When you go to the official site of FabLab-NKNU, you will see a vivid orange background like it’s some kind of source of creativity. The structure of the website contains astronomical terms like “Star Base,” “Planet Base” and “Satellite Base,” and you’ll wonder why you are seeing this in a school FabLab. The designer of this structure just unveiled the Chung Hsing Base at Penghu the day before (link), and had returned to the Planet Base at the National Kaohsiung Normal University Yen Chao Campus. When Dean Hung-Ming Lin of the College of Technology, National Kaohsiung Normal University saw the hundreds of PLAs that arrived in the morning all stacked up in their basement loading area, he immediately asked the vendor and the students to unload them in the warehouse, for future FabLab-NKNU use.
Once you open the door next to the FabLab-NKNU sign, you will see a space that resembles a cafe. Hung-Ming Lin believes that a creative space such as this one needs to be “like a cafe during the day, and like a pub at night,” and has things like air conditioner, couch and coffee machine. If it’s in an elementary or junior high school, it has to be the only place that’s unlike a classroom. It should be a place where teachers and students are free from the school framework. The walls are orange just like the website, giving all partnering bases of FabLab-NKNU a unified theme. Every base has a wall painted in orange, and the name FabLab-NKNU written on it.
FabLab-NKNU was officially launched in summer 2016, and its current goal is to cultivate teachers, in order to achieve “Cultivation of maker capabilities for elementary and junior high students and application of interdisciplinary subjects.” During the design phase of the base, it was still focusing on the enhancement of teachers in technology and innovation. However, this year’s curriculum guidelines state that starting next year, teachers are required for all the new technology fields.
In order to implement teaching in the school, a modular, systemized “4060 Base Model” two-wheeled vehicle was placed on the large desk in the creative space. This vehicle consists of 7 parts: display system, input system, communication system, power system, motor system, brain system and sensory system. You have to understand all 7 systems to be able to make the vehicle. The underbody of the vehicle has to be uploaded and printed by the teachers and students. Lin believes that, teaching the students how to compose each of these systems, for example, the welding of wires and their structure, involves too much detail. It would be better to just let them assemble all 7 systems to make a working vehicle. It’s like showing them what an entire forest looks like, and not just one tree. One single functionality does not show the effects of a finished product. It’s called “4060” because the material costs were kept around $400 to $600, so that there wasn’t any financial burden for anyone.
Many maker bases use their equipment as advertisement, but Lin said that in his speeches, he calls it “digital output center.” Whether it’s a 3D printer, or laser cutter, it is a device for the output of your creative thinking. These things should not be regarded as the core of maker spirit. Before he became a teacher, Lin was an engineer who ran a fiber optic sensor company. He thinks that any output is but an implementation of handmade creativity. The service a base provides should be a business model that is systemized and modular, for people who want to learn and implement their creativity. The maker movement should focus on how to “think,” and turn creativity into plans that people can carry out. The establishment of Planet Base, Satellite Base and teacher certification at the FabLab-NKNU, together with the upcoming “Cloud Classroom” project, are all meant to maintain an effective system of quality teachers, through multiple stages of learning and certification.
When asked how to maintain the quality of the equipment for all partnering schools, Lin was very open about his method. As long as a teacher is FabLab-NKNU certified, he is allowed to upload the 3D design plans of his students to the Cloud Classroom, so that the Yen Chao FabLab-NKNU Star Base that has 60 3D printers and 8 laser cutters, can print them out. For Planet Bases and Star Bases that are involved in projects, FabLab-NKNU will first check with them the amount of resources they need, then send a certain number of 3D printers that are the same as the ones from the center to these bases. There are 2 advantages to that: first, everybody is using the same model, which makes troubleshooting easier for the Planet Base; second, Planet and Satellite bases that apply for 3D printers need to have teachers that are certified by the Star Base, because teachers need to be trained on how to refill the printers, clean and change the nozzles that are easily clogged, and other fragile parts. The Star Base will always have backup materials. When asked about the spectacular sight of 60 3D printers in a room, Lin said that they actually purchased 170, 60 of them are being used in the Star Base, 30 are either in the warehouse or about to be moved to the new base, and the rest are in all the Planet and Satellite Bases. This also explains all the boxes in the loading area at the College of Technology, which contain 4000 PLCs.
So far this year, they have started over 40 courses in 7 counties or cities. They have bases from Pingtung in the south all the way to Chiayi in the north. Two Planet bases in Hualien in the east, and one Planet Base and one Satellite base in Taitung. According to Lin, they had to hire engineers to reveal these numbers on the website in real time because people keep asking about them. When asked what makes an effective promotional campaign, Lin said that there has to be something people can physically see, and is relevant to their needs, otherwise, it’s just a waste of time. He picked up a 3D printed item from the large desk, which is made by a junior high chemistry teacher. Teachers usually want to print something to do with the subjects they teach, so this particular chemistry teacher printed a C60 bucky-ball. Other teachers want to design their own teaching aids, which turn out to be much better than simply downloading the modules. Most teachers are not tech savvy, but are all willing to learn throughout the process. They can then go back and teach their students what they have learned.
Lastly, Lin added that, equipment will always cost you the most. What’s important is your creative and innovative capabilities. These things are the ultimate goal of the entire process, not the high end equipment. Just like going from the stars to the planets, then to the satellites, they started from National Kaohsiung Normal University, to all the teachers, then let the Planet Base teachers teach other teachers, to achieve sustainable and spreading results.