Makerspaces….reinventing the wheel with extra ‘spin’?

Makerspaces….reinventing the wheel with extra ‘spin’?

My social media feeds have been buzzing in recent months with the word ‘Makerspace’ – being seen by many as the great new educational discovery. Thousands of primary (junior school) staff and secondary (high school) Design & Technology teachers must be pretty frustrated.

Designing and making has been at the core of education since the so called ‘Three R’s’ were spoken of. Reading, Writing and Wroughting as in to ‘wrought a wonderful design’. Hansard recorded this in 1800 and something.

Design and Technology has been in the UK curriculum for many years. Yes, it moved from simply practical skills in wood, metal, plastic and ‘hands on engineering’ through ‘Craft Design and Technology’ (CDT) and onto ‘Design and Technology’ (DT) and, for many (myself included) simply ‘Design’ where the amalgam of Art, Manufacture, History, Science, Languages and Business come together. About 30 years ago for me when I studied my four year B.Ed Honours degree in Design & Technology for education. Yes, I am proud of it.

In the USA ‘Workshop or ‘Shop’ has existed for eons too. 

Basically, places where students can go and make stuff based on the backbone of designing and sketching (no CAD yet…), evaluating and testing and discovering has been a cornerstone of education for many years. In some countries being ‘academically able’ and ‘good with ones hands’ is seen as a fundamental dichotomy. What I’ve known since I was studying Design & Technology as a student in the mid 70’s at school is now seen as something new. Wake up call folks. It’s not. Far from it.

What has happened is that many so called academics are rapidly realising that an ability to simply rote learn and harbour knowledge is no longer the mainstay of education. The world needs folk who can do significantly more than that. A little knowledge applied well is better than loads of knowledge sitting inside a cranium waiting for the next quiz on TV or trivial pursuit amongst friends.

Makerspaces are doing what every primary teacher does with their kids. They play. They assemble. They create. They disassemble. They discover. They fail. They learn. Using Knex, Lego, pipe cleaners, lolly sticks, art straws and so on. 

Makerspaces do what we do in Design (and technology) but arguably at a lower level with regard to material science, process and technique. In Design, the aim is to create and manufacture products using (as far as possible) industrial process and technique with manual skills and incorporating current technologies where possible. Designing starts on paper, evolves through modelling and prototyping with ongoing evaluation before arriving at a more developed idea for testing. 3D printing, CAD and CNC certainly comes into it (I used my first CNC router in a school in 1990 and 3D printing has been around for almost a decade in schools now if finances allowed). 

Good schools have had workshops for many years (as they did sports fields…) but short sighted folk (academics?) made decisions that took them away. Now, because of the world need to supply folk who are creative, practical entrepreneurs we have the ‘Makerspace’ phenomenon. A place where a 3D printer on a trolley, some wipe clean ‘write-on’ desks and some plastic bins of Lego (and an iPad for coding work…) is seen as the saviour of modern day education.

It’s not. It’s a fad. 

Governments are simply waking up to the fact that a subject that was seen as ‘not academic’ by many is now being seen as the vital saviour to our world economy because kids learning facts for exam success alone is simply not enough.

We need decent manufacturing spaces with lathes, milling machines, hoists, welding and heat treatment and plastic forming kit, sewing machines and food preparation areas, benching with tooling, design studios with paper and pencils for designing and theory (materials, business, languages…), cad suites and CNC equipment (yes, 3D printing etc.) for small prototype work so that students can understand the whole concept of taking an idea from concept to completion. We need assembly and disassembly lessons (recycling and re-purposing). We need liaison with industry too – schools need to outsource and bring expertise in). 

In fact, what some good schools should (and many still do) still have – a Faculty of Creative and Entrepreneurial Studies that embraces Design, Technology and Art. Oh. That’s what I had at school. 30 years ago (3D printing aside….although we did have a plug mill and an injection moulding machine). 

Makerspaces = Design (& Technology) departments. Full circle?

PS. We also now have STEM/STEAM thrown into the mix as well – a blog topic for another time….

3D Printing on the go – a fad or genuine development of a wonderful technology?

I think this article that I found on is really interesting. 3D printing on the go – developed by a French designer and supported by crowd funding. Is this the future of manufacturing for independents and designers in this fast paced world that we live in?

3D Printing On The Go

The end of creativity in schools?

Design and Manufacture on the decline?

An excellent article  written by Rachael Williams of the Guardian on Tuesday 11th February 2014 shared here in it’s entirety highlighting the plight of design and craft education in schools

Many pupils are losing the benefits that come from studying craft and design, and Britain’s strength in the creative industries may be under threat.

