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Making Culture: Community Engagement Framework for Digital Fabrication


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Fab Academy is an experimental, de-centralized education model that has produced hundreds of innovative prototypes around the world over the past 7 years. This framework reveals the dynamics of this collaborative learning culture. The purpose is to provide a reference for any Fab Lab, maker space, school, studio, business or organization to deepen their engagement with digital fabrication technology.

Published in: Technology

Making Culture: Community Engagement Framework for Digital Fabrication

  1. 1. Making Culture Community Engagement Framework for Digital Fabrication ! Research by Jasmin Cheng Presented by Jasmin Cheng & Wendy Neale ! Presented on August 4, 2015 FAB11 at Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab Graphics generated on Fabrika App by Anna Oguienko
  2. 2. “The power of Digital Fabrication is social, not technical.” - Neil Gershenfeld
  3. 3. What is the purpose of this research? To propose a community engagement framework for digital fabrication. Why is this important? Fab Academy is an experimental, de-centralized education model that has produced hundreds of innovative prototypes around the world over the past 7 years. This framework reveals the dynamics of this collaborative learning culture. The purpose is to provide a reference for any Fab Lab, maker space, school, studio, business or organization to deepen their engagement with digital fabrication technology.
  4. 4. Methodology This paper is based on 12 hours of interviews with 2 instructors and 6 students of Fab Lab Wgtn. The researcher also includes her personal experience from 6 months participation in Fab Academy 2015. The interview data has been hand coded for thematic saturation. ! The author's intent is to share this initial theory with other Fab Lab members at Fab11. Based on the discussions started at Fab11, the author will further develop the theory by studying labs and studios around the world, and literature reviews. 
  5. 5. Controlled Self-Organized The Path to Self-Organization One of the most striking observations that came out of this research was how the lab culture was transformed in 6 months from one that was controlled by the instructors to one that was self-organized, with equal accountability distributed amongst the instructors and the students.
  6. 6. A Framework for Self-Organization There are 3 layers to a self-organizing culture. Each layer builds upon the strengths of the last. If the group dynamic is weak in one layer, it may implicate the other layers. Controlled Self-Organized ! • Functional • Organizational • Communication ! • Group Agreements • Peer Learning ! • Mutual Appreciation • Group Projects Trust Affinity Reciprocity Open offering and acceptance of help support to achieve common goals Nurture relationships to create new opportunities for everyone to contribute to the experience Build a structure that brings clarity and accountability to the group
  7. 7. The Importance of Establishing Trust Trust is earned when students believe that the structure of the experience is biased towards their success. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Every student needs to be free to experiment and make mistakes while also feeling safe and supported. At this early stage, instructors are driven to set a strong example - from how to use the machines, how to follow workflows, and when and where to communicate.
  8. 8. Quotes on Establishing Trust “Everything was so well organized. When you first arrive, you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, they say you have class on Thursday, and then that’s it. I thought we’d be on our own, but we weren’t. We were so well supported.” “We were teaching you how to navigate, to filter. Fab Academy is so heavily process based, it’s important to establish a clear workflow from the outset. We’d basically go through a module step-by-step to determine what needed to happen first and how to roll it out.” “You’ve got someone who’s kind of managing your progress. You’ve got someone who really wants you to succeed and looking out for how you’re feeling. And you’ve got someone who wants you to be motivated. There’s not a lot of room for slacking, which is good.” “Don’t assume that people know how to work in a group, how to contribute, or how to withdraw.” “The best bits of uni without all the crappy bits.”
