These articles were originally published on in 2017.

What are Creation Spaces?

Creation spaces are spaces that facilitate creativity among their users. As technology creates opportunities for building and making new things that were previously the domain of industrial concerns, these spaces give students the ability to create tangible objects as part of their learning journeys. The traditional version of this kind of space is the art studio, which maintains its relevance and is enhanced through the addition of new technologies. However, new kinds of spaces are emerging to support specific kinds of creation. On the software side, One-Button Studios allow students to create videos and other multimedia content easily. On the hardware side, a wide range of MakerSpace environments allow students to create everything from robots to sculpture to furniture in a single environment.

How big an Investment are Creation Spaces?

Investments in creativity spaces can range broadly from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars for a fully outfitted MakerSpace. Space considerations range from a few dozen square feet for an in-class Creation Station to 15,000-20,000 square feet for a Fabrication Lab that has a large functional range extending to woodshop and metalshop services. Staffing costs also range from practically nothing in a One-Button Studio to a specialized instructor required to maintain safety in a woodshop-type environment. Middle-of-the road environments like the Design Lab allow institutions to right-size facilities to maximize resources to their students while minimizing costs and overhead.

In all of these spaces, costs for equipment have declined steeply over time as equipment previously requiring specialized staffing is becoming increasingly automated. Parallel to this, safety concerns have declined as that same equipment has become simpler to use and safer to operate, necessitating a less specialized staffing model. For instance, laser cutters can perform many functions that used to have to be done by bandsaws, jigsaws, and other cutting equipment. Laser cutters are automated and therefore require less manual skill to operate. They are also enclosed and pose few safety concerns. These trends expand access to creativity enhancing tools to a wider audience and cost institutions less and less money to build and operate.

What are the benefits to instruction?

The economic logic driving down costs in technology and staffing are also driving change in the private sector and making skills acquired in this kind of environment very desirable on the job market. Companies are recognizing the benefits of having in-house design and fabrication over the delays and costs traditionally associated with prototyping. In addition, we are seeing a wide range of entrepreneurial activities rising in response to the low startup costs associated with many of these technologies. Learning by doing and the development of a portfolio is a very desirable educational outcome facilitated by these kinds of spaces.

One of the key aspects of creativity is that of access to the tools. You can’t control when good ideas happen. These spaces help students of all ages execute on their inspiration, whatever that might be. Therefore, those spaces need to be accessible when the magic happens, whether that is in the context of classroom environment or in a dedicated space. As mentioned in the previous section, that challenge has become easier as the tools become more accessible to non-craftspeople. However, the effectiveness of those tools is blunted if they are not easily accessible.
Another aspect that is important, especially at higher grade levels and in higher education, is the potential for these spaces to become interdisciplinary environments where students learn to work in complementary teams. As Frans Johannson points out in The Medici Effect, the Renaissance was in large measure a product of patrons such as the Medici bringing diverse thinkers from a broad range of disciplines together. The Industrial Age reversed this trend as people became more specialized within their disciplined. However, the Post-Industrial Age is reversing that trend yet again. Creation Spaces can become hubs where budding artists, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists can come together to realize their collective visions.


Creation Station

Easily Accessible Basic Tools Can Broaden Horizons, Sharpen Skills

What is it?

A Creation Station is a micro-MakerSpace designed to fit within the confines of a classroom space. The idea is to allow for spontaneous creativity and support of programmatic activities within the classroom. The equipment is tailored to be accessible and unobtrusive when not in use,  but to give teachers and students easy access to Maker tools.

How big an Investment are Creation Stations?
The idea behind these spaces is to maximize access to Maker tools to as many students as possible. The Creation Station is designed to fit into any traditional or NextGen learning space, giving instant access to the tools available there. Depending on the age of the students everything from a basic vinyl cutter ($200-300) a sub-$500 3D printer, craft supplies, some Raspberry Pi’s or Arduinos (inexpensive microcomputers and controllers that can be used for a range of educational projects), and a large set of Legos would support most projects at the K-5 level and beyond. Coupled with existing desktop space, this kind of space could be deployed on top of a 4’X8’ table with room for storage underneath. Some teacher training will likely be necessary to maximize the utility of these kinds of spaces but no specialized personnel other than the usual IT support would be necessary.
Careful selection of the tools available is critical to the success and utility of a Creation Space. Since these spaces are designed to be accessed by non-specialized teaching staff, barriers to entry should be a primary consideration. We have seen too many un-used 3D printers that have either proven themselves to be hard to program or difficult to keep in operation. Newer 3D printers are designed to be accessible to a wider audience. Other devices like basic vinyl cutters such as the Cameo system also provide easily accessible Making with minimal training and skills. The focus of the instructor should always be on the instructional goals, not messing with the technology.