Oskar Paulinski is talking Education Guardian through his design for a birdhouse, conceived in the style of a chocolate box-perfect country cottage. Holes in the roof, fashioned to look like skylights, will allow the birds to fly in and out, and doors at ground level allow access to the box’s owner. The pencilled plan shows pretty paned windows. “I’m still figuring out whether to paint them on or leave it as glass,” says the 16-year-old. We discuss whether nesting birds might prefer the darker interiors afforded by the painted option.

“I like practical stuff and designing stuff,” says Oskar, who is studying for a GCSE in resistant materials at Strood academy, in Medway. Does he know what he’d like to do for a job when he’s older? “I haven’t decided yet, but it has to be something practical.”

Simon Ofield-Kerr, vice-chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), might view Oskar’s window question as a perfect example of the importance of realising designs in real materials, for real use. Creations that exist solely on paper won’t teach their designers how to take account of the way wood, metal or textiles actually work, or push them to think about the needs of consumers – be they human or avian.

Yet schoolchildren of all ages are increasingly missing out on the opportunity to enjoy and learn from “making things”, Ofield-Kerr says. Sewing, ceramics, metalwork, woodwork and crafts are all on the wane as digital disciplines take hold and resources become scarcer. Not that there’s anything wrong with digital, he stresses, but translating it to the real world is essential.

“My sense, when I go into schools, is that it’s all become very flat,” he says. “It’s become a 2D world. Young people are becoming incredibly confident in their use of digital, and that’s wonderful. But they’re not getting the experience of how the material world around them is fabricated and developed.”

“And as policymakers focus on Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths), he says, “kids are just not getting the same experience of playing with clay, with materials, of doing embroidery, of getting their hands dirty”. He believes craft education is being better sustained in the private sector.

UCA is the sponsor of the four-year-old Strood academy – a non-grammar school in an area with selective education – and is working to ensure that making things is a key part of its offering. There are traditional workshops for wood, metal, plastics, clay and textiles, GCSEs in textiles and resistant materials, and an A-level in product design. Pupils spend time in the art and craft workshops at UCA’s nearby Rochester campus, and UCA students come into the school as mentors for days of project-based learning.

Strood’s principal, Kim Gunn, believes the sense of achievement her students get from seeing their finished work is second to none. “They experience success in areas where maybe they wouldn’t otherwise, and it provides them with an opportunity to move on to something they can succeed in post-17,” she says.

But the Crafts Council has observed a decline in craft education over the last four to five years, says its research and policy manager, Julia Bennett, especially in disciplines that require space, teaching expertise and pricey equipment or materials. This month will see publication of a Crafts Council study of achievement and participation in crafts over five years, from key stage 4 right up to postgraduate level. Bennett expects it to find more evidence of declining takeup.

Last year, leading figures within the arts world lined up to express dismay at the absence of arts subjects in the EBacc, and research suggested the effects had been swift. An Ipsos Mori study commissioned by the education department (DfE) found that a quarter of schools had withdrawn arts courses for the 2012-13 academic year because of the EBacc. Among those, design or design technology had been withdrawn at 14% of schools, and textiles at 11%. A study by the Cultural Learning Alliance released in September found that since the EBacc was introduced in 2010, the number of arts GCSEs studied by children had fallen by 14%, and suggested the narrowing of options away from the arts affected disadvantaged children more.

Lesley Butterworth, general secretary of the National Society for Education in Art and Design, says there is also a serious lack of funding for teacher development in craft education. Some 60% of those coming on her organisation’s courses pay for themselves, she says. The effect is that teachers can’t keep abreast of fast-developing contemporary practice, including the use of digital within craft – as exemplified by self-described “iPotter” Michael Eden, who uses techniques such as 3D printing in his acclaimed pieces.

“There’s a lot of really exciting work going on the moment,” Butterworth says. But she warns that if teachers aren’t able to make pupils aware of it, the field may seem less arresting than others. “If fine-art practices are seen as having digital context and craft doesn’t, then craft may quickly appear a bit fuddy-duddy.

“The replacement of the EBacc with a new performance framework that takes in pupils’ “best eight” subjects will not end the pressure on crafts, she says, given that the eight must include English, maths and three further Ebacc subjects. It’s not just the British craft industry that loses out, but young people themselves, she says: “There’s evidence that haptic skills help young people with other aspects of learning, with wider cognitive development and behavioural issues. It can help them find something they can focus on and be proud of”.

“Bennett has little truck with the idea that crafts are something children can learn just as well outside the school week. “The government may say that these skills are the kind of things you can develop in Saturday schools and things like that,” Bennett says, “but if you make ‘making’ skills an add-on, then it requires people to have the resources, the time and support to be able to do that. Then it becomes rooted in inequality”.