  9. 9. Establishing Trust | Functional Structure Create a functional structure that makes everyone feel safe and supported. ! • Providing clean workstations and personal storage space for every student • Ensuring the fab inventory is stocked so that the students have everything they need • Planning hands-on demo’s and tutorials to get everyone familiar with the workflows and software
  10. 10. Establishing Trust | Organizational Structure Create organizational structure to manage group and individual progress and to ensure learning objectives are met.  ! • Planning ahead to fill knowledge gaps both inside and outside the lab • Setting up regular reviews (both local and global) to make sure students have the opportunity to reflect on their progress in context of the big picture • Keeping track of student progress by assessing the student’s work and documentation on a weekly basis 
  11. 11. Establishing Trust | Communications Structure Create clear a communications structure to keep everyone informed and connected inside and outside of the lab.  ! • Establishing a space where instructors and students can share information, ideas and resources that are related specifically to the program • Providing a central file sharing platform that allows students to exchange working files and photos for both individual and group projects • Opening up communication channels for students to engage with each other
  12. 12. Social Network Common Uses Local Regional Global Google+ • Official source of local Fab Academy updates and information • Shared useful links to learning resources • Students used Google Drive to share project files and photos • Hashtags were used to keep content organized X Email • Official source of global Fab Academy updates and information • Often misused for individual project support • Students would reply to questions if they had experience to share X MCU • Official video conferencing channel • Regional reviews • Remote student meetings • Regional instructor meetings X X Facebook • Facebook messaging was more reliable than Google+ messages • Students engaged lightly with global, regional and local groups • Students shared their project progress with their personal networks X X X HipChat • Official chat platform to connect students during lectures and reviews • High usage at launch, slowly faded • Some students were able to made contact with regional peers due to time zone similarity X X Twitter • #fabacademy hashtag allowed global students to connect • Live-tweeting of final project presentations increased engagement X Instagram • #fabacademy hashtag allowed global students to connect • Some students used Instagram video to document project progress - received support and motivation from global students X Establishing Trust | Communications Structure
  13. 13. The Importance of Nurturing Affinity Encouraging personal relationships to develop creates new opportunities for everyone to contribute to the whole experience. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Building relationships with likeminded people within the lab or within the network helped motivate and inspire the students. These connections were often encouraged, but never forced. This is the transitional stage in the path toward self-organization.
  14. 14. Quotes on Nurturing Affinity “I see my role as providing the space and the resources, and enable Fab Academy students to succeed. It was more important for me to make sure that people were working together, talking to each other and being inspired. It’s easy to teach them how to use the machines, or how to program. The fun bit is working together. That was my focus.” “It’s really cool to be able to feed off other people’s enthusiasm and awesome projects; to be inspired by their solutions to the same problems, and to be collectively going through it.” “We all improved so much; just an incredible amount. It’s crazy to see that amount of growth at the same time as you’re experiencing it yourself.“ “It’s a cyclical way of learning. You start out with something absolutely tiny, build off that small achievement to get on the road to bigger achievements. That was one of the best things I learned in the process, that I want to carry on with.“
  15. 15. Group Agreements Leave it how you would like to find it Reserve the right to tell your own story Everyone can be a wizard Create your own context Take care of each other Look after yourself Win together If you don’t understand, say it Failing to plan is planning to fail Nurturing Affinity | Group Agreements Affinity between individuals deepened as everyone started to take responsibility of the culture that was being created. ! • Ensuring that everyone knows how to work within the group, how to contribute or how to withdraw • Creating a time and place for the group to talk about what is working or not working about the culture • Fighting resistance to these kinds of conversations by encouraging the students to share their own experiences and suggestions on how to make things better
  16. 16. Group Agreement What it means Resulting behaviour Leave it how you would like to find it To emphasize every individual’s responsibility to keep workspaces, machines and communal spaces accessible and functional. • Cleaner work surfaces • Weekly clean-up sessions • Well-maintained machines Reserve the right to tell your own story To respect each other’s privacy • Students sought other students and instructors in documentation • Students sought permission before posting photos and links of other students and instructors online Everyone can be a wizard To recognize each student’s strengths • Students sought help from other students • Students stepped up and leading projects • Instructors entrusted greater responsibilities upon students Create your own context To remind students that they have the resources to establish a context before asking for help • Students would conduct their own research before asking for help to solve problems • Students asked more informed questions • Instructors had a greater understanding of the challenges the students were facing and supported them appropriately Take care of each other Fab Labs can be dangerous with so many students doing so many things • Students would pair up when using unfamiliar machines for the first time • Students would remind other students to wear protective gear and safety processes • Instructors had increased confidence that students would behave safely during off hours Look after yourself Fab Academy is fast paced and demanding course and it was important for students to actively maintain their wellbeing • Students organized their lab schedules based on individual styles and approaches • Students took breaks to enjoy life • Students and instructors hosted social events to give everyone an opportunity to step away from projects and assignments Win together With students of such diverse skills, it was important to reinforce the fact that everyone in the group needed each other to succeed in Fab Academy • Students made time to help other students catch-up on assignments • Students self-organized on collaborative projects that would meet their common goals • Students demonstrated great enthusiasm and support for each other’s work during regional and global reviews • Students acknowledged that they could not have completed Fab Academy without the support of the group If you don’t understand, say it To remove fear or shame in asking questions • Students identified gaps in their knowledge and were able to quickly close those gaps • Instructors could quickly direct students towards solutions and resources Failing to plan is planning to fail To remind students not to take on the stress of others who failed to prepare appropriately for assignments and projects • Students took responsibility of their own project planning and development • Instructors trusted the students to complete assignments and projects
  17. 17. Time Spent The Infinite Internet Previous Class Documentation Peers “The Wizards” Peer-learning removes the ownership of teaching from the students and distributes it amongst everyone. Establish a basic understanding on a topic in a vast sea of information. Check past Fab Academy documentation for solutions to common problems. Talk to peers to see what solutions they may have found to common problems. “The Wizards” are the experts who are most likely to know the solution of your problem, but whose time to help you is most limited. Nurturing Affinity | Peer Learning This model gave the group a common approach to finding solutions to problems by reaching out to each other for help, which created whole new opportunities for the students to engage in each other’s learning experience.
