Walking the Walk: iterative design in student staff service learning projects

Your Name and Title:

Morgan Chivers, FabLab Technician & Artist in Residence

Library, School, or Organization Name:

University of Texas Arlington FabLab

Co-Presenter Name(s):

Katie Musick Peery

Area of the World from Which You Will Present:


Language in Which You Will Present:


Target Audience(s):

Library Makerspace Leadership

Short Session Description (one line):

Discussing lessons learned and successes from five case studies of our most ambitious student service learning endeavors

Full Session Description:

Running our 8,000 square foot academic library makerspace seven days a week with only 3 full-time staff is neigh impossible, so our strategy has depended entirely on building our student staff’s equipment competence and leadership skills. We hired smart students from a variety of majors, trained them to operate digital fabrication equipment, and then assigned them to apply themselves to specific real-world problems individually suited to push their boundaries and create earnestly impactful learning experiences. FabLab full-time staff and student employees work together to identify problems and needs within the space and operate under the mentorship of the lab technicians to ideate, prototype, and create solutions. As the needs of our expanding lab grew, our most promising students’ aptitudes blossomed through ambitious directed projects.

The proposed presentation would focus on five case studies of our most ambitious endeavors. Project scopes include: modifications to an open-source network solution for remote command of multiple 3D printers; a web-based system to track machine usage statistics, streamlined 3D print retrieval, and deidentified user demographic information; a series of graphic art posters for each of our major pieces of equipment; a four-color silkscreen press based on extensively modified open-source plans; and two separate prosthetics projects (one for a French Mastiff, one for an eight year old human). Students learned to make project/budget proposals – the Libraries funded the purchase of requisite supplies, freeing gifted students to invest themselves in project success.

The results have been fantastic: motivated students with résumé gold, the FabLab has custom solutions enhancing the services we are able to offer to all students/faculty/staff, and we’ve built making-momentum that encourages high-quality output in all subsequent endeavors. Examples of early iterations and a general morphology of the progressive path towards project success will be displayed as part of the presentation along with images/video/demonstration of the completed projects.

Disclaimer: it’s not all sugarplums and rose-petals, folks! The iterative design process is legitimately arduous, requiring an abundance of resilience and patience. This proposed presentation would cover strategies for managing expectations at all levels of the institutional hierarchy when embarking on ambitious projects, the critical importance of selecting engaged partners for any interdepartmental or external cooperation, and the chasm between the alluring marketing of maker machines’ increasingly accessible potential to empower anybody to make anything and the reality that design thinking skills are sold separately.
We will share experiences from finding the delicate balance of assigning students (already accustomed to putting in long hours before deadlines) to accomplish realistically ambitious goals within an hourly employment context, including our institutional strategies for promoting especially effective student staff.

Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session: fablab.uta.edu

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