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Maker Experience at Invention Studio

To gather authentic maker experiences, I again performed interviews with the students who were there during my site visit. According to a student manager of the Invention Studio, the goal of the makerspace was to support student projects, whether they were class-related or personal. From a Prototype Instructor, Brian, I learned that volunteers strive to make the Invention Studio as welcoming a workspace as possible. They believe that no one would claim expertise in any project so everyone upholds an open mind and helps one another whenever necessary. Indeed, students were seen working in pairs or teams; in the two days I observed the studio, I rarely saw anyone sitting by themselves unless they were using a power tool. Brian added,

Students tend to help one another with machines and ways of constructing something. . . especially those who are more experienced in the studio helping new users., like, “Oh hey, there is a better way to do that.”

As a seasoned Prototype Instructor, Brain noted that students found the Invention Studio to be a home for their project even if they don’t have a specific design in mind. The makerspace also functioned as a communal space for students:

It is just a really nice community of people even if you’re not working on a specific project. We are really trying to promote a maker culture to get students to work on hands-on projects. There are not a lot of classes at school that will give you the tools and resources to do that.

Teresa, a student user and board member of the Invention Studio, mentioned how important of a role the makerspace played for her decision to attend the university. She recalled visiting the Invention Studio during student recruitment events and the makerspace was the biggest reason she chose to attend Georgia Tech. She got involved with the makerspace early and signed up to become a Prototype Instructor even just in her first year.

Teresa also emphasized that peer mentorship was a core characteristic of the makerspace. She recalled how she learned from other users of the Invention Studio who were not Prototype Instructors:

A lot of the time the users are helping other users because they have a lot of experience with the machines and that other Pis were busy at the time. They help one another when they see that somebody looks like they have a question or they’re unsure of how to use a certain machine. So there is a lot of collaboration going on even if the users are working on individual projects.

To promote innovation, the Invention Studio provided funding for Prototype Instructors to create innovative projects. According to Brian, there was an incentive program called The Maker Grant for Pis. Brian noted that the grant would encourage Prototype Instructors to enrich themselves through fiin projects that included learning a new skill or two.

Lastly, a few of the makers chimed in when I was speaking with Brian and Teresa. From these students I learned that being a fully student-run makerspace, the Invention Studio gave its student board members autonomy in deciding the vision and identity of the makerspace. The students also mentioned they were able to decide, through consensus, the equipment or materials to purchase for the makerspace. The faculty sponsor served an advisory role to the makerspace student board.

Based on my visit, I realized the importance of ownership by makers in the makerspace. I noticed that students at the Invention Studio really turned the space into their own while still maintaining professionalism to ensure safety. Through my interviews and conversations with makers, I sensed a strong agency in the students; they declared a great deal of control of the makerspace and turned it into a community beyond academic purposes. On the practical side of things, I also noted the importance of flow in the makerspace setup. Compared to the Anderson Labs experience, the Invention Studio provided a much seamless experience as all the rooms were located in the same building and on the same floor. There was a sense of unity and easy access to tools and materials. Students used every corner of the floor to their own advantage, including a mini meal area where a public microwave sat. During my visit, I also saw some makers working in a team on an electric circuit project for a competition (they told me about it). They spread their tools and stuff across a bench in the common hub area and did not seem intimidated by passers-by. This was a very encouraging scene to me as a maker-enthusiast seeing those students taking advantage of a space afforded that kind of authentic making.

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