How to tailor your makerspace to engage the unique interests of your student community
Makerspaces are designed to encourage collaboration between students of different career paths to develop innovative new ideas or products, usually by using equipment available within the room. Developing and improving a makerspace typically requires setting a goal, determining logistical restraints, and implementing a plan to involve as much student creativity as possible. In our interview with Ann Delaney of Boise State University, we obtained valuable input on how to improve these spaces in our communities and on the importance of making people comfortable in them. This wiki provides a useful starting guide on how to tailor a makerspace to engage the unique interests of a student community.
The initial vision is of a shared, interdisciplinary space where people of different majors can collaborate and make ideas come to life. This involves trying and failing in a low-risk environment. Diversity allows healthily bringing together varied perspectives for better, novel solutions to problems. A centralized maker space can link together people who otherwise might not have met, and from that connection bring synergy, unique solutions, and exciting projects to a frequented innovation space. Training is not exclusive to the equipment in question; 25% of the work may be directly involving the tool while the rest is general peer-to-peer training.
Determine what location is best for the makerspace. If a space already exists for it, that is not optimal. It is worth considering a pass, as long as it is an upgrade. The library provides an ideal, central location on Boise’s campus. This allows students to come to an open work environment in a comfortable place. Theirs was initially a small room with low power supply built originally for a different purpose. They developed it to become the room with best Internet connection on campus.
Supplies are another important aspect to assess. Funding begins with comfortable furniture and a computer with useful programs and works up to advanced equipment such as resin-based printers and CNC mill. At Boise, they began with Reprap printers but progressed to newer, easier-to-assemble Lulzbot printers next. They covered the walls with whiteboard paint and even green-screen paint---two of the strongest draws for students of different interests or organizations. In addition, they added a soldering station for electronics, a couch area, studying tables, library equipment, and course-specific equipment for their College of Innovation and Design.
Even without these expensive materials, a vibrant community with a strong maker culture will keep people coming and gathering there. Workshops are an important draw for people on campus. At Boise, they held special workshops focused on Arduinos, knitting, women’s night, plus general active outreach. This encourages people to find time to join the makerspace for special events and also learn practical skills.
Assessing obstacles is a key to avoiding hold-ups in the future. Inter-departmental politics, space concerns, and budget concerns are examples of some obstacles that they faced at Boise. To overcome, they looked at the Vertically Integrated Project program and various grants to bring in funding. It is important to let administration and the greater public see the success of the makerspace, through videos, tours, and stories of students and their projects.
Student leaders are necessary if the makerspace is to run smoothly. At Boise they’re considering a new group of VIPs; students who get credit for the time they put in there. A diverse group of students from a variety of majors bring valuable new viewpoints to common projects. A combination of special note is engineering and business students, as they often lead to successful entrepreneurial ventures.
To help create an inviting environment, it is vital to train every user of the makerspace how to reach out and welcome newcomers. A positive first impression can make all the difference for new students who want to see what the maker culture is all about.
At Boise, as people enter the library’s door, they face an interdisciplinary space where students train others how to use 3D printers and other creative technologies. The focus is to make new students feel that they have freedom of expression. The importance of having this space is to provide students with an atmosphere where they can come up with creative solutions to working with others.
Students today focus too much on their grades, so we learned that it’s important to “frame the discussion in terms of skill building and marketability." By approaching students early and letting them see the benefits of working with people from other disciplines, they surely become more interested in what these amazing spaces can offer them.