Help Tim Owens Build An Awesome Makerspace

Tim Owens is an instructional technology specialist in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington. We caught wind of his project to develop a great makerspace at UMW and asked him to share his updates on our blog.

It’s hard to believe less than a year ago I had never played with a 3D printer, much less built one on my own. George Meadows, a professor in the Education department at the University of Mary Washington came to me in late 2011 asking if I had any interest in experimenting with them as he had managed to get his dean to purchase one for their department. I assembled a group to help put the Thing-O-Matic together and it truly was love at first print (*groan* I’ll be here all night!). Fast forward 6 months and we now have two TOMs, a Replicator, and recently built a Printrbot Plus. We also find ourselves playing with Arduino more, a Raspberry Pi just showed up in the office, and I’ve backed the Makey Makey board Kickstarter and look forward to playing with that. The next logical step to all this is that we want to build a Makerspace for students to start playing with all these things and dreaming up “the adjacent possible”. We’re lucky to have an amazing Library director, Rosemary Arneson, who is equally passionate about this goal and has a space already available to begin the work.

Clearly there is a lot of cleaning and moving to be done as a first step, but we met yesterday to start brainstorming ideas for the space, questions we might need answered, and any concerns other departments might have. As a liberal arts college with no engineering program this is all very new and exciting territory. When Makerbot asked me to begin writing a series of posts on the progress of our Makerspace I jumped at the chance and I look forward to the feedback and advice this great community of makers can provide for us. Recently I began working on a name and logo for the space to help define it (realistically I would have liked students to do this, but we want this space up and running by the fall when our students return).

A clear goal for us is identifying the community of hackers, makers, and tinkerers at UMW that likely already exists. George and I will be teaching a freshman seminar course in this space this coming fall called Makerbots and Mashups that should help inspire the idea in students. Some have recommended we reach out to the computer science folks who also do Arduino work with students, as well as possibly hosting a Hackathon. It’s quite possible all of that might culminate in a the creation of a student club that could meet in this space and work there. We also want to partner with a local group that is working to start a Children’s Museum in the area as well as the local libraries to hold community events in this space.

Creating a space like this in a public university library is both exciting as well as a bit unnerving for folks though, and issues of access and cost are challenges that we’ll have to overcome. How can simultaneously foster an environment where everyone feels welcome to come and play, while maintaining a level of security and safety for the students and faculty who are involved? What pieces of this puzzle have we likely forgotten? Are there pieces of equipment that are a “must have” for spaces like this? If you were dreaming up a space that intersected the ethos of DIY learning with a liberal arts education, what would it look like?