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PLIX@Akron: Creative learning + spooky making at the public library

Katherine McConachie 

PLIX@Akron: Creative learning + spooky making at the public library

Reflections from our first-ever PLIX Workshop in Akron, Ohio.

At the end of October, the PLIX team went to Akron, Ohio to host the first-ever PLIX Workshop in collaboration with our friends at the Akron-Summit County Public Library (ASCPL) and with support from the Knight Foundation

The Public Library Innovation Exchange—a.k.a. PLIX—is a project of the Learning Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. Since 2017, PLIX has been collaborating with public libraries across the US to develop creative STEAM learning experiences—based on MIT Media Lab research and designed for the public library setting. As part of this work, we started a residency exchange program, created a website to freely and openly share our PLIX activity materials, and launched PLIX kits to help new librarian facilitators get started offering creative learning programs in their libraries.

The PLIX@Akron Workshop represented the first ever in-person gathering of the PLIX community, bringing together 38 library professionals from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Our participants were adult librarians, teen librarians, children’s librarians, technology specialists, branch managers, and makerspace coordinators. Together, we spent two days in hands-on, interactive sessions that introduced the ideas behind creative learning and how to get started building a personal facilitation practice. 

As more librarians are asked to lead educational programs with emerging technologies, we think it’s important not just to get technology into the hands of patrons, but to cultivate an environment for patrons to experiment and create with technology. With this in mind, our PLIX workshop was designed to have four main components: 

  1. The PLIX Facilitator Training Workshop, where librarians learned more about the ideas of creative learning and the practice of being a facilitator (and not necessarily being a content expert!)
  2. PLIX Activity Breakout Sessions for diving deep into the practical knowledge and skills needed to offer a variety of PLIX activities in the library
  3. Opportunities for sharing + reflection as a group and as individuals
  4. A Halloween-themed Public Maker Night hosted by the workshop participants and featuring spooky remixes of the activities covered in the PLIX Activity Breakout sessions—giving everyone a chance to put their new facilitation skills into practice

As the designers of this event, we worked hard to model the ideas of creative learning in each of these workshop components, following the very facilitation tips that we include in our PLIX kits!

Spooky Making at the Library

Drawing from our existing collection of PLIX activities, we offered breakout sessions on our Paper Circuits, Urban Ecology, Space Explorations, DataBasic.io, and Scratch+micro:bit programs. Each session gave librarians the chance to participate in a hands-on training workshop for a particular activity.  At the end of Day 2, librarians were able to put all that they’d learned into practice at our Spooky Maker Night (on October 30th!)—a science fair style, Halloween-themed event for the Akron community. 

Working in small teams, our PLIX@Akron participants adapted and remixed the PLIX activities they learned about during the workshop to suit a drop-in style, maker night format. We added the additional constraint of a Halloween theme, and the PLIX team provided a variety of spooky and fun materials for inspiration 👻🎃. 

We really love the idea of pairing a training workshop with a public maker night. It’s a great way to both engage the local community and also give librarians the chance to implement the things they learned right away—making it easier for them to go back to their own libraries and get started!

What’s next?

Many of our participants said that that this workshop helped them to get back in touch with their spirit of creativity, and they felt excited to get back to work and start planning new programming for their patrons. “Rejuvenating” was a word a few librarians used! One librarian even described it as the “highlight of their career.”

So, we’re doing it again! This March 30 — April 1, 2020, we are hosting a second PLIX Workshop—this time at the Media Lab. Register now on the event website, and feel free to email us at plix-workshop@media.mit.edu with any questions in the meantime.

If you’d like to keep in touch and hear about our other upcoming events, please join our PLIX community or follow us on Instagram and Twitter @heyplix.

Acknowledgements

We’d like to thank our amazing collaborators and co-hosts at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, without whom we would not have been able to make this workshop a reality. Thanks especially to Monique Mason, Michele McNeal, Stephanie Jolliff, and Pam Hickson-Stevenson for all of their hard work and support.

This work is supported by the Knight Foundation.

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This post also appeared on Medium.

PLIX is a project of the Media Lab Learning Initiative. Learn more about our work at learn.media.mit.edu.

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