Reflecting on the Fall: The ThinkLab

This past semester has likely been the busiest one yet at DTLT with so many new projects ramping up alongside the regular awesomeness we do day to day. I haven't been great about blogging those efforts along the way but I'll do a few posts to sort of wrap up my thoughts on a few different areas where we've done some really interesting work these past few months. I wanted to start with our makerspace, the ThinkLab, which has now seen a full semester of use across a variety of disciplines. We bootstrapped the build of our makerspace in just one short summer and had it online and ready to go this fall thanks in no small part to Rosemary Arneson who graciously donated both the space and funds to help turn it into a great vision of what a modern lab can be. We had very little to budget, no Herman Miller furniture, but we had plenty of ideas and we were willing to try anything. You can see photos of the space over at this Flickr group to see what we came up with. I couldn't be happier with the space itself. It's proved to be extremely flexible both as a common working space and a classroom. The space has also seen use by a variety of disciplines. It's a great measurement of success for me that all 3 colleges were represented in their use of the space within the first semester. I had the pleasure of collaborating with a Business faculty member who had her students prototyping, designing, and making makeshift solutions to business problems using the 3D printer. Mark Snyder, a great friend and colleague in the Music department used the space to host a guest lecturer who did an Arduino demo on how to build a synthesizer using just a few cheap parts. And of course George Meadows leads the way in the College of Education with his work integrating a lot of these tools into the work that his graduate students and student teachers are doing in K-12 classrooms. By having the space in the library and providing open access to all disciplines rather than sticking this in a science lab or engineering school I feel like we've done something really special here for a liberal arts university. These thoughts are actually fresh on my mind because this evening we wrapped up our first full course co-taught by George Meadows and I in the makerspace: Makerbots and Mashups. This was a freshman seminar course with 16 students exploring many of these tools for the first time. I had them blog regularly on the work they were doing as part of the Domain of One's Own (an initiative that will get it's own post in the next day or two) and then fed them all in to the ThinkLab site here. It was incredibly interesting and humbling to watch these students struggle and pull through. Practically none of them had any idea of what the class would be like, and overwhelmingly as I talked with them during their final (which was just a presentation of their final projects) about the course they thought it was a positive experience. Mary Kayler had approached me about gathering some data from the students as part of doing some research writing about the course as it pertains to the goals of what we are trying to instill in the liberal arts (Creativity, Collaboration, Problem Solving, etc). To that end I asked them in their final blog post to reflect on a few questions regarding the role that trial and error and failure played in their work, how collaboration with students played a part, and what aspects of the course they found most meaningful. I'll wrap up this post with a few excerpts from some of the posts as they have started rolling in because they show me just how powerful a space like this can be for learning.

It was always extremely possible that someone or everyone else in the class had a better idea to approach an assignment or knew a lot more on the subject than me. Just as sometimes I was able to help someone else figure out their own problem. I have definitely found that the first way almost never works. Giving up on a project after one try is basically the dumbest move in this class. There are a million ways to get from point A to point B and not all of them are feasible but there’s always another way. - Claire If you failed in this class instead of giving up you found a way to fix your mistakes and move on. I really enjoyed that this class wasn’t easy. We had to fail in order to understand how to work something. We learned from our mistakes instead of being given all the answers and solutions to how to fix/make/design a certain thing. - Maddy When classmate were really knowledgeable about a certain aspect of the class, they’d help those of us who needed help. Some of the guys helped me solder my the wires in my car and then when I learned how to solder well, I helped out some classmates sitting near me. Also, when I was having difficulty printing something, someone who was more technologically advanced would help me. - "Princess" Ray Celeste I really enjoyed how hands-on the class was. We were encouraged to work independently of the professors but work together with other students. The size of class, not more than twenty students, helped with the camaraderie. Collaborating with other students was really important in creating projects. - Campbell