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Board 24: Work in Progress: Exploring the STEM Education and Learning Impacts of Socially-relevant Making through the Challenge Problem of Making Prosthetics for Kids

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Biomedical Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Jeffrey Craig Powell University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Jeff Powell is a graduate student at UNC-Charlotte studying Biological Sciences. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill's Biomedical Engineering program. As a student at UNC-CH, Jeff started The Helping Hand Project, a 501c3 non-profit and student volunteer group which supports children with upper limb differences. This includes using 3D-printers to create prosthetic devices for children. The non-profit includes chapters at four North Carolina universities, including UNC-Charlotte.

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Johanna L. Okerlund

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Richard Jue-Hsien Chi University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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David Wilson

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Growing numbers of learners are engaging in STEM practices and learning through various forms of “Making.” The Maker approach is fundamentally self-driven informal learning that centers on personally meaningful projects using physical and digital fabrication tools, such as 3D printers, to design, prototype, and make creative physical products. Since Fall 2016, the Makerspace has been open to for general use by the University X community, including students from the on-campus Early Engineering High School. The Makerspace is equipped with a wide variety of fabrication tools and is a specialized laboratory to support peer-driven informal STEM learning and foster a community of practice around Making. We are investigating the educational impacts of our on-campus Makerspace through an exploratory research project that focuses on a socially-relevant challenge problem: designing and fabricating prosthetic hands for children that need them. The project is being conducted in partnership with The Helping Hand Project – a regional nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill, NC that specializes in providing 3D printed prosthetic hands free of charge for children in need. The ongoing research is using this challenge problem to study questions about Makerspace-related learning and to develop the learning materials needed to streamline the process for a new person or group. Looking past the specific challenge, we will develop learning materials based on the Makerspace that can be used in a variety of educational contexts. Taking the design and fabrication of prosthetic hands as a challenge problem provides a rich space of targeted STEM learning and design activities across the areas of Computing, Engineering, and Biological Sciences. We expect to be able to identify the program components that are the most effective at bridging informal learning to formal learning in STEM, and to create an ongoing makerspace community that serves social relevance. Results will help catalyze and sustain Maker transitions by identifying design patterns for learning that emerge within the Makerspace, which can be applied more generally to foster synergetic interactions between formal and informal learning on campus. Our vision is to create a sustainable living laboratory for self-guided innovation that transforms students and faculty across disciplines from persons with an interest in individual creative STEM-related projects to persons with a STEM-based affinity identity as Makers. This focus on design thinking will support learning benefits from cross-disciplinary interaction, particularly in interdisciplinary peer learning of STEM concepts, exposing non-STEM learners to STEM concepts, and disrupting traditional teacher-student roles. This paper provides an early-stage overview of our project, highlighting the challenge problem in the context of research on academic makerspaces, presenting design and evaluation goals on the project roadmap, and describing initial development and results.

Powell, J. C., & Okerlund, J. L., & Chi, R. J., & Wilson, D. (2018, June), Board 24: Work in Progress: Exploring the STEM Education and Learning Impacts of Socially-relevant Making through the Challenge Problem of Making Prosthetics for Kids Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

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