How Do You Assess Student Outcomes in Makerspaces in Your Library Program?

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Maria Cahill asked this question recently and found that nearly a third of the school librarians who said they have initiated makerspaces choose not to assess student outcomes, and another 40% do so only informally through observation. In her One-Question Survey column below, Dr. Cahill discusses these results and encourages readers to include assessment in their makerspace programs.

We hope you use these surveys to help you reflect on your own practices. Subscribers can view our archive of past surveys here. And don’t forget to take our latest One-Question Survey, open until 10/19/2016, by clicking here.  

Ten years ago, a school librarian would have been hard pressed to find any professional articles, blog posts, email discussion threads, conference sessions, workshops, or professional development sessions focused on makerspaces. A resurging interest in self-directed and experiential learning, which goes hand-in-hand with the Next Generation Science Standards (2013), has brought makerspaces to the forefront of librarians’ attention. This latest educational trend is especially well-suited for school libraries.

Thus, we were surprised to learn that more than half of the 201 school librarians who responded to our One Question Survey, “How do you assess student outcomes in makerspaces in your library program?” had actually never worked in a school library program with a makerspace, and the comments that accompanied the “other” category indicated that an additional four percent of the responding librarians had either just launched or were still in the planning stages of designing a makerspace.

Nearly one-third of the school librarians who responded that they have initiated makerspaces choose not to assess student outcomes, and another 40% do so only informally through observation. The chart below illustrates the use of assessment instruments by the remaining 19.8% of responding school librarians.1qs_oct

We turned to survey respondents who are already developing and using assessment instruments in makerspaces to learn more about how assessment of student outcomes might serve to enhance student success, inform practice, and garner additional support for the school library program.

Contributing school librarians emphasized that assessment differs from evaluation. They further explained that the nature of assessment in the makerspace is unique. “I …want the assessment to be low-key enough that students [will] not be distracted by concern for a grade,” cautions Susan Senek, librarian and literacy center coordinator at the Tacony Academy Charter School in Philadelphia (PA).

Valerie Jopeck, librarian at Camelot Elementary School in Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools further expounds, “…when we make assessment in the makerspace look like assessment in other parts of the school, we discourage the very students who benefit most from making—our nontraditional learners.” On the other hand, “if assessment is reflection—and ongoing reflection for that matter—then we are building students’ confidence in their ability to problem solve and to view themselves as creative, competent learners [when we develop instruments to facilitate their reflection and ability to self-assess].”

James Allen, librarian at Eminence (KY) Independent Schools and president of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians explains that he and teachers collaboratively develop self-assessment instruments to facilitate student thinking and reflection processes: “Many students focus more and are better able to build on their knowledge when they have some guidelines and chances to think—wait time. Self-assessments, both simple and more involved, can provide students this time to think about what they are doing and refocus. I think this is especially helpful in group projects.”

Valerie Jopeck extends this idea. “If we accept that one of the goals of making in school libraries is to promote, among many other things, the development of a growth mindset and an enthusiasm for innovation, then assessment is key. It is only by reflecting on satisfaction with the process and product that we encourage students to not get discouraged—to keep trying.”

If you are new to the practice of assessing student outcomes in makerspaces, a good starting place to gather ideas about assessing dispositions is a recent article, “Tell the Story: Use Outcomes to Show the Difference Your Program Makes,” by Sara Ryan (2016) and published in Young Adult Library Services.


Works Cited

NGSS Lead States. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, by States. National Academies Press, 2013.

Ryan, Sara. “Tell the Story: Use Outcomes to Show the Difference Your Program Makes.” Young Adult Library Services 14, no. 3 (Spring 2016). (accessed July 7, 2016).


mcahill_09_2014Maria Cahill, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Education. She received her master’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. She is author of numerous papers in such journals as Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, and School Library Research and has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including on the Educators of School Librarians Section of the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association’s Literacy and Outreach Services Committee.

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