What is a fablab in three words plus a strange object


by Susanna Tesconi -

Since I moved my first steps on the maker scene I was interested about what people think about fabLAB/maker space format and how they define it. During FAB5: The Fifth International Fab Lab Forum and Symposium on Digital Fabrication in Pune, India in 2009 I made a mini doc asking people  to define a fabLAB in 3 words. Here the video.

People offered a big variety of definitions trying to describe the complexity of the fablab format. So the fablab more than just a lab or a shop is defined  as a global network or a tinkershop. Almost for everyone the interest is on how people can grow and learn in a makerspace. Ones of my favorite definitions  are:

  • fablab is a curiosity stimulator,
  • a resource of resources
  • a place to get people excited about things
  • a new way of learning.

For everyone it’s clear that fablab it is not just a workshop or a set of technological tools, but something that has to do with community and empowerment through learning.  

During the first visit at fablab, after exploring the space and trying  the tools I usually ask the kids to do the same exercise and try to define a fablab. My intention, this year, was they run a simple research on makerspace format starting from the exploration of the space and connecting with what they feel making stuff  there.

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So first we brainstorm a little, playing with adjectives and the outcome  is not trivial.

fablab is: an investment, is interesting, is exciting, fun, imaginative, hallucinating, fantastic, awesome, innovating, dangerous, creative, good, educational, fabolous, magic..   

Than I asked them to research a little more, checking project from all around the world and try to explain what it is. Usually they are really impressed by the network-factor, by the possibility to be connected with inventors all around the world... (as educators we should use that and try to connect group of kids from different labs)

Here a small  taste of definitions from primary school students.

  • fablab is a laboratory where one can create and invent marvellous things (Carolina 9 years old)
  • fablab is a lab you can find in several places in the world where you can invent things. all the lab are connected so if in one lab somebody invents something, others labs can communicate with them and do it (Martín 10 years old)
  • fablab is a laboratory where one can invent and create inventions that make easier our work and save natural resources, in general they are ideas that are good for people. Those inventions are made by people who work in fablab but they can be improved by every inventor in the world. (joaquín, 11 years old)
  • fablab is a lab with awesome inventions you can use, like the 3D printer (Inés 10 years old)
  • fablab is a place where you can express new ideas and develop new inventions (Lucía 10)
  • fablab is an interconnected lab (Eduardo 10)
  • fablab is a place where people can build things with machines and tools (Inés 11)
  • we have a lot of fun in fablab (Carla 11)
  • fablab is strongly connected to the society (Pablo 11)
  • fablab is like internet but it exists physically. (Mar 11)

 After that I asked them to elaborate a learning wishlist related to fablab activities. By discussing together each group defined a set of learning wishes. In general there is a big interest on technical skills like to be able to use the lasercutter or the 3d printer or specific software, but also the kids expressed learning wishes like: create together, learn english and draw, invent new machines, develop new software.

Together we designed a kind of physical rubrics for the auto evaluation of learning during the activity, using the learning wishlist we made. So during the class or after kids and teachers express how they feel about what they are learning. The kids usually have a great time using that, is like a game and a way to say goodbye before they leave. Also they propose to add new boxes for new learning wishes or create new symbols for evaluate, like lightbulbs or sparkling stars. The rubrics is changing all the time, adapting to new interests.

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I know it can sound crazy but during the class this object acts like a “totem” and allows us to have a kind of ritual about conscient learning. It invites students to reflect on what they wanna learn. Because they made the object they feel free to add or change stuff and adapt it to the actual situation. In some way is an “object to think”( for sure not so powerfull as Papert's tools) it serves to put in physical form a set of learning desires and check constantly on their evolution.

This is just a start. I’d like to engage the kids to design materials and object that can help improve their learning experiences specially in the field of participatory and self evaluation.

I hope I'll have your expert feedback.




Susan Klimczak's picture

I am just getting around to reading this. . . how could I have missed it.

I wanted to add one thing that I have heard our youth say over and over when they introduce the fab lab to visitors:

"Fab Lab is where the magic happens!"

Erin Riley's picture

Your post really got me thinking about how hard it to distill the definition of fablab to three words.  Your interviewees and students did a brilliant job.  For me a fablab is a place with new tools for the imagination.