovate, which enhances self-perception and creativity (Forest et al., 2014). Positive self-perception contributes to an increased sense of belonging to a makerspace community (Carbonell et al., 2019). The “person” aspect of creativity was extensively explored in makerspace literature, particularly after 2016.
The second most discussed aspect of creativity in makerspaces is the “environment,” studied from 2010 to the present. The “environment” aspects related to the literature reflect the critical role of 21st-century skills, pedagogy, tools, and self-perception in developing creativity and the environment. For instance, Beyers (2010), and Bevan et al. (2015) reported that the makerspace environment helps enhance 21st-century skills, such as cognitive and creative skills. Regarding Pedagogy, an interactive and carefully planned pedagogy is critical for boosting creativity in the makerspace environment (Giannakos et al., 2017; Trahan et al., 2019). Forest et al. (2014) explored the impact of the physical environment in building students’ self-perception in makerspaces to inspire them to become innovators. The “environment” aspect of creativity has been the second most addressed topic in the last eight years.
The “process” aspect of creativity has been studied from 2011 to the present, primarily regarding 21st-century skills and pedagogy. Borges et al. (2017) found that teaching 21st-century skills through different activities in makerspaces enhances problem-solving and cognitive skills, leading to creativity. Using 3D printing in the prototyping process also positively influenced creativity (Khalifa & Brahimi, 2017). Pedagogy experimenting with the process of idea generation and its implementation in makerspace is another important parameter that is studied in detail by Torun et al. (2011), Giannakos and Divitini (2016), Lor (2017), Hughes (2017), Glenn et al. (2020), and Juškevičienė et al. (2021) to determine its impact on enhancing creativity. Remarkably, the “process” of creativity is relatively underexplored. Thus, there is a need to conduct studies exploring the process of making prototypes and their impact on creativity, as highlighted in “Identified Research Gaps” section.
The impact of tools and pedagogy on product and creativity in makerspaces is investigated by Fleischmann et al. (2016), Roma et al. (2017), Albala et al. (2018), Geist et al. (2019), and Chekurov et al. (2020). These studies support the idea that digital fabrication tools like 3D printers and others help to produce sustainable, creative, and viable products. Moreover, interdisciplinary collaboration as a part of pedagogy in makerspaces is another factor contributing to the creativity of the product. Overall, the “product” aspect of creativity has mostly been explored and discussed in last five years and focuses on university-based makerspaces (Table 4).
Table 4
Development of creativity in makerspaces over time
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10956-023-10041-4/MediaObjects/10956_2023_10041_Tab4_HTML.png

Identified Research Gaps

This systematic literature review contributed to an improved understanding of the influence of makerspaces on creativity and STEM education. The search also helped to identify research gaps in these areas. We found a lack of objective co-creativity assessment methods in all types of makerspaces, including primary, high school, and higher education. Developing co-creativity assessment methods will help evaluate collaborative outcomes developed in makerspaces. Empirical studies about creativity in early childhood education in makerspaces are also limited, and more research is required in primary education than there is presently to understand the role of makerspace in promoting creativity. Moreover, there is a dearth of studies exploring the impact of subtractive manufacturing tools in enhancing creative skills and outcomes. Experimental studies in this direction can shed light on the effective use of laser cutting tools and CNC machine(s) in the prototype development process. Finally, experimentation on the process of making (i.e., actual implementation of participant’s ideas) is limited. No explorative studies were found, except one on blending non-conventional activities (i.e., drama and arts) into the making process.

Study Limitations

The scope of this research is limited to STEM disciplines, but in future studies, it can extend to STEAM disciplines by including “Arts” or “Art and design.” Furthermore, this work is restricted to educational makerspaces. This focus can also be extended by considering makerspaces for commercial purposes, such as entrepreneurship, manufacturing, and the circular economy. Finally, the study adopted Rhodes’s theoretical framework, which offers a broad definition of creativity. Other creativity models, such as those presented by Lubart (2017) and Runco (2007), can offer alternative approaches to the research topic analyzed in the present study.

Conclusion

A systematic literature review was conducted to gain insight into makerspaces’ contribution in fostering creativity, particularly in the STEM disciplines. It was found that 34 studies evaluated the impact of makerspace and associated technologies on students’ creativity. This study identified three types of makerspaces, basic, intermediate, and standard makerspaces, regarding the technology they use. The findings revealed four aspects of creativity in makerspaces: (i) person, (ii) process, (iii) environment, and (iv) product. Each corresponded to different educational levels, such as primary, secondary, and higher education, in which a makerspace is used. Moreover, “person” was found to be the most discussed aspect in the literature, whereas “product” was the least discussed. Most studies on makerspace creativity have been conducted at a higher education level, whereas only 12% have focused on the primary education level. This systematic review identified seven methods through which makerspaces can foster creativity in STEM disciplines. The most important methods were multidisciplinary collaboration, carefully choosing pedagogy, and not restricting students’ imaginations. Moreover, the review identified the creativity assessment methods used in makerspaces and STEM-related literature. The most important of these include the creative solution diagnosis scale (CSDS), critical thinking assessment test, abreaction test of creativity, and Torrance test of creative thinking (TTCT). The use of creativity assessment methods depended on the type of data (visual, numerical, or text-based) a study produces and the aspect of creativity under consideration. Finally, the review analyzed the development of creativity in makerspace in the last 14 years, showing a continuous increase in the number of studies on the topic. However, research on creative processes and outcomes developed in makerspaces within the framework of STEM education, at the primary education level, is yet to be done.

Acknowledgement

Anonymized.

Declarations

Ethical Approval

Not applicable, because this research does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
No human participants were involved in the scope of this study.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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Metadata
Title
Makerspaces Fostering Creativity: A Systematic Literature Review
Authors
Sohail Ahmed Soomro
Hernan Casakin
Vijayakumar Nanjappan
Georgi V. Georgiev
Publication date
10-04-2023
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Published in
Journal of Science Education and Technology / Issue 4/2023
Print ISSN: 1059-0145
Electronic ISSN: 1573-1839
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-023-10041-4

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