University of Texas at Arlington

New FabLab staff training transforms student workers into makers

UTA FabLab student workers gather to critique each others' work as part of staff training.
New FabLab staff training transforms student workers into makers

The UTA FabLab created a new student worker training regime that uses maker concepts to develop student workers’ maker literacies—such as problem solving, cross-disciplinary communication, critical thinking, etc. 

“A lot of thought went into their training,” said Director of FabLab Katie Peery. “A lot of makerspaces hire workers who already know how to use the equipment. We are purposely hiring students that represent our student body, so we’ve hired workers from a variety of majors, ages, countries, genders, ethnicities, world views, etc. Because these students may never have used any of this equipment, we have to do more intensive training.” 

This training includes three two-hour hands-on training sessions per week—either on equipment or software. In addition, students are given projects to work on when they have down time. Projects are intended to instill the skills that student workers need to help other students complete their school projects. 

Biology major Mia Perkins is a new FabLab student worker. She says the training is unlike any she’s experienced before. 

“Most training says, ‘here’s a machine, here’s how you do it; now go do it,’” Mia said, adding that the trainees are given plenty of time and help with completing their training assignment. “I’m a kinesthetic learner, so for me, that’s important.” 

Students receive training in two phases. The first phase focuses on best practices, customer service, and most-used equipment and software. After two weeks, they held a critique session for students to receive feedback to help them improve and to hone their own critical thinking by giving others feedback. The second phase focuses on less frequently used resources.  

Visual communication major Liz Markum says that once you understand how to use something, the next step is learning how to train others. 

“It’s important for us to teach them how to do it, not do it for them,” Liz said. “It’s harder than it sounds.”  

This intensive training includes much more than the simple steps needed to complete tasks. For example, when training students to conduct tours of the facility, trainers emphasize the importance of incorporating context and storytelling into the process. So instead of walking around the space, pointing at equipment and naming them, workers talk about the history and context of the space and the value of maker literacies for universities. 

Samuel Law, a new student worker majoring in mechanical engineering, says that the new workers are gaining skills that go far beyond how to use a piece of equipment. 

“We are learning a lot of technical skills,” Samuel said. “But we’re also learning skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and customer service. We have to learn to be empathetic, and that’s something engineers typically don’t excel at. Learning how to convey technical information in a way that’s understandable to the layman will be important when you’re working on teams after you graduate.” 

New student workers are scheduled to finish their training before school starts this Fall 2018. 

C.D. Walter