FabLab and Its Learning Dynamic (Part 3/5) – Teacher’s role

Teacher as facilitator in FabLab. A teacher in a FabLab has different roles and actions compared to a conventional classroom. The active classroom amplifies a lot of the social interactions in class which teachers need to pay attention to in order to provide appropriate support for students according to their needs. Freedom that allows autonomy does need congruent facilitation and provision. Following are some observations on the fundamental interactions between students and teachers in the FabLab:

Trust and Empowerment. As we look more deeply into the three aspects of the Learning Atmosphere (Blikstein, 2002), which are Multiple Expressive Media, Generative Spaces and Relationship Building, we see that the relationship aspect plays a crucial role of how the learning environment operates since it resonates with the culture of the learning space which can be both a hindering or empowering learning catalyst. Blikstein (2008) has pointed out that the issue of controlling the equipment in the Learning Atmosphere is one of the micro levels of interaction which impacts on how the students perceive their roles and power to control their learning. The students mentioned “Trust” in the interviews, saying that “they felt trusted” by the facilitator since he provided his expensive personal notebook for them to “freely use”.

Interaction between a teacher and students is both a complex endeavor and an art. As Blikstein states, “An apparently expensive computer lying on the floor, available for all to use, turned out to be a meaningful demonstration of trust and, thus, a source of empowerment.”, and we can see that something unsaid speaks louder in the students’ minds. “Trust” evolved into a feeling of “Empowerment” and that arose from a micro level decision to allow students to control the equipment. Interestingly, students interpreted the “control” over the equipment into their own “self-trust” and “empowered” them to put their best effort into their projects. However, as stated above, there is an art to deciding in each interaction whether to give full authority over the tools or which level of supervision will be appropriate to ensure safety or which activities would be too frustrating for students to do by themselves.

At the the BI Lab, Ms.Chau gave small-group training for soldering while the other teacher, Ms.Pang, guided the students individually on how to use the 3D printer. The teachers guided the students simply by speaking instructions and the students were operating the tasks all by themselves. The teachers’ “hands off” is a challenging task since it is much easier to do things for students instead of watching them slowly make mistakes. It takes patience and persistence on the teachers’ part to give students space and time to go through the practice by themselves, all the while keeping and eye on their safety while they are using the equipment. Teachers learn this through their experiences in working with students as well as their own experiences as “makers.”

End of Part 3 (of 5)