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Sera Thornton Describes To Workshop Attendees How The Open Lab Laser Cutting And Engraving Machine Works.
Sera Thornton (left) describes to workshop attendees how the Open Lab laser cutting and engraving machine works.

Open Lab Recognized in 2022 Horizon Report

The Teaching Center’s Open Lab is proud to be highlighted in this year’s Horizon Report, an annual EDUCAUSE publication that profiles important trends and key technologies and practices shaping the future of teaching and learning.

When the University of Pittsburgh transitioned to remote learning in spring 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hands-on learning that is a hallmark of makerspace culture became an impossibility. Unable to access campus in person, the Open Lab team found itself with a quandary: how to continue providing support and resources for emerging technologies to the Pitt community, while providing a supportive environment to engage in exploratory learning through making.

The response to this challenge was to launch a digital learning space on Canvas: Open Lab @ Canvas. This allowed students, faculty, and staff to continue to learn the skills associated with making, even though they didn’t have access to the campus makerspaces. It is this digital learning space and its subsequent incorporation into the Open Lab’s current hybrid training model that have been highlighted in the Horizon Report, as an exemplar project of one of the topics identified as a key practice for this year and moving forward: “Mainstreaming Hybrid/Remote Learning Modes.”

Sera Thornton, learning scientist and teaching consultant, led the online training creation effort and taught her teammates and student staff to use backward design, an instructional design methodology, to ensure alignment of the modules with their desired learning objectives. These modules focused on skills necessary to use equipment and software commonly used in the Open Lab’s makerspaces.

For example, the team built modules on Adobe Illustrator basics, using Illustrator to create designs for laser cutting and engraving, and using the laser cutter and engraver safely and effectively. As these modules were asynchronous, learners could access them at any time or place convenient for them, and receive immediate feedback on their mastery of the objectives as assessed through auto-graded quizzes.

Now that students, faculty, and staff have returned to Pitt’s campus, Open Lab has adapted its online modules for use in a hybrid training model. Before being authorized to use a piece of Open Lab equipment independently, each user is first required to complete an online pre-training on Open Lab @ Canvas, which usually includes how to create a digital design to implement on said equipment.

After completing the pre-training, each user then has the option of training either in person or using an online module at their preferred time and place. Everyone has different learning preferences, and for some learners, the team predicts that this option of learning in private at their own pace – before coming in and using equipment they’ve never encountered before – will take some of the stress out of the situation, making for a more inclusive experience.

Anyone with a Pitt login ID is welcome to learn on Open Lab @ Canvas, regardless of whether they plan to visit Open Lab in person, so check out what new skills you can pick up! Open Lab also has two physical spaces on campus: Open Lab @ Alumni, in Alumni Hall; and Open Lab @ Hillman, in Hillman Library, a collaboration with the University Library System. Their current set of equipment includes 3D printers, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, 360 degree cameras, and Virtual Reality headsets.

Check out this project’s profile on page 28 in the 2022 Horizon Report: Teaching and Learning Edition.

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