23 Feb Midwest Colleges gain federal grant to integrate FAB LABS into teaching programs
A consortium of three Midwest colleges will develop educational programs in conjunction with their digital fabrication laboratories (FAB LAB) thanks to a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation. The FAB LAB supports the creation of innovative solutions to common scientific and technical issues through the use of industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools, wrapped in open source software and programs. The lab provides a concept-to-production rapid prototyping platform, and as such is a way to encourage students to take ideas from the drawing board to the development of prototypes. The FAB LAB concept was created by MIT and links users in America with FAB LAB inventors and students world-wide via web video access to Norway, South Africa, India, Barcelona and other locations.
The $670,000 grant is aimed at integrating digital fabrication technology into science/technical education programs. The federal grant allows FAB LAB professionals at Fox Valley Technical College, Appleton; the University of Wisconsin—Stout; and Century Community and Technical College, White Bear Lake, Minnesota to expand existing FAB LABs and enhance programming. A major goal of the project is to research and enhance STEM abilities (science, technology, engineering, math) in undergraduate and high school students throughout the districts served by the colleges.
“Every one of our institutions exists in a global market,” said Dr. Susan May, president of Fox Valley Technical College. “This grant will allow us to find more creative ways to ignite technical curiosity in students by directly linking math and science classes to hands-on outcomes in product fabrication.”
The teams will use the grant money to expand FAB LAB capabilities and create programming that encourages students to explore careers in technical fields and increase competency in technical skills. The teams will create a methodology to study student’s experience in the FAB LABS and document applied learning, attitudes and outcomes. Research from this trial period will be applied to future curriculum and integrate FAB LABS into classroom experiences. “We want to find those `STEM moments of truth’ where students disengage from math and science experience and find out how our FAB LABs can help rekindle interest,” said Jim Janisse FVTC FAB LAB Development Manager.
“According to our initial research, digital fabrication laboratories are effective in engaging students because they can see product ideas come to life when they create product prototypes,” said Scott Simonsen, Century College.
“Many students have negative experiences through their learning years,” Janisse said. “It could be an individual teacher or the way a course is taught, so we want to find out what those triggers are and provide students and educators with options in applied technology through the FAB LAB experience.”
“Our activity tracking with entrepreneurs and inventors to date is giving us a glimpse of the long-term impact we’re having on economic development and the potential impact for future students,” said Jerry Eyler, Dean of Manufacturing at FVTC.