Design, Collaborate, Integrate saw Brooklyn College Community Partnership (BCCP) teaming up with students and Hive NYC partners to research, co-design and produce a youth maker space. Students who regularly use Brooklyn College Art Lab were invited to help drive the reimagining of this first drop-in space to support under-served youth in the area.
Often referred to as a second home by the youth who frequent it, Brooklyn College Art Lab underwent a collaborative redesign process, with students defining their own terms for a successful maker space that would meet their needs and be accessible to all youth regardless of race or class background. Joining these students in the working group were BCCP staff and several Hive NYC members from organizations such as MOUSE and New York Hall of Science. Contributing partners recruited youth, consulted on technology and were also involved in assessment, evaluation, and content development.
An intensive nine-day co-design process included a number of phases focusing on experiences, redefinition, learning design and space design. During the first phase, BCCP staff and community members facilitated a production-focused exploration of New York Hall of Science. The second phase engaged participants in a three-day camp in a space designed by NYSCI and Made in Brownsville, using digital/maker tools, sharing experiences and collectively experimenting. This allowed participants to observe and experience the maker process, learning first-hand about the type of interest-driven and participatory activities that attract students. A daily evaluation and debriefing process allowed plans to be tweaked and revised along the way. This meant that both the redesign, and what was learned, were shared across the group. The third phase involved architect Dr Sharon Sutton and MOUSE, focusing on learning design concepts through workshops focused on user profiles, digital badging, lesson plans and design of physical spaces. Concepts and designs resulting from this process were exhibited to the wider Hive NYC community and the Brooklyn College neighborhood.
Fifteen students participated directly in Design, Collaborate, Integrate, representing the over 1000 young people who attend under-served middle and high schools in Bushwick, East New York, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Dyker Heights and who will visit the program at Brooklyn College and the maker lab. The students are primarily Afro-Caribbean, African-American, Latino and Asian, with 50-60% immigrants, some undocumented.
Project Implementation & Discovery
Design, Collaborate, Integrate used a variety of connected learning practices and innovations, with stakeholders forming intergenerational teams to re-imagine the new space. The process itself involved participants working with peers on an interest-driven, production-focused project with a shared purpose. The design process was also openly-networked, shared with the Hive NYC community through blogs and social media, including the nine-step “How to Co-Design A Makerspace” Tumblr site. Social-emotional learning was a key component, creating a more organic and inclusive design.
Inviting community members into the process meant that no stakeholder was excluded for not knowing about design or not being a “techie”. Giving participants the space to take on this problem-solving challenge meant that participants were not only making a new physical space, but also making a community.
The accessible and open approach allowed adults to learn from students and vice-versa. By developing a blueprint together in a community space for a community space, this project started a process and a working methodology that will continue into the future. Students taking part in the project gained confidence and enjoyed forging new relationships with peers and staff/community members, learning side by side with them. The community-design model has the potential to unite stakeholders on common goals, involving each one in practices that they might otherwise be excluded from, and as such it could be adapted by other community groups.
The Design, Collaborate, Integrate program fulfilled BCCP’s mission to involve youth directly in program design. All staff were involved, with the program structured in a way that allowed members of the community and others outside the organization to contribute as thought partners and facilitators. These contributors shared relevant knowledge and skills with BCCP.
The redesign has helped BCCP to appreciate the possibilities of forming new other partnerships for future projects. Stakeholders also learned how vital youth participation is in the process of learning design. Learning took on the role of a community gestalt process—in which a whole is seen as more than the sum of its parts—is a critical aspect of an inclusive model. For BCCP, working in a collaborative, co-designed process will have tremendous resonance moving beyond this particular design.
Challenge & Resolution
Deciding which equipment to purchase in advance of a discovery-based learning process was a challenge. In this sense, it was necessary to anticipate which design tools participants would want to use. Ideally this would have been part of a collective pre-purchasing design process involving students and staff—however, the students have shown an interest in learning with almost all of the equipment purchased. The continuous process of evaluation and revision as the project progressed also allowed challenges to be addressed as they arose.
Student participants appreciated the fact that the redesign captured their wants and needs. They also noted that the project gave them the chance to collaborate with peers and work to create a real outcome that will benefit themselves and their fellow students.
“I think it was fun because other students and myself making or designing a program for other students is good…we know what we want, and it’s not adults doing things they think students will enjoy.” – Student participant
“It was good, it made me feel confident and I know that it’ll be something my peers will enjoy. I also feel satisfied.” — Student participant
“Amazing; this was a wonderful experience. I’d love to be involved further in helping all these projects come to light” — Partner
“Having spent so much time teaching over the past few years, it has been so intriguing to learn side-by-side with staff/students (particularly learning something where we were all essentially at the same level).” — Teaching Artist
“What’s important is the experience because I became interested in design and making things. This is something I can utilize in the future.” — Student participant
“The most important takeaway is the outcome of the whole program because the outcome was the actual model of the space and that was a really cool and creative thing…” — Student participant
“Collaboration is the most important [takeaway] to me because when I worked with everybody, it felt really good. I felt a sense of happiness because I got to make new friends and have new experiences that would help me grow as a person.” — Student participant
“As groups, we were all and always able (because of being placed in different groups) to take everyone’s ideas and build on a whole picture. We built, elaborated, collaborated together and that was amazing, as well, as it is what this program is all about. Amazing experience all around.” — Program manager