Virtual Makerspace Fabrication through Collaborative Pedagogy in a Two-Year College (2/2)

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As discussed in the article “Makerspaces and Writing Ecosystems in a Two Year College (1/2),” the maker movement and writing pedagogy have the potential to effectively encourage students to develop their ecological sense of literate infrastructures. By extending the previous discussion, this second post explores an experiment of collaborative pedagogy straddling composition studies, history studies, and makerspace pedagogy in a two-year college context. This post aims to demonstrate how multiliterate approaches and an environmental/social justice paradigm can help educators to build a resourceful ecology in which students foster their professional identity. Also, this post shares how this interdepartmental collaborative pedagogy at Houston Community College (HCC) worked as an adaptive system in which students, educators, and staff members in a two-year college effectively reacted to an unprecedented disaster, that is, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 1. Ecosystems across the curriculum

Through Collaborative Pedagogy: General Education in Humanities & IDEAStudio

Integrative learning approaches and makerspace activities help teachers to centralize students’ differences and promote their maker-writer-activist identity. In spring 2020, through collaborative pedagogy, Soyeon and Lauran developed and piloted environmental justice projects (see figure 1) in the second sequence of composition courses (Composition II) and history courses (United States History II) at Houston Community College respectively with the following features. The outlines of this collaboration can be found here.

Integrating a Design-Thinking Model and Virtual Fabrication Workshops in Writing Classrooms 

  • 3 credit hour, 80 minute face-to-face course, twice a week (Instructor: Soyeon Lee)
  • After COVID-19, fully online courses (one session synchronous, the other session asynchronous)
  • Cisco Webex Video Conference, LMS: Canvas
  • Composition II, themed Environmental Advocacy Writing, 2 sections
  • 25 students enrolled for each section
  • Three major assignments
    • Ecological landscape analysis
    • Research Process Report
    • Environmental Advocacy Writing and Online Fabrication Design Workshops
      • Advocacy Videos (Adobe Spark Video)
      • Advocacy Promotional Products (3D Design: Tinkercad, 2D Design: Inkscape)
  • Collaboration with Makerspace IDEAStudio and Digital Portfolio/Video Workshop
  • Virtual Digital Exhibition: Portfolios, Advocacy Videos, Advocacy Products through Padlet

As a writing teacher, Soyeon designed scaffolded assignments to help students to be prepared for creating an effective advocacy product, in which students assemble resources and deliver their advocacy for environmental agendas through a design thinking. The COVID-19 outbreak, an unprecedented disaster in spring, gave us an opportunity to develop virtual sessions. Students were inspired to contribute to the community by delivering their advocacy slogans and designing videos and/or advocacy products in the aftermath of the Coronavirus outbreak, on-campus Makerspace IDEAStudio made protective gears and shields for healthcare professionals in Houston. Soyeon shared with my students a local news article that broadcast this activity. It was assumed that this real-world example made positive impacts on students who observed this ongoing event created by makerspace members and planned to attend online makerspace activities.

In this course, students were encouraged to use all kinds of sensorial and semiotic (non)symbols in their writings. For example, in the first assignment, students were encouraged to include their fieldwork-based observation of environmental infrastructures around them. Often, students observed their everyday places, such as libraries, cafeterias, student commons, workplaces such as fast food restaurants, warehouses, nail shops, coffeehouses, and dinner tables with their roommates and family members, and created new definitions based on their visual, aural, and tactile observations.

2D and 3D design & fabrication workshops are aligned with these multiliteracy-based approaches to writing in ENGL 1302. Given that students’ technical environments are different and many of my students were working on the front lines as essential workers, Soyeon switched this 2D & 3D design project as an optional assignment and as expected the actual submission rate was low. Although on-site fabrication processes were not enacted during the semester due to COVID-19, and actual design processes were not done within the semester, students were engaged in hands-on workshops and learned skill-sets for makerspace fabrication. For instance, students who worked on research studies on air quality problems and the Coronavirus outbreak to advocate vulnerable groups of people such as children and underinsured residents in Houston tinkered with possible 3D printable face mask designs.

