University makerspaces

March 3, 2015

What motivates a university to build a maker space? Is it to become a Stanford-like institution that incubates and launches the next Yahoo or Google? Is it to transform education from consumptive to creative? Whatever the motivations, there are tons of them opening their doors all over the world today.

There are examples at Georgia Tech, Case Western, North Carolina State University and more. Many makerspaces come out of engineering colleges, some come out of libraries and a few are true institution-wide initiatives open to all, including community members. The more inclusive and open, the greater the potential impact.

Some interesting motivating conversations I’ve been a part of are to think about a Makerspace which strives to have impact in the areas of education, research and engagement. In addition to the typical start-up incubation and entrepreneurial activities we most associate with makerspaces, they can be beneficial for experiential teaching in almost all disciplines. Makerspaces provide opportunities for researchers in many disciplines to experiment with new ways to design instruments and collect data for scientific inquiry. If that wasn’t enough, the tools and expertise are an excellent way to reach out to the community and involve K-12 students and community members in the activities of the university.

Educationally makerspaces provide opportunities to integrate in curricula across disciplines: artists, paleontologists, historians, engineers, field biologists and architects can all find ways to integrate fabrication tools into their teaching. Artists are able to digitally design and physically create in ways that were not economically possible before the advent of low cost laser cutters and 3D printers. Paleontologists are able to 3D scan bones, derive insight from them and share digital files which can be printed, handled and analyzed by colleagues around the world. Historians are able to print and subsequently handle and hold both scale and actual sized copies of historical objects, sharing them with students and enriching the understanding of historical significance of the objects. Engineering students are able to rapidly iterate on design elements of all sorts, creating, refining and creating anew while solving problems based on engineering constraints and limitations. Field biologists are able to rapidly test and deploy new sensor packages, create innovative apparatus and generally tinker and develop new sensing systems. Architects are able to develop small-scale models using cardboard, balsa wood or acrylic and subsequently develop larger scale models using CNC routers and other tools. Digital tools for fabrication are truly the computers of the 21st century. The early adopters are all from technical disciplines, but there is immense opportunity for impact in other disciplines as well.

What could you build with an open access makerspace on your campus?

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University Makerspaces - March 3, 2015 - Jonah Duckles