“The decline sits strangely with the growing popularity of crafts, both in the luxury goods market and at grassroots level, Bennett points out. “It’s a sector that makes a contribution to the economy and has the potential to be a much greater export business as well. There’s a dissonance between the way craft is perceived by the public and amongst adults, and the way we’re investing in supporting schools to keep that happening”.

“At Strood, Gunn echoes Bennett’s concerns about GCSE choices and equality of opportunity, especially given the price tag on materials. With so many courses competing for the three slots available within the “best eight” framework outside the compulsory subjects, numbers opting for each may be small. “Schools can’t run expensive courses with only six people on them,” Gunn says. “[Education secretary Michael] Gove’s new agenda will restrict choice … To push parents to pay for those sorts of things means our children from more deprived backgrounds won’t make as much progress as others, because they won’t be able to afford it. It’s about equality”.

“You could have some middle class parents who’ll say ‘yes, here’s £50’ and you’ll have parents who will say ‘I’m really sorry, I’ve got to pay this electricity bill this month’.”

But the answer isn’t as simple as just dropping the Ebacc or including design in it, or even more university sponsorship of academies, Ofield-Kerr says. “Rather … we need much greater recognition by government, and indeed all levels of education, of the importance of material research and making, both in terms of personal development and the maintenance of our longstanding national strength in areas of cultural production.”

Britain’s great strength in the creative industries is no accident, Ofield-Kerr adds: “It’s the product of a very strong history of British design and craft education. You lose that at your peril.

“Without it, there are countries that have absolutely recognised why the UK is so good at creative arts and they’re looking to replicate it themselves. The number of art and design colleges China has opened over the last 10 years has been phenomenal. When production has been so decimated in this country, to put design at risk is just fatal.”

What Are The Skills Required For A Teacher Of Product Design?

Product DesignI have just answered a question on a forum I use whereby a colleague has asked what, exactly, are the skills required for a teacher of Product Design?  As someone who has taught and worked with Schools & a few Universities over 27 years delivering Product Design (and has now moved on into a consultancy capacity) I felt I could offer some thoughts based on reasonable experience.

For me, the key skills (in no particular order) are:

  • The ability to sketch with a pencil/biro on paper for me is the most important. You don’t have to be a ‘brilliant sketcher (some are, some aren’t…) but a picture really does paint a thousand words. Convey your ideas freely and spontaneously in the first instance. You can then sieve through all the ‘reality’ checks regarding manufacture, costs, health and safety etc. as you develop your concepts and ideas.
  • Modelling/prototyping and manufacture is vital.  Forget any CAM at this stage but having basic key making skills across a range of resistant (woods, metals, plastics) and compliant (paper, card, clay) materials is a requirement of the job, not incidental.
  • Don’t have a fear about the latest CAD/CAM software or latest technology. Be aware of it, have a grasp of what it can do for you then look to use part of your team to apply the bits you need. Don’t expect to be a knowledgeable user on everything.  Know what you want and drag the resources (human and other…) towards your goal. You will have skills in one or two areas but invariably as a product designer you will be, re-wording a well-known phrase slightly, ‘Jack of all trades, master of one or two possibly…
  • Take risks. Challenge the status Quo BUT be prepared to support and justify your decisions – back them up with substance.  Always ask ‘Why not?’ rather than simply ‘Why?’
  • Stay on top of communication throughout a project be it Twitter, email or phone calls. Above all else, don’t forget that ‘facemail’ i.e. talking to someone over a beer, coffee etc. is the most important part of a project and establishing a rapport with your pupils/students/clients/customers/colleagues is vital. In today’s society it is being rapidly forgotten but people skills are crucial to success.  Don’t lose them.
  • Don’t be afraid to say to a student/colleague/client simply ‘I don’t know’. On teacher training I have seen so many good practitioners trip and stumble by trying to pretend that they know an answer because they feel that they will lose face. Don’t. Be honest. You will get more respect that way. Admit you are unsure and then say ‘…however, let’s go and see what we can find out about this to try and get an accurate answer…’ Everyone learns then.
  • When using the World Wide Web to research things don’t just search in your own language. Use words from other cultures. I am still amazed when I see youngsters (and adults) gathering research by, for example, just typing in English words. Use French, Spanish (Mandarin or Japanese if you want to show off…). Chair/Chaise/silla, car/voiture/coche and so on. Not everyone writes their websites in English (or French or Spanish…). You open up a whole extra slice of the internet regarding idea generation by doing this.
  • Listen to your students/clients. Show an appreciation for what they are saying to you. Tease out the important bits of information. Never wade in directly and say to someone (especially a youngster) that their idea is stupid, silly or fantasy. You don’t have that right. Guide them, educate them, inspire them but never stamp on their ideas.
  • Above all else, enjoy what you do. As a teacher of design, irrespective of discipline, every day brings a new challenge and that is a wonderful way to work.