  18. 18. The Importance of Reciprocity Reciprocity is the open offering and acceptance of help and support without expectation for direct repayment. ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Through the spirit of reciprocity, students reported feeling increasingly invested in each other’s success, and self-organized collaborations evolved based on common goals.
  19. 19. Quotes on Reciprocity “I don’t think I could have passed with any one person not taking the course. I don’t know if it’s just extreme luck on all of our behalf, or it’s the culture behind it.“ “I helped as much as anyone else. We’re all 100% responsible for each other’s growth. We’re all intermingled in our helping of each other, it’s kind of like we’re not even individual people.” “I couldn’t have done what I achieved without everyone else in the class. Can’t imagine doing it without even one person in the group.” “Group culture is about reciprocity: you work alongside each other, and it comes back.”
  20. 20. Reciprocity| Mutual Appreciation By encouraging everyone to be “Wizards”, the group could recognize and appreciate each other for their unique strengths. ! Reciprocity is possible when everyone feels like they have something to contribute. At the beginning of the program, students reported feelings of guilt when asking for help because they believed they had nothing to offer in return. As every participant found opportunities to be a “Wizard”, feelings of guilt was replaced by openness and helpfulness. Technical Wizards • Programming • Electronics • Troubleshooting • Software • Engineering (The Maths) Social Wizards Design Wizards • Ideas • Concepts • Solutions • Form • Function • Aesthetics • Materials • Empathy • Motivation • Encouragement • Positive Attitude • Communication • Facilitation
  21. 21. Reciprocity| Group Projects Self-organized projects are the result of a healthy fab culture. They were reported to be more efficient and rewarding than controlled group projects because the students were intrinsically motivated in the success of the project, they could be more creative in their workflow and approach, which led to more innovative solutions. LevelofCollaboration Vinyl Cutting Machine Building Networking Babeduino Controlled Self-Organized
  22. 22. Reciprocity| Group Projects Vinyl Cutting Machine Building Networking Babeduino Objective To create a vinyl sticker mural as a group To build a machine as a group To connect nodes in a network To design and make a Fabduino Collaboration Not mandatory Mandatory Not mandatory Not mandatory Process • Sticker templates were provided to each student as AI files • Students learned how to use the vinyl cutter • Instructor placed the stickers and created mural in lab • Class worked together to determine feature set • Broke into groups to develop machine parts • Members from each team worked together on troubleshooting and completing assignment • Class worked together to define network protocol • Individuals developed their own node boards • Even though collaboration wasn’t mandatory, students needed each other to complete assignment • 4 students with common need self-organized into a group • Each student took on tasks throughout the electronics design, production and troubleshooting process based on individual strengths Strengths • Students learned about each other through self-expression • Students could choose to work on the parts of the machine that were most personally interesting • Strong collaboration - opportunity to work with / learn from peers with different skill sets • Strong motivation to collaborate • Students who were first to complete their nodes were motivated help and network with other students • Strong sense of ownership • Students • Less frustration and faster iterations than on previous electronics projects Limitations • No collaboration occurred because it was not a requirement for the assignment • Every student completed the assignment at a different time • Some students only did the minimum required to fulfill assignment criteria, leaving the work of assembly and troubleshooting to a smaller group of students • Protocol was too complex for most students to comprehend • Some students could not finish this project on their own • May not scale to larger group
  23. 23. ! Fab Labs can teach us more than how to use machines. The culture of the lab can influence how communities learn and explore the possibilities of digital fabrication together. Key Learning
  24. 24. My hope is that this framework will help labs around the world to engage people from all walks of life, education and professional backgrounds, abilities and disabilities, to learn to make (almost) anything.
  25. 25. Thank you! Questions? ! Keep in touch! @min_o