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May Seminar 2015 - Makerspace

I am orgnaizing a week-long May seminar on the use of novel makerspace technologies in the liberal arts classroom from Monday May 18 to Friday May 22.  To register, please contact Wouter Deconinck.

The Small Hall Makerspace is a space where students and faculty with interests in innovation, design and technology, can meet, socialize and collaborate on projects. A makerspace can be viewed as an open community lab that incorporates elements of machine shops, workshops and arts studios. It is a place where makers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build things. The makerspace provides the tools, the makers bring creativity.

Rather than merely learning to reproduce what someone else has designed or thought out, makerspaces foster an environment that encourages the students to create. At the Small Hall Makerspace students do indeed innovate, learn and build at the intersection of art, culture, science and technology. This philosophy connects strongly with the interdisciplinary nature of the new college curriculum, as well as the increased focus on non-written modes of communication (including for example final projects, multimedia, and performance/arts).

The technologies available to students in the Small Hall Makerspace include a 3D scanner and a 3D printer; a laser cutter for cardboard, wood and acrylic; a computer-controlled milling machine for fabrication in wood; robotics platforms; and development kits for making measurements and controlling motion and sound with microcontrollers and microprocessors.

Several faculty members from both the arts and the sciences have expressed interest as potential participants of this May seminar: Irina Novikova and Patricia Vahle (physics), Eliot Dudik and Michael Draeger (art & art history), Peter Vishton (psychology), Michael Luchs (business), Mike Blum and Pablo Yanez (academic technology). If this seminar is approved, I will advertise more widely on the W&M Digest and I am confident that I will have no difficulty finding a group of week-long participants from a diverse variety of departments.

A schedule for the week starts with two days of introductory tutorials on how to use the available technologies, including safety considerations and training for individual use.  In the last three days the participants will work on a specific project that will result in a concrete deliverable to be included in a course as a demonstration object or as an active learning component for a course in the new curriculum.

Presentation slides (opens in new window)

Monday May 18

Tuesday May 19

Wednesday May 20

Location: Innovation & Design Studio - Mason School of Business

Thursday May 21

Friday May 22


Michael Gaynes, Adjunct Instructor, Dept. of Art & Art History:

This May seminar has been especially helpful to me in a number of ways as I refine ART100-01 "The Flesh of the World: The Hand". The seminar met its initial expectations by giving me a much clearer and organized understanding on the implementation of the various technologies and systems covered. I will be able to explain more concisely the roles that micro-controllers, micro-processors, and various software systems can play in my student's projects. The surprising aspect of the seminar was the inclusion of a workshop with Michael Luchs in the Business School's Innovation Lab. That experience has led me to rethink entirely one particular project - to focus more on the communicative potential of prototyping and model-making. This interest has since been further expanded in a subsequent seminar hosted by the CLA.

Of course the opportunity to work Wouter, Josh and the other participants of the seminar was a joyful and gratifying experience. These connections across disciplines are often difficult to make, but this seminar was structured in such a way that they became effortless. My immense thanks to all involved.

Michael Draeger, Art Studio Safety Technician:

Within the 3D Arts program, the students main pitfall seems to be prototyping, or lack there of. Their tendancy to want to jump right into full scale projects using their finalized material leads to issues of spacial relations ships and joinery that could easily to realized if they were able to visualize their ideas on a smaller scale and with less expensive materials. That kind of modeling could be as simple as the crude but effective prototyping that Michael Luchs promoted or advanced as modeling in Inventor for 3D printing or laser cutting. Regardless of whether those technologies would be appropriate for their specific project, I think it is important that they're aware of the technologies that are available to them and how they could benefit their work, not to mention familiarizing themselves with those technologies as they graduate from school and enter a workforce that uses them as a norm.

John Parman, Assistant Professor, Economics:

The May seminar has helped me see multiple ways that I could incorporate the Makerspace into my current courses and a new course designed for the COLL curriculum.

For my existing courses, I can foresee using the Makerspace technologies to offer students an alternative to algebraic and graphical representations of economic concepts. Working with the Arduinos, it became clear that there would be a variety of ways to translate the behavior of consumers and firms we model in class into mechanical representations that would give students an alternative way to picture the extent to which agents in an economy are making individual choices but are both contributing to and dependent on to overall state of the economy. Constructing physical representations of economies with individual, Arduino-based agents would also offer students a much more intuitive representation of the process of reaching equilibrium (as opposed to simply thinking of equilibrium as the solution to a system of equations). Getting exposure to the Arduinos and the variety of sensors and shields that can be used with the Arduinos generated several ideas for how to construct these mechanical economic systems for use in class.