What are the benefits to instruction?

Introducing a Creation Station available in a classroom environment gives a teacher the ability to introduce directed, experiential activities on the fly. This has significant impacts on learning outcomes. Professor Michael Prince, in a review of the Active Learning literature, writes, “Introducing activity into lectures can significantly improve recall of information while extensive evidence supports the benefits of student engagement.” (Prince, Michael, “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research, Journal of Engineering Education, July 2004)

Having Maker capability also aids in the fusion of disciplines, a critical skill in the future workforce. Robert and Michele Root Bernstein said in a recent article in the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development that, “finding ways to foster arts education alongside science education—and, even better, finding ways to integrate the two—must become a high priority for any school that wants to produce students capable of creative participation in a science-dominated society like ours.”
Having ready access to a carefully selected set of tools within the classroom will give teachers and students the ability to express or understand critical concepts through making. Some of these items might fall under what we traditionally see as arts and crafts but new tools such as automated 3D printers and vinyl cutters increase the complexity of projects that were traditionally the province of scissors, colored paper, and clay. They also begin to introduce students to concepts like coding and design that they can build on in later grades. Software tools like TinkerCAD and Scratch provide easy avenues for students to access these advanced tools.

Sample Equipment List (approximate cost $1500-3000 per room):

  • 3D Printers (Quantity 2)
  • Silhouette Curio Vinyl Cutting Tool (Quantity 1)
  • Arduino Starter Kit (Quantity 1)
  • Raspberry Pi Starter Kits (Quantity 3)
  • PCs or laptops (Quantity 1-3)
  • 650 Piece Lego Basic Bricks (or equivalent) (Quantity 1)
  • Little Bits Electronic Base Kit (Quantity 1-3)
  • Misc. Supplies (Filament, Vinyl, etc.)
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Design Lab

What is it?

A Design Lab is a lightweight MakerSpace designed to fit into a classroom-sized space. Through a careful selection of tools it can perform many of the functions of a full-sized Fabrication Lab without the specialized infrastructure and safety concerns of a more robust setup. Another critical feature is that the space should be as accessible (and visible) to the campus as possible. Students will be curious about the activities taking place there and will want to participate, but only if they know that it exists.

Accessibility must be coupled to that visibility. While some programmatic activity is desirable, at the end of the day this has to be a project-driven space. Therefore, it must be accessible when students have the time and inspiration to work on their projects. Additionally, within the bounds of safety, students need to be given maximum freedom to explore projects. What seems like a silly T-shirt design today might lead to a complex 3D-printed artifact tomorrow. The experience of doing will lead to learning.
The library offers a good access model and one model might be to convert part of an existing library into such a space. However, it has to be realized that the Design Lab is not a quiet space and so if that is a priority in a school’s library it might make sense to put the lab into a separate space.

How big an Investment  is a Design Lab?

The idea behind the D-Lab is to assemble a usable set of light tools into a resource space. Typically, 700-1000 square feet is sufficient to achieve this task. It is important to leave a portion of the space available for people to spread out their projects. Heavy-duty (hard surface or butcher block) tables are recommended for this area. A selection of 3D printers is usually expected. Other equipment can include vinyl cutters, PCs, soldering irons, miscellaneous electronic components, and a standard set of hardware tools. If minimal ventilation is possible then a laser cutter is a good tool to have in this space as well. All told the equipment in this space should total no more than $20,000-30,000. Adequate power is critical. If this is a conversion project, a computer lab is a good choice for a basic space as those spaces typically have sufficient power for the various devices in the space. If not, then electrical upgrades through the addition of outlets might be required.

Ongoing expenses are fairly manageable. While it is important to have a full-time staff member overseeing the space, part-time student workers and even volunteers can be used to staff out the space. Minimal skills are necessary to run equipment in this kind of space, and many of them will likely have to be learned on the job in any case.