Making Artifacts in Introductory History Classes

  • 3 credit hour, 80 minute face-to-face course, twice a week (Instructor: Lauran Kerr-Heraly)
  • After COVID-19, fully online courses (one session synchronous, the other session asynchronous)
  • New Row Smart Room, LMS: Canvas
  • American History II, Emphasis: Environmental Justice, 2 sections
  • 24 students enrolled for each section
  • Three major assignments
    • Environmental history monograph reviews
    • Research Paper (topics related to environmental justice and/or the environment)
    • Artifact creation
      • Design plan – how to create an artifact that represents and explains research conducted for the paper
      • Creative Products (3D Design: Tinkercad, 2D Design: Inkscape, Digital Story Videos: Adobe Spark)
  • Collaboration with Makerspace IDEAStudio 
  • Virtual Digital Exhibition: Written Reflections and Creative Products through Padlet

As a history instructor, Lauran incorporated creative projects that allow students to explore and express their original research in new ways. In recent semesters, students have demonstrated increasing interest in environmental history and social activism. So, when Soyeon approached her about collaborating on a themed course that would focus on environmental justice and utilize makerspace technologies, it was a perfect match.

Students chose topics for research essays that engaged with the theme of the course. Some took biographical approaches to figures such as Rachel Carson and Robert Bullard, others looked at the history of sacrifice zones and toxic waste dumps, and others viewed historical events through an environmental lens, such as the environmental impact of the Dust Bowl, development of the atomic bomb, and American involvement in Vietnam. After scholarly research, students wrote formal research papers using the Chicago style.

As an extension of their research, Lauran tasked students with making an artifact. She encouraged them to think about items of material culture they might see in a museum and how those items provide a window into history. For instance, one student made a 3-D rendering of a paintbrush and palette to represent the work of Radium Girls in the 1920s. Another created a 3-D model train to symbolize the environmental impact of expansion in the 20th century. Students also explored historical protest and advocacy posters to inspire creative expressions of their research. One student made a 2-D rendering of President Truman with an exploding atomic bomb reflected in his sunglasses. Another took the idea of protest buttons from the 1970s to create buttons advocating environmental change in the 1940s.

Switching from a physical product to a digital product presented some challenges, but students were quite flexible and actually quite innovative. The IdeaStudio staff was very generous with their time in leading and creating live and recorded tutorials for students to learn how to use Inkscape and Tinkercad. Lauran also made an intentional effort to connect this project to soft skills that would help the students in future careers in order to further engage them in the project. You can read more about the course and see the virtual gallery of finished projects.

Virtual Makerspace Workshop in 3D Design & Fabrication 

Bianca Bermudez’s background in Mechanical Engineering has afforded her the possibility of working with the fabrication equipment in the HCC IDEAStudio to support the work of faculty. As the Makerspace Technician, Bianca’s expertise in equipment management, everything from building and maintaining to repairing, combined with her knowledge of computer hardware and software, has allowed her to support the faculty’s initiative by providing customized learning experiences and technical counseling that show the possibilities of these technologies at HCC and in students’ lives. Bianca created a virtual maker experience for the students of Soyeon and Lauran, where students learned how to use a program referred to as Tinkercad. Tinkercad is an entry level 3D modeling program designed for individuals who want to 3D model without the over complication from engineering level software.  She took students and faculty on a journey, started from the concept of a makerspace, overviewed the use of a 3D printer, guided them on how to create their own objects within Tinkercad and discussed the implication of being able to create their product.

Technology will never cease to advance. The world has entered the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR), Internet of Things (IoT), and Personal Fabrication Technology. Examples of Personal Fabrication Technology are 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, CNC machines and much more. The Maker Movement has brought awareness of personal fabrication technologies to public institutions like Houston Community College. HCC has incorporated makerspaces into the student environment with the opening of the IDEAStudio, a makerspace at the West Houston Institute. Soyeon and Lauran have integrated their classes with makerspaces, providing students with unique learning experiences that show them technological capabilities that they have at their disposal.  These experiences trigger different mindsets within the students themselves.

During this global crisis (COVID-19) many witnessed the rise of personal fabrication technology to meet the need in producing personal protective gear and medical equipment that manufacturing companies were not able to quickly yield. Personal fabrication technology such as the 3D printers have been around since the 1980s throughout this time there has been a shift in how this technology is benefiting a few individuals to now a whole society. Ultimately personal fabrication technologies are tools and it is up to the user what can be produced. Introducing students to these technologies aid in the creation of new conversations, ideas, solutions, and products. With the pandemic, educators need to integrate technology into the learning experiences, or risk disconnecting from the new reality that makes traditional education obsolete and a threat to future livelihoods.

