Interdisciplinary arts and engineering team wins NSF grant to tour 'makerspace'

10/14/16

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An interdisciplinary team of Penn State researchers, led by primary investigator Aaron Knochel, assistant professor of art education, has received a two-year, $299,780 National Science Foundation grant to design and build a mobile makerspace to explore informal learning in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) subjects.

The EAGER: MAKER grant, “Deployable Makerspace Classrooms: Mobility, Additive Manufacturing, and Curricular Spectacle,” will allow Knochel and co-PIs Tom Lauerman, assistant professor of art, and Nicholas Meisel, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering, to develop and tour a makerspace with an emphasis on additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Makerspaces are informal, interdisciplinary spaces for sharing tools (both technological and traditional), processes, and enthusiasm for making.

According to Knochel, research has shown that mobile makerspaces excite local communities about innovative technologies such as additive manufacturing, but no studies have addressed whether those makerspaces sustain users’ initial “spectacle-driven fascination” into learning and engagement with STEAM disciplines. His team will work to fill that gap by studying the effects of broadening participation in additive manufacturing through mobile makerspaces that will tour to Penn State campuses and community events, such as the Pittsburgh Maker Faire and State College Maker Week.

“The primary goal of this EAGER: MAKER project is to take advantage of the potential for highly visible expressions of curriculum, what we call ‘curricular spectacles,’ and mobility to gain access to a diverse range of learners in a diverse range of locations,” explained Knochel. “Mobile making can engage the rural to the urban, the engineer to the artist, the hobbyist to the professional.”

Knochel and his colleagues theorize that when individuals interact with a mobile makerspace, they not only gain a greater knowledge of additive manufacturing, but also want to continue to “make” because of the hands-on experiences that build understanding.

According to Graeme Sullivan, director of the Penn State School of Visual Arts, the significance of an NSF grant for a collaborative project involving faculty from the School of Visual Arts and College of Engineering cannot be overstated. “It affirms an educational investment in studio-based research practices of thinking and doing that make use of the best attributes of human curiosity, problem-seeking, and problem-solving,” said Sullivan.

 

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