Having the opportunity to work with the 3D printer during the seminar helped me think of ways to introduce new methods of data visualization in my classes. Playing around with physical representations of the data from one of my recent projects led me to believe that the technologies in the Makerspace such as the 3D printer and the Oculus Rift could provide students with interesting and creative ways to translate traditional economic data into something more meaningful to the consumer of that information. This seems to potentially fit perfectly with a COLL 100 course that demands communicating ideas through means other than the written word. The 3D maps of the South I produced with the printer are actually representations of geographical patterns of segregation based on new data I have collected. I have been toying with the idea of a COLL class built around this segregation project that has students engage in the economics, history and spatial aspects of segregation in a way that would cross the disciplines of history, economics, sociology, and, through the use of the Makerspace, art.

Nabeel Siddiqui, American Studies Graduate Instructor:

The Makerspace Workshop was critical in my development as a graduate student going into a teaching role. As an American Studies scholar, I have a particular interest in interdisciplinary research. While most of the disciplines that American Studies scholars draw on are in the humanities and social sciences, I have tried to focus more on science's relationship to the humanities. Next semester, I will be teaching a course called "Information in America." In this course, I will be using many of the electronics in the Makerspace as a key component of my teaching.

While I have thought of numerous ways to use the Makerspace, two key examples/ideas stick out. First, we will be using the Occulus Rift virtual reality headset to discuss Katherine Hayle's book How We Became Posthuman. The book overviews the relationship between the mind and the body in regards to virtual reality software and also posthumanism. Through the Occulus Rift, I hope students will gain an appreciation for the role of the body, which Hayles believes is lacking in posthumanist research. Second, we will be using the Leap motion controllers to talk about identity in games. The particular readings for the week on games examine if game studies should draw its influence from narratology, which is used to study literature, or from ludology, which is used to study play. The Leap motion device will be used by the students to understand that even games like Tetris have a point of view. One of the games available for the Leap is a Tetris game that shows the players hands. I would like students to understand what this means for narration in new media. In addition, I believe it allows us to examine human-computer interaction in more depth.

Finally, it was extremely helpful to know the various resources on campus and meet the fellow participants. I hope graduate students are made more aware of these opportunities and included in future emails about these workshops since many of us teach in our home departments.

Jim Bradley, Professor of Operations Management, Mason School of Business:

This seminar gave me the time to develop my Thermostat Lab Exercise which I will do with students next academic year in a new course at the MBA level called Managing Emerging Technologies which is taught in our evening MBA program. I was able over the week to develop a prototype of what the students will assemble, write some “library code” to make the students’ coding experience easier, and put together an almost complete rough draft of the lecture/lab directions. You also alerted me to some other technology that I will find useful including the Pro Minis and the Spark Proton and Core boards which I am sure I will use at some point. I might possibly even use the Core to develop a fuller Thermostat prototype with wifi capability for demonstration after the students complete their prototypes.

Joshua Erlich, Associate Professor of Physics:

The May Seminar on Makerspace Tech was dense with information and sharing of ideas. The seminar gave me ideas for how to enhance my COLL 100 course on Great Ideas of Modern Physics this Fall using technology available on campus. For example, I am currently designing a laser-cut acrylic display with switches to control UV LEDs that will illuminate a collection of fluorescing nanoparticles (quantum dots) in cuvettes. The display will allow me to visually demonstrate the quantum-mechanical effect of confining a material to the nanometer scale by showing how the color of the fluorescing material changes with the size of the nanoparticles. During the May Seminar I learned about an online tool for designing boxes, which I am using to design the quantum dot display, and I will use the laser cutter in the Small Hall Makerspace to cut the acrylic. The May Seminar also got me thinking about recent advances in do-it-yourself electronics that could be useful for illustrating technological developments that have been made possible by basic research in physics.

In addition to giving me some ideas for how to enhance my own course, by collecting the experience of the seminar participants with various types of software and hardware, the organizers of the Makerspace also gained some ideas for how to enhance the Makerspace and related activities on campus. For example, Michael Gaynes showed us some 3D-modeling software that allows for the creation of organic designs that can be machined on a 3D printer or milling machine.

During the May seminar, a class on prototyping ideas led by Michael Luchs at the Design Studio in the Mason School of Business gave some interesting perspective on how to maximize the potential of developing successful, paradigm-changing ideas. I was struck by the similarities between the design thinking approach in business and the process of coming up with and developing new scientific ideas.

Eliot Dudik, Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography:

The May Seminar in the Makerspace was especially useful for me as it not only introduced me to the equipment and software available, but also a group of people who are looking to collaborate on COLL courses across campus. As the professor of photography, I am familiar with the expansion of what is considered photograhic in contemporary art. Continually, artists are expanding that definition and using new technologies and tools to expand the visual language of the medium. The W&M Makerspace will undoubtedly become an extension of the photography classroom. I would certainly recommend the seminar to anyone interested in new technologies and collaboration. I hope to be able to take it again in the future as the space expands.