Exploring Student Innovation in the Library’s Makerspace

Makerspaces provide new opportunities for creative thinking

Makerspaces in libraries are on the rise, and we are finding multiple ways to bring out creative ideas and incorporate them into the classroom. A Makerspace is a place where students with shared interests in computing and technology can gather to work on projects. Makerspaces are a way to think outside of the box. Students can share ideas and equipment, like 3D printers, Virtual Reality headsets, circuits etc. Our students love our 3D printers in particular, whether they’re just finding a file online and printing it out or going through the process of designing their own model and watching it come to life.

At our library, we have geared a great amount of marketing and outreach toward faculty and students. After months of social media posts, presenting at orientations for incoming freshman and transfer students, and attending tabling events, we have students lining up with projects and campus organizations looking for even further collaborations.

Image of several 3D-printed objects, including small charms in Croc shoes, a person holding a basket of plastic mushrooms, a person holding a Star Wars helmet, and some cups
Several of the projects students and organizations have undertaken using the University of South Florida’s Makerspace

Importance of multiple collaborations across campus

My first interaction with a campus group happened because I wore a pair of 3D-printed mermaid earrings to a first-year orientation. Later, a discussion about customized, university-branded Jibbitz (charms worn on Croc shoes) turned into a tabling event, and got the attention of over 100 students. When they picked up their 3D-printed charms, they were offered the opportunity to take a workshop to design their own Jibbitz, which resulted in even more students coming into the library with a new interest in 3D printing.

More campus organizations started reaching out about collaboration projects, and the library’s Makerspace grew in popularity. Students started getting creative with classroom projects as well as the design process. A simple charm led to some incredibly creative ideas from students. Anything from a specifically designed honeycomb trellis for a dorm plant to a bedazzled Darth Vader helmet—the students’ ideas were taking off.

Teaching workshops on the 3D design process

We host drop-in workshops throughout the week to allow students to come in between classes to work on 3D design. Using a simple and free, beginner, web-based, CAD platform called TinkerCAD, we teach students how to design their own models. The work plane in TinkerCAD is easy to maneuver, and it provides basic shapes, design starters, characters, structures, and hardware. From there, students can restructure and resize the design as needed, group objects together, and combine these shapes to construct their idea. Once it is saved, we choose the filament color and load the files into the 3D printer. Students have stayed to watch it print; one art student even created a stop-motion video of a project for a class. Otherwise, we email them when it’s ready since some larger pieces do take quite a bit of time.

As students become more versed in design, we offer more intermediate workshops using Adobe Dimension, AutoCAD, and Fusion 360.

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Examples of project’s designed for the classroom

One student’s final project presentation was on the effect of mushrooms on the brain. She worked with us to design and print out 50 small mushrooms of all different colors to hand out to students in her class afterward. Another student worked on a TinkerCAD design for over two months in the library. She was an engineering student and had to design a chassis to hold an Arduino board. The board would eventually need to be programmed and have sensors placed correctly around it so that the student could control the device with a remote. The chassis had to be incredibly accurate. We 3D-printed the case and all the parts surrounding the sensors to resemble a penguin. It all fit together perfectly in the end, and the student was able to drive the penguin around the library using a remote control.

Faculty engagement that challenges students to learn through STEM

Outreach to faculty is another important factor of running a successful Makerspace. Faculty are able to set up appointments to come in and experience the benefits of the STEM products, and how they can be incorporated into the classroom. We have previously had an anatomy professor assign students to a group project to come into the library and 3D-print out a section of the heart and bring it back to the classroom for a presentation. A chemistry professor is currently scheduling workshops for his students to come in and design their own molecule to a specific scale. His goal is for them to learn the CAD program and be able to work with exact scale to modify their designs for accurate representation. Overall, faculty and students alike are embracing the library’s Makerspace in more and more ways contributing to student success and forward thinking strategies.

The benefits of Makerspaces are increasing each semester. Technology is always moving forward, and making sure students have accessibility to this equipment is just benefitting their education and their out-of-the-box creative thinking skills.

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