Meeting the Makers: A walk through MRU’s creative studio
Emily Kirsch, Staff Writer
Interdisciplinary collaboration is the heart of Mount Royal University’s (MRU) Maker Studio. Open to all students and faculty across campus, their main goal is to support students with the expertise and maker technologies to bring their ideas to life. From creating 3D models and textiles to audio productions and virtual reality concepts, there is no running out of technology to use for any student’s creative idea.
The Maker & Media Commons is a collection of creative spaces in the Riddell Library & Learning Centre, where students, faculty, staff and community members can experiment with immersive tools and technologies or explore new ideas and design concepts. It is a space to help individuals and groups create, explore and collaborate.
Brian Jackson and Audrey Burch are just two of the staff members of the Maker studio team. Burch is a maker studio technician with expertise in robotics, artificial intelligence, prototyping and other Maker technologies. Jackson, a data and subject librarian, works to teach and connect with instructors from across disciplines at the university to develop assignments and incorporate Maker Studio technologies or Maker Studio learning into the curriculum.
“Our main goal is to show and not do,” Jackson says, adding that the goal is to show students how to use the equipment, integrating knowledge so, in the end, they’re putting these things into practice.
The studio has a plethora of tools and resources, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines, robotics technology and creative software. Not to mention the audio production and experience lab is also a part of the Media Commons.
In terms of assistance, the studio hosts consultations, workshops and events for students to book and attend. With a focus on making connections, the Maker Studio staff brings maker knowledge and technologies to the classroom that can support the learning outcomes of various disciplines. As for workshops, the Maker Studio opens its space to focus on things like programming literacy, 3D modelling, sustainability projects, and other diverse projects.
“We also have a new thing that we’ve offered now, which are student-led workshops where… students can apply to do co-teaching in the space for their own purposes,” Burch explains.
These student-led workshops aren’t just for individual student projects. Jackson and Burch explain that other sorts of extracurricular and non-curricular groups can also find great opportunities in this space. With these student-led workshops, groups, clubs and partnerships can connect with other students within the workspace and work together on various projects.
“It’s an interdisciplinary sort of collaboration that is created where we are supporting the maker-based technologies, but then somebody else was coming in to fill in with the expertise in those sorts of fields,” Burch explains.
It seems as though maker spaces were adopted by a lot of public libraries before academic libraries.
Looking at the landscape of maker spaces, MRU is pretty extensive, considering the university has four creative spaces filled with state-of-the-art technologies and staff to support them. Although spaces and technologies like these pop up in libraries of universities across Canada, this still is fairly new to the academic world.
“For an academic library to develop a space like this was somewhat unique at the time,” Jackson says.
Burch adds that MRU is doing a lot of leading with curricular integration with maker technologies in Western Canada. In comparison to some larger universities, Jackson points out, in larger institutions, individual departments might purchase their own equipment, whereas MRU houses it centrally, and so have a more active role than some.
The Maker Studio at MRU is central and available to the campus community, but Burch says, “there’s an intimidating feeling for new technologies whenever something is developed.” She goes on to say that people often try to discourage themselves from even starting, and MRU should be working the opposite way.
Jackson emphasizes that the Media Maker space is a space to learn and develop new skills, that one doesn’t need to have a clear idea to start working with the maker technologies. He says one simply needs “maybe a vague idea, or even just a desire to learn something.”
Jackson and Burch emphasize that the Maker Space, like anywhere else in the library, is welcome to all students and staff of the campus community. Regardless of the project or idea, they help foster student potential.
“I would encourage them to stop in to learn about the tools and let the ideas flow from that. Or if they have something in mind, but it’s not clear, to come on in and work with us,” Jackson pleads.
Students, faculty and staff at Mount Royal have been using the Maker & Media Commons to complete exciting research and creative projects. After all, that’s what they are there to do.