Learning Digital Fabrication Remotely

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Learning Digital Fabrication Remotely

Today, we are joined by Jennifer Jacobs and Nadya Peek. Jennifer is an Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Technology at the University of California while Nadya is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design, at the University of Washington. They both run research labs that focus on human creativity and technology. Jennifer and Nadya join us to talk about digital fabrication and how they teach the course remotely to students.

Jennifer started off by explaining what digital fabrication is about. Technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, computer-controlled cutting machines, etc can all be classified as digital fabrication. Nadya, on the other hand, spoke broadly about the premise upon which digital fabrication was found and the key problem it solves. 

Going forward, they both discussed the prospect for this technology to scale in the coming years. Well, it begins with having a strong foundation in some requisite skills. They both spoke about the academic roadmap to delving into the digital fabrication space. Nadya specifically listed some of the software tools to master to thrive in the field. 

They also touched on the possibility of learning digital fabrication without requiring physical equipment. COVID-19 has definitely had an impact on having to teach students in in-person classes and getting hands-on experience with fabrication equipment. Even though it had its downside, they discussed how they managed to teach the experimentation-heavy course post-COVID. They also talked about the challenges involved in having students learn the course online. 

In addition, they discussed the strategies they adopted to evaluate how effective the new style of learning has been over the years. One of such strategies involved engaging their colleagues in other Universities and contrasting the effect of their teaching style with theirs. To wrap up, they shared ideas on how other instructors can exploit remote learning in these times. You can catch up with Jennifer’s work from Machine Agency Lab. Nadya’s related works can be found on Expressive Computation Lab. Find Machine Agency Lab on Twitter @machine_agency.

Jennifer Jacobs

Jennifer Jacobs is Assistant Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara in Media Arts and Technology and Computer Science (by courtesy). At UCSB, she directs the Expressive Computation Lab, which investigates ways to support expressive computer-aided design, art, craft, and manufacturing by developing new computational tools, abstractions, and systems that integrate emerging forms of computational creation and digital fabrication with traditional materials, manual control, and non-linear design practices. Prior to joining UCSB, Jennifer received her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Brown Institute of Media Innovation within the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. She also received an M.F.A. and B.F.A from Hunter College and the University of Oregon respectively.

Nadya Peek

Nadya Peek develops unconventional digital fabrication tools, small scale automation, networked controls, and advanced manufacturing systems. Spanning electronics, firmware, software, and mechanics, her research focuses on harnessing the precision of machines for the creativity of individuals. Nadya directs the Machine Agency at the University of Washington where she is an assistant professor in Human-Centered Design and Engineering. Machines and systems Nadya has built have been shared widely, including at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the World Economic Forum, TED, and many Maker Faires and outreach events. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and her teaching has been recognized with the University of Washington's Distinguished Teaching Award for Innovation with Technology. She received the MIT Technology Review's 35 under 35 award in 2020. Nadya is an active member of the global fab lab community, making digital fabrication more accessible with better CAD/CAM tools and developing open source hardware machines and control systems. She is on the board of the Open Source Hardware Association, the editor in chief of the Journal of Open Hardware, half of the design studio James and the Giant Peek, plays drum machines and synths in the band Construction, and got her PhD at MIT in the Center for Bits and Atoms.

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