Preparing Students to Solve Problems and Invent the Future with Resources for Making at EXLAB
By Lee Webster, Assistant Director of Learning Environments, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)
As Steve Wozniak developed the Apple I computer, his enthusiasm for building a new kind of personal computer grew through participation in the Homebrew Computer Club. The Silicon Valley community of engineers, tinkerers and creators exchanged ideas about emerging computer technologies.
Today, a movement across the country is bringing together in a similar way people who desire to create. “Makerspaces” provide access to a range of tools and technologies, while acting as gathering spaces for community members interested in creation and problem-solving.
These makerspaces are becoming centers of innovation and development. So the movement is a natural fit for forward-thinking higher education institutions because makerspaces provide excellent opportunities for student learning and knowledge growth.
At Georgia State University, we’ve recently adapted the makerspace concept in our new EXLAB. EXLAB provides students access to emerging technologies, tools for fabrication and resources to engage in problem-solving in ways intended to prepare them for future career success.
We chose the name EXLAB because we developed the space to allow students to explore, experiment and engage in new experiences. EXLAB provides students from all majors with access to tools such as virtual reality headsets, augmented reality software, 3D printers, laser cutters, micro-computers, sensors and more.
The greatest asset at EXLAB, however, can be found among the students who use the space. EXLAB offers peer-learning opportunities that help students extend what they learn in class to apply knowledge and solve real problems outside the classroom.
Students can come in with a project idea and find not only the tools to pursue their idea, but work with peers who have a variety of expertise to experiment with new ways of accomplishing tasks. EXLAB hosts weekly student-lead workshops to help students learn the basics of available technologies and to provide opportunities for discussion and troubleshooting.
EXLAB falls within an ecosystem of resources to support entrepreneurship and innovation at Georgia State. It complements spaces built to encourage business startups and support media entrepreneurship by providing students resources to prototype new designs and create portfolios filled with work to show potential employers.
At EXLAB, students can access tools of the next digital revolution, from 3D printers to model a new idea to sensors to engage with the “Internet of Things,” to software for developing immersive entertainment experiences.
But just as important, the space is intended to give students the confidence of self-motivated learning that comes from engaging in creative problem-solving. EXLAB nurtures a culture of life-long learning and helps students emerge from the university ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.
Lee Webster is the Assistant Director for Learning Environments at Georgia State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), and oversees the EXLAB makerspace.