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The Invention Studio at Georgia Institute of Technology

My second site observation happened over the hot summer of 2017. I flew into Atlanta mid-July, got myself an Airbnb, and paid a visit to the Invention Studio at Georgia Tech (https://inventionstudio.gatech.edu). The Invention Studio was a 4,500-square-foot facility housed in the Manufacturing Related Disciplines Complex near the border of the campus, administered by the George W. Woodruff School of Engineering. The makerspace was founded in 2009, and has evolved over the years based on student and faculty use of the space. According to its history, the studio has always been supported by student volunteers. The Invention Studio took pride in being a fully student-run makerspace, a model followed by emerging makerspaces around the country and the world.

The Invention Studio was a useful site for my study because of its prestige and popularity in the academic makerspace community. Although I did not know of anyone from the Invention Studio prior to my visit, I was introduced to the makerspace’s faculty sponsor by Guengerich from the Anderson Labs. As part of negotiating the IRB parameters for this study, there were many exchanges between me, the Invention Studio faculty sponsor, and one of their research faculty. After I was approved for the visit, I was referred to a student guide who was also a board member of the Invention Studio’s official student organization.

The Invention Studio Setup

The Invention Studio was undergoing an upgrade at the time of my observation. The makerspace was under an expansion to occupy more space on the level of the building where it resided. Old offices were being removed to make room for the makerspace. During my visit, the makerspace was made up of four rooms—wood room, metal room, 3D printers and electronics room, and waterjet and laser room. By the end of the remodeling, the Invention Studio would combine some of these rooms to streamline the making process.

Because the entire facility was on the same floor, there was a distinctive “home” feel to the makerspace. At any given point of my visit, I could see 20-30 students roaming around the level and congregating in small groups around any open spaces they could find on the level. They seemed to have really made the makerspace their home; they left their belongings (backpacks, computers, food) around and would enter or leave the facility without needing any access cards or codes. In the hallways, I could hear radio music mixed with noises made by hand tools and printers.

Workflow and Processes at Invention Studio

I was informed by my student guide that the Invention Studio was open to anyone at Georgia Tech. During the regular hours, anyone with a university ID could access the rooms at the studio without obtaining prior permission. There were monitors set up as check-in stations in each of the rooms alongside with a card reader. Anyone entering each room should first swipe their ID at the station, and do so again when they are done with the room for the day. This process was meant for documenting traffic, rather than controlling access, the student guide told me.

In every room there was at least one Prototype Instructor and a Prototype Master. I have learned that Prototype Instructors were students who had undergone a specific certification program to be qualified as tutors to makers in the Invention Studio. Prototype Instructors were identified with a yellow armband while they worked in the makerspace. Prototype Masters were those who have been certified as a Prototype Instructor, and took additional training to become proficient in a specific power tool. They were identified with a red armband. There must always be a Prototype Master in the room for any makers to use a power tool.

During my visit, I did not see any faculty or staff members around the Invention Studio. All of the students and volunteers in the makerspace appeared to be very conscious about safety measures when using tools. When I was entering the wood room for the first time, I was immediately stopped by a nearby student (who was working on his project) and asked to put on a pair of safety glasses before proceeding. I then noticed that everyone in the room was already wearing their safety glasses, even if they were just working on their computer there. The makers also seemed diligent when using power tools. Some tools were marked as “training required” and that makers must ask for supervision from a Prototype Instructor.

It was revealed to me that since Prototype Instructors were not paid for their time or service, they would receive after-hours privilege access to the Invention Studio. Prototype Instructors and Prototype Masters could use the facility 24 hours a day as long as they were never alone in the makerspace.

 
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