Full Tutorial (Instructor: Bianca Bermudez)

Tools and Resources:

Figure 2. A snapshot of the 3D Design & Fabrication workshop

Figure 3. A snapshot of the 3D Design & Fabrication workshop

Virtual Makerspace Workshop in 2D Design & Fabrication 

As program director for the West Houston Institute’s IDEAStudio, Jordan works with students and faculty across all instructional program areas at the college. Through programs for individuals, teams, and full classes, IDEAStudio engages participants as members who are actively developing their creative capacity as “makers” with a belief that this will provide them with greater personal agency in an increasingly complex global and digital society.

When Jordan was approached by Soyeon in Fall 2019 with a proposal to have her composition classes participate in the makerspace as part of their critical reflection on evolving literacies, this was seen as a unique opportunity. IDEAStudio has been incorporated into many academic courses, mostly for the fabrication of physical artifacts, such as models or prototypes. Using IDEAStudio as an artifact itself, however, fulfilled an original intention for the space. In this expanded view, the makerspace could also be a provocation where participants would deeply consider the personal meaning of makerspaces as environments where people of diverse backgrounds intersect around shared access to open networks and powerful digital tools. As Soyeon has observed in her own activities, this kind of multimodal experience, in her case, where reflective writing is combined with tangible making, can serve as a formative experience for developing student identities.

The rich outcomes from this project, documented in Soyeon’s previous post, prompted plans to further explore this approach in Spring 2020, in collaboration with History professor Lauran Kerr-Heraly. And then, just before activities in the makerspace were set to begin, the college was closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic prompting the need to change tactics, but not objectives. Despite the focus on tools, such as 3D printers, Jordan believes that makerspaces are just as much about mindsets and approaches to problem-solving. The need to move to a virtual learning environment provided an opportunity to demonstrate this first-hand. Jordan and IDEAStudio Technician Bianca Bermudez developed original training for students that focused on the earlier stages of the digital fabrication process – in taking ideas and shaping them into designs that effectively communicate an intended meaning. Design is a foundational skill that is often not given the attention that it should when trying to get students through a maker experience in the time provided for student projects.

Jordan focused on developing an introduction to vector design using Inkscape. As part of the learning experience, students were also introduced to the concepts of open source software (using Inkscape) and Creative Commons licensed content (through use of icons from The Noun Project). Both of these are integral parts of the maker community but are often not fully explored in hardware training. This opportunity to develop a curriculum that addressed these topics provided students with perhaps a sense of greater efficacy for participating in a makerspace environment in the future. This can be evidenced in several students’ comments in their posts on Padlet about their anticipation at returning to the makerspace once restrictions are lifted.

Figure 4. Inkscape Homepage

Figure 5. A snapshot of the 2D Design & Fabrication workshop

Figure 6. A laser-cut vector logo product

Full Tutorial (Instructor: Jordan Carswell)

Tools and Resources:

Makers, Writers, and Student Activists

This adaptive ecology grounded in collaborative pedagogy showcases how 2D and 3D design and fabrication technologies can be meaningfully integrated in general education in the community college context. Soyeon’s and Lauran’s students in core curricular courses have had experiences in designing things and artifacts that are related to their research projects. Bianca’s and Jordan’s virtual makerspace workshops provided creative and affordable infrastructures and accessible sites for students who navigated researching and writing for environmentally threatened groups of people with rhetorical and historical knowledge. After the COVID-19 pandemic affected educational landscapes, our collaborative experiments across the curriculum have proven to have the potential to provide an adaptive and adaptable system for students, educators, and staff members.

About Author(s)

Soyeon Lee teaches writing courses at Houston Community College and works as a PhD candidate in Rhetoric, Composition, and Pedagogy in the English department at the University of Houston.

Lauran Kerr-Heraly is a professor of history at Houston Community College. She earned her Ph.D. in History and Gender Studies at the University of Houston. Her research focuses on black women physicians in 20th century America. She is passionate about active learning, digital innovation, and collaborative instruction.

Maker with a degree in mechanical engineering aspiring others to create their own reality.

I am currently the Program Director for IDEAS Studio & Academy, part of the West Houston Institute at Houston Community College.

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