I am an Assistant Professor of Design at Radford University. I teach courses in residential and commercial interior design, drafting, and building codes and construction. I have always been a hands-on person; from a young age I have been assembling (and disassembling) things to satisfy my curiosity. These interests, coupled with my affection for manipulating space, led me to study interior design and architecture. As a design educator, each class I teach involves aspects of hands-on learning, from hand making to digital fabrication.
I have made several tables, desks and workbenches, usually out of necessity because I have projects scattered across all my available workspace. I enjoy making surfaces on which to make more things! A couple photos of one of my favorites are attached; this was constructed entirely from scrap material from a few different projects.
I work primarily with wood because it is so readily available and I find inspiration wandering through lumberyards and sawmills. For these reasons, I love my table saw. The challenge of creating parts and attempting different wood joints reminds me what is possible with a single tool. Striving for this kind of mastery with one tool reveals that the possibilities with multiple tools are endless.
Unknowns are a given when making things; this is what makes the process engaging and fun. I employ a couple different tactics when I encounter challenges. I start by seeking out someone who has done something similar; I find that makers are often very willing and excited to convey a skill. Alternatively, I’ll attempt a solution and see what happens. Of all the things I’ve made, I have made so many more prototypes of things that didn’t work.
Creating things in order to solve problems, or to better understand problems are two defining characteristics of maker culture. Making elicits a call to hand processes, not necessarily brand new methods, but a connection to and re-discovery of methods of shaping material and influencing the physical world.
Many faculty and administrators on our campus recognize making as a means of connection and collaboration. No matter the subject matter, making can be a great equalizer. It brings together faculty and students from seemingly disparate disciplines to unite in working on complex problems with common goals.
Making is thinking with the hands; it allows someone to think critically by understanding the physical implications of a problem. I believe that complex problems can be better understood when someone is encouraged to develop physical solutions. Making promotes revelations about how the world is assembled and fosters systemic thinking. Through this process of discovery, one can understand the system they are working with, but also gain insight as to how other systems operate. Complex problems often require complex solutions, and making is a means of promoting the kind of thinking required to tackle big issues.
One challenge in developing student maker skills is helping them develop the confidence to create things when they are not sure of their abilities. I have found that students can be afraid to fail, and hesitant to engage in a process that endorses failure as a means of learning.
A major challenge facing faculty makers is having the act of making and made artifacts viewed as legitimate research trajectories. Often making is seen as play, and it can be difficult to communicate the benefits of these activities as academic methods of investigation.
Making provides a method of problem solving in a contextual way, it can help students become more detail oriented and it is a great way to explore multiple solutions to the same issue simultaneously.
Follow your passion. People make things for lots of different reasons: if your interest is in 3D printing, print something fun, something cool, and something useful, then make something fun, cool and useful. Making is about discovery, invention, and innovation, and it is a process that can be internally rewarding while benefitting others. Understand your place in the world through your ability to shape it.