Jonathan Cohen holding the words "The Maker Room" that were made by a 3-D printer

The Maker Room

by Claire Miller

The College of Education & Human Development’s Learning Technologies Division recently created the Technology Innovation Learning Environment, a space where students can explore the latest in advanced manufacturing technologies (including 3-D printers, digital die cutters and laser cutters) and the teaching they support. Assistant professor Jonathan Cohen discussed the division’s plans for the space and how teachers can benefit from embracing this technology in their own classrooms.

Three images of a digital printer printing the words "The Maker Room"Q: How did the idea for the Technology Innovation Learning Environment come about?

A: We wanted a space where our faculty and students could have access to the latest cutting-edge technologies. Right now, we’re focusing on so-called “maker technologies,” and these are ones that help us go from the digital world to the physical world and vice versa. So, for example, we have a lot of digital manufacturing technologies — like digital die cutters and 3-D printers — that take digital designs and turn them into physical objects. This is technology that has not yet filtered into school in ways that, say, computers or cameras have. But it’s coming, and I think it’s going to be happening within the next few years. And so by having this space here and bringing classes to it, I hope that we can prepare Georgia State students to be ready for this technology when it does move into the classroom. I’m doing some research right now to find out how many other colleges of education are doing this kind of thing with their students, and the answer is not many. So this really puts us on the cutting edge of this particular movement.

Q: How do teachers benefit from embracing maker technology in their classrooms?

A: There’s a rich tradition of making in K–12 classrooms. Think of all the projects and science experiments you’ve done in the past with Popsicle sticks and paper clips and hot glue. So the question would be, “Why do we need this technology?” This new technology allows us to build and extend on these activities and do some pretty amazing things.

For example, I once taught a unit on aerodynamics, and I had students create wind turbines in order to apply what they’d learned about aerodynamics. We were able to 3-D print bases for the model wind turbines. We used the laser cutter to help us create some parts, and then the students used the digital die cutters to isolate and change individual variables on their turbine blades. Then they recorded how the changes to their wind turbine blades changed the amount of energy each turbine could create. And that’s something we couldn’t do without this technology because it gives us a degree of consistency over the variables and also allowed us to create some really rigid, sturdy objects.

These tools can reduce or even eliminate the barriers that prevent students from being able to create physical and digital artifacts as part of their learning. Making can be a powerful way for students to learn and apply their knowledge, take ownership over their own learning and develop valuable, lifelong skills.

This story originally ran in the Fall 2016 issue of IN Magazine, the college’s biannual magazine.