Imagine walking into a high school classroom and, instead of rows of desks and chairs facing a whiteboard, you see workbenches. Stationed around the room is an array of machines: a 3-D printer, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter and a milling machine. Metal drawers and storage shelves are stocked with wood, resins, burlap, glue, machinable wax, acrylic and dozens of other supplies.
You have entered a fab lab.
What’s that? Short for “fabrication laboratory,” the concept—born at MIT in 2001—was to create an environment full of multipurpose tools where one could build nearly anything. The idea caught on, and now there are close to 600 fab labs worldwide, according to fablabs.io, a website that supports and organizes the fab lab movement. The underlying goal is to provide broad access to modern means of invention.
Inherent in the opportunity to create in these spaces is the opportunity to learn, and to learn about learning. After arriving at Stanford in 2009, assistant professor Paulo Blikstein, once a student in the original MIT fab lab, became the first to translate the concept into an education research context when he opened the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab at the Graduate School of Education. Appearing in some ways like a typical fab lab, TLTL exists to design and research new technologies for education and to study the hands-on learning process.
Several years in, the lab buzzes with a rotating cast of PhD students, postdocs, interns, collaborators and staff. The fruits of their labors include the Hapkit, a low-cost programmable device that helps students learn about motions and forces through touch; the GoGoBoard, open-source hardware used for educational robotics and science experiments; and an inexpensive Lego-style kit that students can use to build simple machines.
Read the entire story on the Stanford magazine website. Paulo Blikstein's work was previously discussed in a story and video in The New York Times; an interview in Scientific American; and a feature article for the Graduate School of Education. Blikstein's research on teaching computer programming was also the subject of a Stanford news release.