The Digital Fabrication Learning Community (DFLC) works Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) collaborators and the Stanford School of Education to define, implement, and evaluate instruments to enhance the STEM effectiveness within the United States Fab Lab (USFLN) community.
Dr. Paulo Blikstein, formerly from MIT, leads the Transformative Technologies Department in the Stanford School of Education and is embarking on research to understand the nature of learning on Fab Labs. His team is implementing a Learning Fab Lab called "Fab2Learn Lab" and will be engaging the United States Fab Lab Network in this research.
Dr. Blikstein believes constructionism is an essential part of the Fab Lab learning model. Constructivism learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds people learn most effectively when making tangible objects in the real world.
The potential of digital-personal fabrication goes beyond enhancing Next Generation Manufacturing to an emerging and advanced STEM learning model. Fab Labs drive deep and comprehensive STEM learning and strongly reinforce the nature and dimensions of community in learning.
According to Mitchel Resnick, founder of the MIT Media Lab's Life-Long Kindergarten, a Fab Lab learner ("inventor") goes through a "learning spiral". It is important to note that sharing the idea or fabrication with others is a critical part of the learning spiral and that the learning cycle is repeated.
Moreover, multiple learning spirals can be occurring and interacting within a Fab Lab or even a network of Fab Labs producing an important multiplier effect.
As part of the prior Midwest Digital Fabrication Partnership (MDFP) NSF Project (#0802388), a STEM Evaluation methodology and online instruments were developed to assess the impact of digital fabrication experiences on learners’ STEM competencies and attitudes.
As part of its qualitative research, the MDFP project also investigated the hypothesis that there are “STEM Moments of Truth” in which learners are either turned on or off to Science, Technology, Engineering or Math by certain experiences.
The MDFP and DFLC projects are finding that Fab Labs constitute an overwhelmingly positive “STEM Moment of Truth” for all learners, but particularly for non-technical learners. These findings have been established both qualitatively and quantitatively.