Makerspaces on the Rise for Interdisciplinary Higher Education

| February 22, 2016
toni L_headshot

Toni Loiacano

by Toni Loiacano

We’ve all experienced those “aha” moments when a piece of information finally clicks into place. One of my favorite such memories is building dodecahedrons in my ninth grade geometry class. The room was full of 22 students, working in pairs, intently focused on the measuring, cutting, and pasting of 12 pentagon surfaces into an approximately 2-ft. x 2-ft. x 2-ft. three-dimensional dodecahedron. There were sighs of frustration, squeals of joy, and cries for Mrs. Campbell’s help. As the last pentagon was attached, I could literally feel my understanding of vertices fall into place inside my toolbox — my brain.

As an academic planning expert, I have the great pleasure of designing environments that support similar experiential learning opportunities at the college and university level. Of these environment types, one of my favorites is makerspaces — places that have three special characteristics:

Think Make Model

Think, Model, Make

  • They encourage play, tinkering, and experimentation.
  • They connect learners to resources — tools and people.
  • They inspire learners to explore, imagine, and dream.

One of my favorite makerspaces is the Cube at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. A collection of spaces that allow students to easily engage in design thinking as a cyclical process, the Cube is used as a teaching lab, but is focused on engineering design. Trinity selected the motto Think, Model, Make, and spaces for each modality are incorporated within the Cube. Each space type is in close proximity to encourage rapid rotation from one activity to the next.

Trinity Makerspace

Trinity makerspace

Think spaces, like the Innovation Lounge, provide areas for individuals and groups to aspire, dream, and imagine. These spaces have comfortable seating, moveable furniture, and lots of vertical pin-up space to share ideas and thinking. Model spaces, like the Computer Lab, provide opportunities to digitally model ideas alone, or as a team. The inclusion of 3D printers allows for rapid prototyping as digital models progress. Finally, maker spaces, like the Innovation Studio and the adjacent metal wood and electronics shop, allow students to make ideas come to life.

Trinity Cube

Trinity Cube

The Innovation Studio is the centerpiece of the Cube and the primary design teaching lab. This studio provides practical work space but pairs it with inspiring design that connects the entire Cube. This strategically showcases the importance of design at Trinity by placing it adjacent to the front door of the Center for the Sciences and Innovation. The lab provides space for eight teams of five to seven students to work during class time. There is also adjacent space for two additional teams to have comeback time simultaneous to a lab session. A small area for 40 students is also available for a quick lecture. Over the course of a semester, each team will be moving through iterative cycles of brainstorming, problem definition, designing solutions, prototyping designs, testing designs, and refining designs.

The Innovation Studio provides a range of tools for each team to work on as they develop their projects, ranging in scale from an electronic breadboard to a Baja Car.

The Innovation Studio was quickly recognized as a unique resource on Trinity’s campus. Faculty and students from the arts, business, entrepreneurship, and the other science disciplines have already begun to use this space for their own design thinking experiences.

At EYP Architecture and Engineering, designing these spaces for clients is only one aspect of our involvement in the innovation community. My colleagues architects Jeff Schantz and Kip Ellis are currently teaching a Maker Studio course at the Mass College of Art and Design. They are helping students refine and hone their ideas and make business connections that will help them develop feasible products that have real-world applications. I can’t wait to hear what they learn and, even more importantly, understand their students’ aha moments.

Toni Loiacano, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, is an architect at EYP Architecture and Engineering.

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