Make Moody Hall a MakerSpace?

makerspace logoRecently at Austin College we’ve started discussing the future of Moody Hall, the former home of the natural sciences departments of the college (which moved into the new IDEA Center in 2013). One possibility that is being talked about is to use some of the space in Moody to create a “makerspace” area.

The “maker” movement in education and learning has been gaining momentum for several years now. The underlying idea is to give students a laboratory or studio or workshop type of environment in which to tinker and hack, to learn how to use tools of various kinds, and to pursue projects involving original design and innovation. Spaces typically have tools such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, robotics equipment, art supplies, and high-end computer and digital media production resources. The movement lends itself to collaborative and team-based approaches to projects, and partnerships often develop with local businesses.

A couple of recent articles provide a helpful overview of the maker movement on college campuses. The Educause Learning Initiative did one of their “7 Things You Should Know About…” articles on makerspaces in 2013. Also in 2013, Audrey Watters, who writes at the always bracing Hack Education blog, posted a presentation on “The Case for a Campus Makerspace.” Among her observations:

It’s a case that invokes some of the educational practices that we know work well: small group discussion, collaboration, participatory, project-based, and peer-to-peer learning, experimentation, inquiry, curiosity, play….

Makers work with Arduino, paper mache, Legos, cardboard, robots, rockets, welding machines, gears, circuit boards, computer-assisted drawing software, string, vinyl cutters, LED lights, the command line, string, rubber bands, wire, duct tape, play dough, steamworks, sensors, hot glue guns, scissors, Raspberry Pis, gyroscopes, tesla coils, musical instruments, fire, water cannons, plastic, wood, motors, solar power, wearable computers, and 3D printers. For starters….

Makerspaces give students–all students–an opportunity for hands-on experimentation, prototyping. problem-solving, and design-thinking. By letting students make–whether they’re digital artifacts or physical artifacts–we can support them in gaining these critical skills. By making a pinball machine for a physics class, for example. Making paper or binding a book for a literature class. Building an app for a political science class. 3D modeling for an archeology class. 3D printing for a nursing class. Blacksmithing for history class. The possibilities for projects are endless….

Makerspaces expose students to cutting edge technologies that could in turn lead to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. And because of makerspaces’ connection to open source hardware and software, students aren’t learning just how to use proprietary tools. They aren’t just learning a specific piece of software. Instead, they learn how to find resources and–this is key–they learn how to learn.

Dozen of colleges and universities have established makerspaces on campus. Here are links to a few that you might find of interest:

Davidson College Campus Maker and Innovation Space
Rice Design Kitchen
University of Mary Washington Think Lab
University of Texas at Arlington Fab Lab
University of Victoria Maker Lab in the Humanties
Wheaton College (Mass.) Autonomous Learning Lab

So…what do you think about the possibilities at Austin College? Let us know with your comments and discussion.

9 thoughts on “Make Moody Hall a MakerSpace?

  1. Well I suppose its no surprise that I’m strongly for this kind of makerspace. As Watters notes, “the possibilities…are endless.”

    But there’s another issue there that I think is worth raising. I appreciate the pull-quote from Watters piece in many ways, not least of which for her flat-out list of physical materials makers might use to produce a project, but also for her suggestion that “Makerspaces expose students to cutting edge technologies that could in turn lead to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.” I agree wholeheartedly.

    But one thing I’d like to see there but don’t is concretely how we might help students to see how the two – makerspaces and employment – might be connected, and to think about specific strategies for helping them communicate those connections clearly. Obviously, if one is seeking a position in a furniture design company, having actually designed and built some furniture would be excellent experience. But I doubt this narrow case is what Watters is referring to here. Instead, she is likely referring to the ways becoming practiced in experiential learning patterns that rely on systems thinking and other 21st Century literacies will be crucial in supporting the work of 21st Century workplaces. But often even we ourselves have trouble seeing how the two connect, much less students doing so in a job interview or on a resume. So we need tools and practices to help them do that.

    • Many of the existing makerspaces have partnerships with the business community in order to provide students with mentoring, support, and connections for entrepreneurial and employment opportunities. For example, Davidson’s Maker & Innovation Space is part of a larger entity, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, which emphasizes internships and has an “entrepreneur-in-residence.” Another recent article, Making Makerspaces Work on Campus, highlights the Iovine and Young Academy at USC, in which the School of Business is actively involved. So I think for us it would be important to identify partners in the business community who would be interested in supporting the project, perhaps through financial backing to acquire equipment, tutoring and mentoring in business principles, and creating internship and employment opportunities.

    • I agree with Carol. I also think this is yet another fascinating example of the intersection of institutional memory and the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Sometimes we imagine that we’re introducing ideas to the community for the first time. More often, though, those ideas have already been raised – and promoted – in a slightly different form. Our task becomes not one of introducing something new, but articulating the connections between the new aspect of an already-existing idea and its intellectual lineage to some extent dormant within the community.

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