An assessment of Hackstudio's progress towards their mission statement through interviews and observational research.
Team project with Moire Corcoran, Julie Brown
2510 Green Bay Rd.
Evanston, IL 60201
Observing youth sessions
Observations to insights
Insights to recommendations
What is Hackstudio?
Hackstudio is a physical space run by a group of passionate individuals committed to fostering creativity in others. One way they do this is through their youth program where mentors coach kids (ages 10 - 18) through finding personal passion projects and bringing them to fruition through an incremental, goal-oriented approach.
"How are we doing?"
The Hackstudio staff wanted us to talk to and observe the kids in their program to determine whether they were being successful at teaching kids to pursue their genuine interests through a deliberate, goal-oriented approach.
Site visits: 7
Observation hours: 16
Photos taken: 351
Maps made: 1
Artifacts collected: 3
Highly individualized projects
Woodshop very popular
Disengaged group sessions
Much unused space
Few new friendships
Research Objective Insights
Hackstudio is a makerspace... right?
As the staff had feared, most kids thought of Hackstudio as nothing more than a place to make things, missing the overarching lessons.
Kids aren't picking up the process
Much of the lessons the staff want to impart into kids are taught through the conversations between mentors and kids. Unfortunately, kids didn't seem to pick up the deeper lesson of the deliberate, checkpoint-based process—some even saw the process as a frustration to achieving their goal.
At the start of any project, a mentor would chat with a kid, asking questions to uncover something the kid is passionate about and work together to created a project related to that topic. They called these "authentic pursuits." In observing these conversations, most kids seems aloof and would choose a project based on whatever was top-of-mind.
Youth able to open to mentors
Mentors do a great job of meeting the youth on their level, fostering an environment where youth felt comfortable to open up.
Mentors take one-size-fits-all approach
Mentors always take a hands-off approach with the youth, regardless of who the youth is.
Youth are currently only encouraged towards highly individualized projects. This approach sacrifices the many lessons youth could learn on teamwork and cooperation.
Focus only on work
Nothing in the youth program fosters friendships. It's no wonder the social interaction we observed was between kids who were already friends before coming to Hackstudio.
Group discussions are a drag
More often than not, youth are reluctant to speak about their work in group discussion times.
The furniture isn't helping
Adult-sized whiteboards and tools are difficult for younger kids to use. Also, the vast spaces between workstations engenders isolation from one another.
Ringing the "done gong" is intended to provide closure/signal success, but it's become an awkward novelty. Nothing in the program allows kids to take pride in or showcase their accomplishments.
Context of experience
Youth sessions are from 4:30-6:30pm and kids often seem tired or hungry after a full day of school. Many parents are oblivious to Hackstudio's mission for their children and are uninvolved.
Some kids learn better with more autonomy and some learn better with more guidance. Employing the Foursight and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) tools can aid a mentor in deeply understanding a kid and providing more informed coaching.
Encouraging kids to work together on team projects would open up a new dimension of learning and mentorship. Furniture could also be rearranged to foster the synergy and learning that comes with working near one another. Lastly, working together is a great way to form lasting friendships, turning Hackstudio into a bona fide community.
Taking pride in one's work is important for building confidence and learning to be detail-oriented. Hosting occasional showcases would provide an objective marker for kids to work towards and would give them a greater sense of completion at the close of a project. Such a showcase could potentially clarify or reinforce for parents Hackstudio's goal and increase their desire to be involved.
Final Presentation Materials
To conclude our project, we prepared some visual materials and presented our findings to the Hackstudio leadership team. We both gave a general assessment of their program and more detailed suggestions for how to improve the experience of the youth in the sessions. Our work was positively received by them as being thoughtful and insightful.
To hammer home the concept of interconnectedness that we were recommending, we drew the metaphor of Hackstudio becoming a city. We suggested that the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts.
Our final report contained everything we had learned about Hackstudio and all of our findings through our observational research.
Due to our inexperience, our research objective gradually morphed from assessing Hackstudio's execution of their mission to making general observations about the program and where improvements could be made. If given the opportunity to redo the project, I would focus more heavily on interviewing the kids, understanding more deeply what they understand to be the goal of Hackstudio and why they want to or don't want to keep coming back. I would also have looked for more opportunities to interview
parents, specifically to discern what value they see being passed on to their children. This refocusing of interviews would have clearly revealed the general perception of Hackstudio from the participants' sides. A simple comparison between this holistic view and the staff's articulation of their goals would have uncovered any misalignment and would've given the staff a definite answer as to whether or not they were succeeding.
Before observing our first youth session, our team created a detailed research protocol outlining our objective, questions we would ask the youth and staff mentors, and a shot list.
The Hackstudio staff gave us full access to chat with the kids as they worked on their projects. We would often talk to the same kid on a different day, asking follow-up questions. We also conducted in-depth interviews with the staff and mentors to deepen our understanding of Hackstudio's mission. Lastly, we photographed all sorts of interactions, as well as physical artifacts and environment.
Analysis & Synthesis
After each Hackstudio visit, our team would debrief in-person or on the phone to talk through our observations and take note of any emerging themes. After our final visit we printed out all of our photos and sorted through them multiple times into different categories. Each round of sorting brought new understanding and points of view. Finally, we synthesized our observations into overarching insights and turned those insights into multifaceted solutions.