One of the cool things I get to do as a small-school superintendent is occasional duty as the bus driver for field trips. (Yep, it’s good duty.)
I recently drove the bus for our technology teacher, Darren Wilson, and his 20 students on a field trip to the Maker Lab of Abilene Christian University (ACU). Though a small university, ACU has made quite a splash nationally in recent years, having been one of the first to give each incoming student a mobile device. The university has continued to push the envelope with regard to leveraging the digital age to both attract the digital “natives” and to prepare them well for their service and occupational roles in the 21st century.
One dimension of that progressive thinking has been ACU’s construction of a Maker Lab. Their lab was placed, interestingly, on the bottom floor of their campus library. The lab is a compilation of tools and spaces designated for design work, of all kinds. Tools included in the lab include: video equipment, sound/audio stage with green screens, collaboration rooms with multi-screen projection capabilities, laser cutters, 3-D printers, textile fabrication machines, computers for 3-D imaging work, saws, fastening devices, etc., etc. If it is a device or tool that one can use to build “stuff,” they have it available in the lab.
One of the coolest things about ACU’s conception of the Maker Lab is that it is one of unlimited access. Any student or professor on the ACU campus is free to use the Maker Lab. The professors and staff of the Maker Lab view themselves as servants and facilitators for any student/professor that comes into the lab with an idea they want to pursue. If one can dream it up, the Maker Lab team is there to guide you toward the “construction” of that dream. They are, however, quick to point out that guiding is all they do. They show lab clients how to use the tools and provide just-in-time direction so that lab users can pursue their unique design interests (whether it be in fabric, film, sound, wood, paper, plastics, metals, or some combination of those media).
The ACU Maker Lab is a marvelous example of learning workspaces created to foster and facilitate high levels of student engagement. What student wouldn’t love to learn in that kind of environment?
Thanks, Mr. Wilson, for asking this old learner to drive the bus.