QUEENS, New York – A consensus emerged among educators and engineers at New York’s Maker Conference, held at the New York Hall of Science here, that the maker movement will drive the next generation of tinkerers, thinkers, and scientists.
"We’re asking, 'is making an essential part of being a citizen of the 21st century, is it an essential part of a liberal arts education,' " said Yale Associate Professor Eric Dufresne.
Over the course of several years, Dufresne spearheaded conversion of Yale’s engineering library into the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID) -- an interdisciplinary maker space with fabrication facilities for rapid prototyping, a wet lab for microfluidics, a machine shop, and a cafe. Dufresne’s goal to encourage both Yale’s STEM and non-engineering students to participate in the making process has been a success; about half of the students using CEDI are undecided or liberal arts majors.
A Yale student works on an engine teardown at CEID. Source: Yale/CEID.
Across the country at Arizona State University, professors Micha Lande and Shawn Jordan are blending elements of the maker community and engineering culture into the school's engineering curriculum through project-based learning.
“There are conceptions of what making is and what engineering is, and it differs based on what your experience is and what your community is,” said Lande, who teaches human-centered engineering design and innovation courses at ASU. “Practical ingenuity, relativity, and lifelong learning, these are things that come from a making experience that may not be present in an engineering curriculum.”
Lande and Jordan interviewed adult and youth makers at Maker Faires in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as at ASU. They were asked about the skills they had to learn to build their projects as well as how their passion relates to their profession or area of study. The two are expanding their research to focus on the parents of young makers, whom Jordan said are instrumental in encouraging lifelong learning.
However, there is some deviation from the maker-engineer correlation.
“A lot of people look at makers and say they’re playing with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, they’re going to become engineers,” Jordan said. “But from our informal conversations, that may or may not be the case and that’s something we want to understand in a deeper manner.”
Large companies such as Intel also aim to better understand the maker community, and offer a variety of programs to train educators and support young makers.
“The reason we’re interested in educating makers is we see the maker movement as the lifeblood fueling the next generation of innovators,” Intel’s Maker Czar Jay Melican told attendees. “[Makers] are not just going to consume products but want to take active role in creation of technology.”
As a result, Intel has realigned how it thinks about designing and marketing products, as well as who makes up its consumer base. Creators won’t be limited to engineers in Intel’s labs, but rather hundreds of thousands of people around the world, Melican said.
To that end, Intel has trained 125 teachers in six cities this year and donated 50,000 Arduino-compatible Galileo development boards to universities around the world. Intel also targets people who aren’t traditionally drawn toward STEM with its Start Making! program.
“You’re pegged early on with a learning identity, and often that’s gendered,” Melican said, adding that he is not an engineer and grew up as an art nerd. “We want to attract a larger, more diverse and atypically talented population of young people who don’t typically see themselves as drawn to math or mechanics, but are motivated to create things.”
The fruits of this engineering/making mash-up were on display at MakerCon’s innovation showcase. Among the maker teams were Dufresne’s students, who displayed a corrective device for scoliosis patients. This team -- made up of a designer, an engineer, and a political science major -- highlighted the wide breadth of possibilities for creativity and engineering within the maker movement.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times