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fab8nz Education

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

The context of the Fab Lab network intrinsically promotes learning without conscious effort, simply by having a mandate of open access and encouraging new users to enter, experiment and play. At fab8nz, many Labs from around the world reported on various education programs they were running, both formally and informally. San Diego, for example, has 35 accredited classes, while Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar Fab Lab has developed Fab Kids (12–15yrs) and Fab Juniors (16–20yrs) to complement the existing Fab Academy, teaching similar ideas at each level but with different capability entry points.

The North East Ohio Mobile Fab Lab develops classes utilising the Lab in school, working with K–8 students and brining high school students to assist. Rather than acting as a field trip, the mobile Lab spends time with teachers in advance, creating ways to use the mobile Lab to address requirements of the curriculum. Students and teachers work on the designs prior to the Lab’s arrival so that the tools can be employed en masse when the Lab is present.

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Rabiah Mayas is the Director of Science and Integrated Strategies at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago, where a 160sqm Fab Lab is housed within the 67,000sqm of exhibition space. The Lab is part of a menu of offerings from the MSI for visiting families, but outside of this menu it is not broadly promoted to visitors in any unique way—Maya recognises that for the vast majority of visitors who do enter the Lab it is a ‘spark’ experience. ‘We’ve got them for a brief moment of time,’ she says. ‘And the hope is that, minimally, there is kind of this ‘eureka’ moment of ‘I can do something, I am empowered.’’

That experience is the purpose of this range of programs, but the MSI is also actively working to engage students in after-school and weekend workshops. The goal of these extra-curricular programs is not to teach these students how to use the equipment. As Mayas put is, ‘the point is, how do we give them enough facility with the tools to recognise that they have this untapped power and creative thinking that could be used to actually impact their world in ways that they care about?’

With this in mind, the MSI is working to develop strategies to build capacity and create mini-Labs in various schools, and are looking at potential funding sources to allow them to engage schools in three-year projects. In the first year, schools can road test the technology and opportunities at MSI, with the second year seeing innovative work with students progress, and teacher training begin. By the third year, if the schools are invested enough in it, the plan is to install a local Lab, with the support of the larger MSI Lab still on hand.

As Lab space and opening hours also pose restrictions, the MSI has begun to develop an online program allowing people to design at home. The designs can then be fabricated at the Museum, sent to a company such as Ponoko or Shapeways, or users might be connected with other organisations that have some or all of the technology to continue fabrication.

More than 35 countries currently have Fab Labs, each engaging with formal and informal education in different ways. Some, such as the MSI, had existing structures in place prior to the Fab Lab opening, while others such as Ohio have chosen to focus energies on engaging students. However each continues, the potential for international collaboration and exchange is huge. As more and more Labs come online, open elements shared, and people engage, the possibilities are endless.

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