Makerspaces offers accessible hands-on experience for students

Photo courtesy of Claire Boston

By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

Starting this fall, Baylor students and staff have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning in a new way: with widened access to makerspaces, workshop spaces that incorporate many types of creation. While some departments on campus have their own fabrication workspaces such as theater arts and engineering, the new makerspace in Moody Library, as well as a partnership with Maker’s Edge in Waco, offers Baylor students and staff a chance to widen the realm of possibility.

Andrew Telep, assistant director for learning spaces and media services at Baylor University Libraries, has been involved in the development of the on-campus lab space that will be open to all students and staff, regardless of departmental affiliation. The space is created around the principles of the maker movement, an initiative with its roots in the MIT Center for Atoms and Bits, which seeks to synthesize digital and technological innovation with the fabrication of tactile objects. The library’s makerspace, located on the garden level of Moody Library behind the Techpoint Desk, contains digital fabrication tools such as 3D printers and a laser cutter.

“Access is really important, and if you can democratize access to things that are limited in availability or really expensive, good things can come from it,” Telep said.

Recently, the library’s Techpoint opened up a 3D printing fulfillment service in which students could submit 3D print jobs and pay for them through PawPrints. But Telep said he hopes the new space will serve a greater audience and open the door for students to be more autonomous in the digital fabrication process, especially for those students who traditionally have not had access to such spaces and tools.

“What if you’re a religion student but you have an interest in making things? Where do you go? How does the university help you? What if you’re a business student who has an entrepreneuring idea for a class, but you actually think it could be a marketable product?” Telep said. “This is the kind of space that can help that happen.”

While this centralized makerspace will offer new capabilities to students and faculty across campus, the space is only 16 by 12 feet. The university’s partnership with Maker’s Edge, a large space dedicated to many different kinds of making, will open up more possibilities for integrating hands-on learning into curriculum or hobbying for students.

“We’ve been working a long time on getting this,” said Melissa Pardun, founder of Maker’s Edge, located at 1800 Austin Ave. “We’ve hosted many Baylor events in this space and done different things with different organizations at Baylor. But having just a system-wide approach to having open access to any student or staff member, that’s been a long time coming. And we’ve been working and working, and a lot of it is just getting something that fits what we do that matches their needs.”

Students and staff now have access to four two-week memberships to Maker’s Edge per semester. The first time a pass is activated, the individual must take an orientation and go through safety training classes for whichever tools they plan to use within the workshop. Telep said the professional and thorough training techniques at Maker’s Edge will make the on-campus makerspace much more user friendly.

“We have never done that ourselves, so we thought, well let’s find a way to leverage their expertise and then share those training records and then students who have got that training down there, we can trust to use this space,” Telep said. “So as the number of people who have gone through that Maker’s Edge partnership grows, activity in this space can only grow too.”

A significant aspect of the maker movement is the idea of making interdisciplinary connections. Both the Techpoint makerspace as well as Maker’s Edge operate on this principle.

“Libraries are always interdisciplinary. So that’s a reason why this kind of thing fits. Makerspace and maker activity is also inherently interdisciplinary,” Telep said. “And that’s how the world works, and so I see this space as a way to sort of foster that kind of work at an undergraduate and graduate level. For students to sort of rub shoulders with people that are in a different program with them trying to do similar things and learn from one another.”

Maker’s Edge includes workshops for woodworking, metalshop/welding, computer, electronic, digital fabrication and soon pottery — illustrating the diverse interdisciplinary possibilities of the space.

“We believe that the best way to help people prepare for the next iteration of creation and innovation in technology is really to be as cross-disciplined as possible,” Pardun said.”That’s why we’re so big and we have a large footprint, is we just think for what we want to do and what we’re inspiring to give to the next generation is really that ability to think multi-disciplinary in their innovation and prototyping.”

These new opportunities could not only benefit individuals seeking extracurricular learning opportunities, but could also expand the possibilities for professors to use hands-on learning in their courses.

Dr. Michael Korpi, professor of film and digital media, has found inspiration in the maker movement that he plans to incorporate into his curriculum now that the Maker’s Edge memberships are available.

“I’m going to use it in the spring for my class that’s going to be technology and science fiction,” Korpi said. “We’re going to do communication technologies, but we’re going to read some key science fiction works and talk about how those technologies in those books — is that possible? How would we do that? Can we prototype that?”

Korpi said digital fabrication can have applications in other aspects of film and digital media, such as when doing a production on location when it’s hard to readily find all the tools and clamps a crew needs.

“We have to order it, and then it won’t be exactly what we want, but if we can 3D print stuff, then we can just make these tools as we go,” Korpi said.

Pardun said this do-it-yourself attitude is what inspired her and her husband to create Maker’s Edge. She said they noticed many people lacked the practical skills to carry out a project.

“There is a whole group of people out there who want to be like us; they want to do it themselves, but they’ve never had that grandpa with the garage sitting around training them or teaching them. Because that’s how we used to learn, but it’s just not the system we live in anymore,” Pardun said.

Pardun said she hopes the partnership will initiate a new audience to Maker’s Edge and its philosophy.

“Be made in the image of a maker,” Pardun said. “Once you start walking that path of creativity, you will be unfettered in where that will take you if you will just embrace that natural way you were made. And once you step in the door and you start seeing the different things … That’s one of those things, theologically, that we believe. Once you engage that maker part of you, we just get the joy of stepping back and watching that catch hold.”

The membership can be used to complete class projects, but individuals can also utilize the memberships for personal growth and exploration under the guidance and training of expert staff.

“If you just come to the space and you’re super unclear about anything you want to do, and you’re unskilled, and you’re inexperienced, just spend a few days in this space, and you will find something you want to move towards,” Pardun said.