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Workbench, a platform that creates online learning hubs, will make its platform available to Maryland's more than 200 public libraries in March.
Corinne Lestch is a staff reporter covering education for EdScoop and its affiliate public sector technology news websites, FedScoop and StateScoop...
Edtech company Workbench, which partners with hardware companies to create online learning communities, is collaborating with Maryland's public libraries to launch online makerspaces throughout the state.
The state's network of 24 libraries systems will be able to take advantage of the new partnership, which will use Workbench's platform to expand maker communities. Libraries are increasingly seen as digital community hubs that offer virtual and augmented reality tools, robots, drones, computer labs and other forms of creative, collaborative spaces for students and adults to expand their skills.
Users on Workbench can share programs and lessons, and interact with others on the system. Teachers, librarians or digital media specialists can monitor lessons and progress through Workbench's program management system.
Jennifer Klepper, director of operations for Workbench, said libraries are an ideal vehicle for innovation.
"The development of technologies in libraries has expanded so much — it's not just computers and printers anymore," she said in an interview with EdScoop. "Our platform enables learners and teachers who are using these technologies to share lessons, to build mastery, as well as being able to use those sorts of technologies in new innovation."
Klepper said the technology does not have to be high-level to spur creative thinking in kids and adults, and it can be personalized to individuals' needs.
"Libraries can have scheduled activities for people to come in and they would be able to use devices to log in and follow these lessons or guides," she said. "So let’s say there was an activity to learn how to program a robot. You start off with basic coding skills, so the platform will have activities that will go up from one level to the next."
"They really allow an individual to work at their own pace," she added.
Maryland counts more than 200 public libraries, and 3.7 million residents hold library cards. The Institute of Museum and Library Services provided the funding for the Workbench initiative.
“The role of libraries has changed. They are no longer solely facilities for lending and borrowing books,” said Liz Sundermann-Zinger, project lead on behalf of Maryland libraries. “They are dynamic spaces where the community can connect, engage, learn and teach using technologies that build excitement and expand opportunities. Our partnership with Workbench will allow us to engage even more people in this work by offering an online community for people who like to create, while building a statewide foundation of technology literacy.”
Workbench works with other leading industry firms like Sphero, Parrot and Makey Makey to create online communities, and currently is in K-12 schools, but may expand elsewhere. Klepper said they are working with a drone company that can be used in colleges.
The library initiative is currently in development, Klepper said, and will officially roll out in March.
"To us, the most exciting thing about this is seeing libraries as centers of innovation and centers for entrepreneurs," she said.