FabLab and Its Learning Dynamic (Part 2)


by Nalin Tutiyaphu... -

Part 2: People and Relationship as Learning Assets in FabLab

(Thank you again to Ms. Angi Chau and Ms.Heather Pang for having me to visit and observe your wonderful work at
Bourn Idea Lab at Castilleja School.)

Looking closely, the physical objects and setting of both the BI Lab or the soap carving classroom is just a part of the “Learning Richness” components. Besides having the objects in the classroom communicate messages and knowledge to the students, which allowed self-directed learning to occur effectively, this paper will probe more deeply into the learning that was embedded in the “human interactions” in this environment.

“Community of practice": create expert agencies. Besides “making” concrete objects as a meaningful personal learning and expression, many studies in the field of Constructionism also emphasize the analysis of the “social and cultural context” ((Cavallo, 2000), (Sipitakiat, 2000)) underneath the Learning Atmosphere (Blikstein, 2002). 

We introduced the concept of “Learning Atmosphere” in earlier work (Blikstein, 2002), which might be a model to further help the design and understanding of novel learning experiences using technology. Our approach considers several aspects, such as choice of what to build, which tools to use, affective relationships and hidden cultures/agendas as part of an indivisible whole (the atmosphere) in which the learning experience takes place. (Blikstein and Cavallo, 2003, p.1)

The learning interactions in FabLab are very dynamic and have their own pace and timing. Multiple levels of conversations occurred in the class, as well as different interpretations of messages. The notion of micro levels of complexity in this “making” environment resonates with the model of “apprentice’s learning” (Lave and Wenger, 1991). The students moved freely and talked to peer students and tried to solve problems together although they were unclear about each one’s status of expertise. The multi-directional messages from expert to novice, from novice to old timer, and the dialogue between novices and more experienced students, or “little old timers” can be powerful learning resources as well as creating a chaotic environment.

'Maker Scout! Creative training class in the lab! The girls will receive the batch once they finished each path..all those rope ..each belong to one students and marked where they are on the path.'รูปภาพของ Nalin Tutiyaphuengprasert Tukta

Figure 1. Maker Scout Progress Board and A Maker Scout in the Maker’s Club.


Ms. Angi Chau, the BI Lab Consultant, has made an effort to build a program that helps disseminate the “correct practice” to the student agents. The Maker’s Scout Program intentionally built up the effective learning agents in the classroom for the longer term. As an expert, Ms. Chau has modeled sharing and giving advice to two other teachers who are “little old timers” (Lave and Wenger, 1991) compared to some novice students. Some old timer students were trained by experts and played the role of experts and shared the practice with the new- comers as requested.

Compare this to the other similar lab observation, where the Lab manager was overwhelmed by a lot of students and the lab was not organized in a way that would facilitate self-directed learning, and all students had to rely on one teacher. Such centralized interaction led to the inefficient flow of action in the classroom. Students asked each other instead of waiting for the “expert.” The shallow explanations that were given were spread throughout the class and misinterpretations occurred. (This later backfired on the teacher who had to come back to solve all the problems that occurred from those misinterpretations.)

As Lave and Wenger (1991) said, “the effectiveness of the circulation of information among peers” is the “condition for the effectiveness of learning”.  Dissemination of the practice is one of the key success factors of this learning environment. A good learning environment does not just happen because of a perfect physical setting. It requires the understanding of the new learning interactions between people in the environment and so it must be designed in such a way that the messages will be conveyed throughout the classroom effectively and correctly. 

End of part 2.


Mark Schreiber's picture

I definitely love the process of having students in the class as the experts.  As you pointed out you can see a significant difference in how the classroom operates when the teacher creates an environment where collaboration is the norm.  Christa Flores, on a short webinar last week, used the phrase, "Did you ask 3 before me?" That is a great little phrase to help students become better collaborators.  Thanks for the article!

Erin Riley's picture

It's great to learn about strategies for creating an environment where students are sharing knowledge and collaborating in a way that supports everyone-- teachers and students alike.  It's a wonderful model for optimizing learning. Thank you for this series of articles!