MakerWeb badges — gotta catch ’em all

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As the Maker Movement makes its way across the Union campus, the MakerWeb, a Nexus page, attempts to put all of the campus’ maker resources in one, convenient place.

The MakerWeb is not yet available to all students but, said Assistant Professor of Computer Science John Rieffel, “I would like to be able to launch it in the spring.”

The site is currently in its infancy, and, according to Rieffel, “We’ve been doing a soft launch, and some of our beta testers have been bioengineering capstone students who’ve needed to 3D print various things for their capstone design projects. But I do want to roll it out to the larger community, and I’m working with faculty in other departments — for instance, in Visual Arts, and in Electrical Engineering and in Mechanical Engineering — to cajole them into opening up their creative spaces and adding them to the MakerWeb.”

Rieffel believes that there exist flaws in the campus’ current thoughts on training students to use the tools at our disposal.

He said, “There are makers scattered throughout campus, working in their own little silos, and then there are also these resources scattered around, all throughout campus, which not everyone knows about and not everyone has access to.”

Rieffel envisions the MakerWeb as a virtual “watering hole in the Sahara — where everyone’s got to go, and you have this great mixing of ideas and of talents, all in one place.” He hopes that the MakerWeb will “unite on the Web all these disparate Makerspaces already distributed throughout campus.”

Rieffel continued, “Electrical engineering has a Discovery Lab, which has things like soldering irons and oscilloscopes and resistors and things for doing electrical engineering-type stuff, but again, right now, you can only use it if you have taken a class which has taught you how to solder. But you don’t need to enroll in a 10-week course to know how to solder. You can learn it in an afternoon.”

The MakerWeb Nexus page features training courses for various maker technologies — technologies that facilitate the physical creation of ideas and innovations — available on our campus.

Currently, there are nodes for the various creative spaces on our campus, with modules for the elements found in those spaces. At the moment, Union’s Collaborative Design Studio, better known as the 3D printing lab, is the only node with multiple training courses available to users.

After completing a training course for a specific technology and filling out a questionnaire that demonstrates that the user has retained the information he or she has learned, the user then receives a badge signifying that he or she has completed that training course.

For example, if a student completed the MakerBot 3D printer training course, which is one of the modules that will be available on the MakerWeb when it opens to the general campus community, Rieffel said, “(The badge) shows up on your Nexus page, and it says … you’re a MakerBot Trainee. It means you’ve been trained to use the MakerBot, and you can use it with supervision. This means that if someone — a stranger — shows up in the design studio and approaches someone working there and says, ‘I would like to use the MakerBot. I’m trained,’ all they have to do is log into Nexus and show the badge to demonstrate that, in fact, they’re allowed to use the machine.”

Advanced training courses exist on the MakerWeb page so that students will be able to use the MakerBot 3D printer without needing supervision.

Rieffel elaborated, “You can be a MakerBot Mentor, which is more training, more hands-on supervision, but, at the end, you’re allowed to use it without supervision.”

Rieffel stated that similar training modules exist for the Stratasys Object Connex 500 3D printer and a small, hand-held 3D scanner.

The node for the Electrical Engineering Department’s Discovery Lab is currently blank, but it will be filled with modules at some point in the not-too-distant future.

And, said Rieffel, “I dream of a day when the costume shop is going to be here, and the theater tech shop is going to be here, and the sculpture studio and the pottery studio, and you name it. What this will help do is foster and grow this culture of innovation and craftsmanship, and it’ll be one way of getting people to leave their silos and interact with each other.”

Rieffel hopes that one day the MakerWeb might lead to further developments within the maker network at Union.

“I would love it if we had a very small endowed fund where we could provide ‘Student Creativity Grants’ or ‘Student Innovation Grants.’ Where if you have a cool idea to work on a project that may have nothing to do with any of your courses, but it’s still a cool idea, you could write a very simple grant and get $50 for materials, or a gift card to Michaels, or a gift card to Lowe’s. And that’s all it takes, sometimes, to get people to realize their creative ideas, so I would love to see something like that.”

Rieffel would also like to see Maker Fairs come to Union, “where we have some way of displaying all the cool things we’ve done. We’ve got the Steinmetz Symposium, which is absolutely great for showing off student research on campus, but there’s all this cool, creative stuff that students do that could be shown off, as well.”

In the meantime, Rieffel, Information Technology Services and student beta testers will continue to develop the MakerWeb so that the general campus community can access it.

Said Rieffel, “I think students, as soon as they know it’s available, will start using it. It’s very ‘Field of Dreams,’ I think. If I build it, then people will start coming out of the woodwork.”

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