How Extension Can Serve The Maker Movement

Extension was created over a century ago in part to help the American people progress through a wildly changing time—the industrial revolution. Today, we are fast approaching a day when the access to professional-grade tools will be available to everyone. These tools of innovation are being democratized and the Maker Movement is precipitating the next industrial revolution and needs Extension’s leadership. Extension must recognize this current change and adapt to help people adjust and thrive.

What is the Maker Movement?

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The Maker Movement is a subculture that pushes innovation to the limit, encouraging new applications of technologies. Within the culture there’s an enthusiasm for invention, prototyping, and applying practical skills in new creative ways.

Makers want to figure out how to make or do stuff on their own (also referred to as “Do It Yourself” or DIY). They have a passion for creating, building, and sharing in a gamut of topics including recipes, gardening, sewing, mechanics, and many more.

A Maker is someone who makes stuff: apparel, robots, crafts, food, furniture, art, or electronic gadgets. This term, “Maker,” is described by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, as “a new category of builders who are using open-source methods and the latest technology to bring manufacturing out of its traditional factory context, and into the realm of the personal desktop computer.”

How are makers changing the world?

Large companies with extensive R&D budgets are no longer monopolizing innovation, which has historically been the case. Through collaboration and connectivity, communities of makers are inspiring innovation on a daily basis with the creation of smart gadgets, wearable tech, robots, and machines. With access to Makerspaces, makers have the opportunity to collaborate and build cutting-edge prototypes that are leading to products for mass consumption i.e. the founders of square built their first prototype in a Makerspace.

What does this mean for Extension?

Through my involvement in the Maker Movement I’ve quickly discovered that the Maker community is willing and able to assist Extension in our program efforts. Makers are very eager to volunteer. Many are just looking for projects in the areas of citizen science, gardening, agriculture, and home automation—they need our direction. These are the people who are harnessing technology to improve the world. I challenge you to seek them out in your community and ask for help. Here are a couple examples of how makers have helped me:

  • Makers in my community helped me create this 3D LED light cube which I then turned into a kit for 4-H members to complete at a summer #MakerCamp. This is a STEM project that requires youth to 1. Understand engineering plans for successful assembly and 2. Code the light sequences/patterns in a mechanical programming language.
  • This Mason Jar Speaker kit was created by makers in California. I ordered 25 kits for my #MakerCamp in Utah and had several local makers from my community help teach 4-H members how to solder and read a circuit board.

Makers need the help of Extension. They need our leadership ability to connect people, resources, and expertise.

What can Extension do for makers?

A few things we can help with: match them with clients to test their innovative new projects, secure grant funding, and identify uses for new technology. By connecting makers to their Land Grant Universities they can serve as volunteers to perpetuate the mission of Extension with their expertise and our guidance.

I believe Extension and the Maker Movement can have a symbiotic relationship. By bringing both our communities together we can create synergy for greater impacts in new areas of technology and in a changing world driven by increased connectivity of sensors and devices.

What’s next?

Extension must take notice of this powerful community and connect them with the tools and technologies that can help spur their creativity, drive innovation and enable them to bring their designs to market.

We have the opportunity to apply a century of experience and connect with a thriving grassroots movement that is growing by leaps and bounds.

Find and reach out to the makers in your community today. Makers love to share their “makes” online and are not hard to find.

How will the Maker Movement solve the problems of tomorrow?

I believe the problems we recognize today will be solved with technology that is currently underdeveloped or not even invented yet. This technology of the future will not all be created by large corporations, but by Makers—working together in communities both in person and online.

Through the Maker Movement we will see the development of IoT (Internet of Things) devices that collect the big (and small) data we need to use our limited natural resources to feed 9 billion people, stave off childhood obesity, and solve the STEM education skills gap. The IoT has the potential to make farms, gardens, communities, and homes more efficient and productive.

Times are changing and Extension must not only be on the pulse of change but also leading its development.

—- Contributed by Paul Hill