Art, engineering faculty and students learn from each other in 'making' course

Making for the Masses students learn ceramics. Photo by Stephanie Swindle Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — This spring six Penn State faculty members piloted a general education course titled “Making for the Masses," the first of an expected new generation of courses designed to engage students in new ways on emerging topics such as 3-D printing and maker culture.

The six faculty members are Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) Faculty Fellows (three each from the College of Arts and Architecture and the College of Engineering). They collaborated on creating the course, designed to give students an interdisciplinary, cross-functional mindset focused on “maker culture,” a movement based on designing and creating useful objects. Lectures and hands-on activities such as pouring concrete, pottery making, and 3-D printing were among the multiple modes of information delivery that helped students gain practical understanding of the differences in how artists and engineers approach their work.

In one class session, three distinct spaces were set up in a School of Visual Arts classroom for students to design and build a keychain gimbal, a tool for navigation and orientation. Students did traditional physical prototyping for the gimbal in one station using cardboard, Styrofoam, and Xacto knives. In another station, they designed the tool with 3-D printing pens. At the third station, they used a 3-D printer to create a gimbal from their designs. They were able to examine pre-printed gimbals to learn how different printing parameters could affect the finished product. 

“In this course, students can pick from a large library of labs that require students to gets hands-on with making in some way. This approach is unique not only from a labs perspective, but that the course is taught by a large group of multi-disciplinary faculty, and also designed to fit into a general education curriculum,” said Bart Pursel, assistant director of TLT.

Faculty found the appeal for engineering students was the opportunity to move beyond lectures and get back to what in many cases drew them to engineering — taking things apart and putting them back together. For visual art students, it was the opportunity to learn about applied science and how it can be incorporated into the creative process.

"When you bring students from different disciplines together in a hands-on maker environment, you open up new educational possibilities," said Kyle Bowen, director of TLT. “This is just the beginning of collaborations like this that will have additional, far-reaching benefits.”

While the students learned to appreciate multiple perspectives when it comes to creating something, the Faculty Fellows were also learning from their colleagues’ different pedagogical approaches to teaching. They would like the course to continue and are thinking about how it will evolve. 

“I think the six of us came together through our interest in making but there are many other faculty in different disciplines who are also interested,” said Tim Simpson, Paul Morrow Professor in Engineering Design and Manufacturing. “So part of our planning is how can we integrate other faculty or have them contribute labs, lectures, and other activities that expose future Making for the Masses students to even broader perspectives.”

Last Updated March 11, 2019