Makerspaces, 3d printing and collaborative learning events

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Following on from our tours of the Library at the Dock, and RMIT’s AMP Centre discussed in this post, we visited, along with a small group of Education staff, the RMIT FabShop (short for Fabrication Workshop) at the Brunswick Campus. For those of you who haven’t heard of Fabrication Workshops before, otherwise known as Maker Labs or Maker Spaces, they are physical community sites often found in public libraries, council-funded spaces or schools, that provide both the space and tools, such as laser cutters, high-end 3D printers and wood-making tools, that allow “makers” to complete projects that they wouldn’t be able to do at home. Those using the spaces are also encouraged to help others in their pursuits so that knowledge and resources are shared. For more information on Fabrication Workshops or Makerspaces, see this article in Educause “7 Things you should know about Makerspaces“.

F&T workshop

The FabShop at Brunswick boasts an impressive array of machines, tools, and equipment for use by Fashion and Textiles students. We were met by Sahra Stolz the lab manager and technician who showed us around. The collection includes a wet space designed for clay, resin, plaster and paint, a dry construction space for woodworking and model making, a vacuum former, a large room-sized contraption identified to our mystified eyes as a Gerber machine used for bulk cutting multiple layers of fabric to a CAD file, and open workbenches for cutting material or other creative activities. Most discussion however, centred around the use of the 2D laser cutter which is heavily used by students, and the 3D printers, whimsically named Sally, Jessy and Raphael, which are conspicuously under-utilised. Sahra told us that the 3D printers could be used by Fashion and Textiles students to make heels for shoes, jewellery, buttons and so on. In Education, the staff were intrigued by how students might use the 3D printers for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Conversation outside of the workshop tour focused on the gap between the eagerness to use the 3D printers, and the practicality of actually doing so. This gap, potentially inherent as a limiting factor in the uptake of these new technologies and processes, is the lack of knowledge about HOW to use the technology. In the case of 3D printing, a lack of widespread skill in 3D modelling currently limits the use of the available technology at RMIT.
bunniesHaving identified this gap, a quick poll of all present revealed that we were collectively aware of resources we could use to build our knowledge, but not of any ‘expert’ who could hold our hand through the fraught process of gaining that skill. This inspired the idea of running a collaborative learning ‘hackathon’ where anyone who is interested in learning how to model in 3D gathers together to work through selected self-directed resources towards an identified goal, helping each other in the learning process along the way. This partially structured, DIY style group learning has the potential to rapidly develop skills and learning networks in fast moving knowledge areas such as technology, and fits very snugly into the ethos of the maker culture.

We’re currently in the process of developing the framework for the event, scheduled for November, but if you’re interested in being involved, please get in touch with either of us.

Emma and Thembi

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