Digital and material design, the uCreate Studio, and Near Future Teaching

The Near Future Teaching project held a recent event with the uCreate Studioin the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library. uCreate Studio is the community’s makerspace with a host of facilities and technologies for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 3D Printing, CNC Milling, 3D Scanning, and more. Run by Mike Boyd, who led the session with us, it is a great facility and a very open, encouraging environment to turn ideas into virtual or material reality.

We were interested in using the uCreate Studio as an environment to stimulate thinking around the future of teaching at the University. By getting hands-on with kit, we wanted participants to think creatively about the future of the university and how teaching might change in years to come through access to material and maker technologies, spaces and pedagogies.

Mike introduced the space, discussing ideas that the makerspace has put into play: putting museums on display, new research in the analytics around the material elements of creation and product design, virtual educational tools, and product manufacturing. With that little bit of explanation, away we went.

Academic colleagues and PhD students from Medicine, Geosciences, Science and Technology Studies, Informatics and Psychology came along and spent the time playing with the kit, discussing how they might use them in teaching and recording a few vox pop interviews.

We toyed with Skanect to make 3D scans of humans; Sketchfab for exporting 3D scans to VR; Autodesk RECAP for reality capture. We learned about Thingiverse, a database of digital design; Cura, the printing software needed to make it all go. Easel: Inventables for 3D carving.

Ideas emerged for a range of potential applications in teaching: medical simulations with VR, actual surgery with AR, using 3D models and printing to explore law and intellectual property, creating bespoke research instruments for particular projects. Using 3D models to explore intricate anatomical structures and haptic systems to explore treatment and surgery in these high risk environments. VR and AR for exploring sympathy and empathy in psychology.

Ultimately, the question that we keep circling back on is how do these technologies create new teaching practices? How do they expand on our vision of what is possible at the University, in our disciplines, and across disciplines? Some spoke to new teaching practices, some to new research practices, some to new event and field learning activities. All spoke, at some level, to the value of curiosity in this process, to dig deeper, to learn more.

A few key takeaways were:

VR clearly has many applications in the classroom and for distance learning, but we need to be able to scale it up in an affordable way (Google cardboards for classes of 20+)

Kit is only a fairly small part of the issue: another one is simply time. How do we make time for academics and postgraduate teachers to use, adapt and develop curriculum which enagages some of these technologies for teaching?

Problem-based curricula and teaching methods are likely to really engage students by using 3D printing, scanning and milling to craft and materially express products and artefacts, so we might want to look at creative exploration of problem-based learning across disciplines for aspects of our future teaching.

VR and immersive methods for the teaching of, for example, psychology have clear uses but future teaching would need to carefully design for immersion and its potential emotional stresses and ethical nuances: again, kit is far from being the only issue to address here.

Maker spaces imply presence on campus, so what about distance learners? We can draw on projects like the OU’s Re:Form to understand how remotemanufacturing can help us educate by making at a distance.

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