Monday, October 10, 2005

Serious Play

"Business executives as well as kids like hands-on interfaces, immediate feedback on their actions, and the ability to work together in groups to solve problems. There's very little difference in the technology for serious work and serious play."
-- Neil Gershenfeld, Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms

In an attempt to educate MIT research engineers on the use of hi-tech fabrication equipment, a course was created and curiously named "How to Make (Almost) Anything." On the first fall day in 1998 a hundred or so MIT students showed up for a class that could hold only ten. The surprises didn't stop there. There were as many artists and architects as engineers, and prospective students claimed things like "All my life I've been waiting to take a class like this," and "I'll do anything to get into this class." Hardly the typical student attitude.

What was happening here? There seemed to be a demand for the practical ability to make things. Students saw endless possibility in the cutting, printing, and assembling tools made available to the class. Perhaps it wasn't the necessity-driven needs of research that drove students to participate, but the potential of the tools that inspired them.

Professor Neil Gershenfeld, in his book FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication commented of the students "They were motivated by the desire to make things they'd always wanted but that didn't exist." And, he adds, "they routinely and single-handedly managed to design and build complete functioning systems."


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