As far as supplies are concerned, a small supply budget is appropriate for programmatic activities and demonstration projects. However, the expectation for students is that they bring their own supplies into the space. At the college level, college bookstores will often stock 3D filament. Filament is also widely available online from vendors like Amazon. Other supplies will commonly be found in home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes.

What are the benefits to instruction?

The Department of Education says, “Through making, educators enable students to immerse themselves in problem-solving and the continuous refinement of their projects while learning essential 21st-century career skills, such as critical thinking, planning, and communication.” The benefits to having a space such as the D-Lab in every school, particularly at the Middle and High School levels are significant. What is even more exciting is that every one of these kinds of spaces that we have created have generated unexpected ideas and benefits to both the users and the schools in which they are located. Students have developed innovative solutions to everything from school signage to food production. They are essential breeding grounds of ideas in the 21st Century.

A student-built Food Computer at Houston Community College’s Alief D-Lab




  • 3D Printers (6-8 of various types)
  • Laser Cutter (optional) – Glowforge could be a game changer in this area because it doesn’t require additional ventilation like more traditional laser cutters
  • PCs (6-8)
  • USCutter 34” Vinyl Cutter (1)
  • Arduino Kits (1)
  • Little Bits Kits (2-4 various kits)
  • Raspberry Pi’s (10-12) – students often purchase their own
  • Toolbox and basic tool set (1)
  • Butcher block or other hard surface work tables (3-5)
  • Misc. Supplies (filament, vinyl, etc.)

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Fabrication Lab

What is it?

The Fabrication Lab is more typical of what most people think of when they hear the term “MakerSpace.” In addition to the tools typically found the Design Lab these kinds of spaces will also typically include advanced fabrication areas such as Metal Shops, Wood Shops, and Machine Shops that require safety protocols and specialized staffing.

The challenge is figuring out what that audience of collaborators needs and how best to design and set up a space to meet those needs. There are a number of developed models, both on the educational and for-profit side. On the educational side MIT has developed its FabLab concept and on the for-profit side TechShop maintains a network of 10 for-profit MakerSpacesthroughout the country. Both models are designed to create environments where a broad spectrum of tinkerers and artisans can come together. 
Generally speaking, the Fabrication Lab is most appropriate for older learners in High School or Higher Education. It contains many pieces of equipment normally found in CTE spaces. Schools should consider the benefits of creating MakerSpaces to replace traditional CTE spaces as technology is rapidly moving toward a more generalized toolset and students would be better served through access to such a space. The US Department of Education recently sponsored a competition to help High Schools and Colleges convert existing CTE spaces to the MakerSpace format.
One additional factor that needs to be considered is to what extent this space will be open to the community. Opening up the space to the community carries with it many benefits, not the least of which is bringing in talent with the capacity to enrich and broaden the learning experience for all concerned.

How big an Investment is a Fabrication Lab?

The investment in a Fabrication Lab is not trivial and schools need to go into the development of this space with an understanding of the staffing needs required to successfully operate such a space. Like other MakerSpaces, the Fabrication is most useful when it is treated as a resource like a library and is accessible to the community (either inside or outside the school) as much as possible. It should be treated as a collection of tools designed to facilitate creative activity. The TechShop design is a creative approach that allows for the segregation of low-risk equipment, generally following the model of the Design Lab from the more dangerous wood shop, metal shop, or machine shop components. The MakerSpace at the West Houston Institute was designed using this model.

The West Houston Institute MakerSpace. Areas in Green are generally accessible and contain equipment that can be facilitated by part-time employees. Access is limited to the areas in red because they contain equipment that could be hazardous and need to overseen by specialists in the operation of that equipment. We would anticipate over time that equipment will increasingly be deployed into “green” areas and provision should be made to convert one or more of the “red” areas into a more accessible zone.

Generally speaking, a MakerSpace containing all of the aforementioned components should take up 12,000-15,000 square feet. Maximum flexibility is required so that equipment can be swapped out as it becomes redundant or obsolete. This requires a robust power network and/or one that allows power to be easily moved from one part of the space to the other. Easy access to a street or driveway with a garage or a loading dock is important in order to allow equipment or materials to be moved in and out of the space. Access to an outside work yard is also a benefit to many kinds of projects.

The Fabrication Lab has the greatest flexibility when it comes to the final components in the design and can be highly customized for programmatic purposes. For instance, a metal shop or wood shop might not make sense for some structures but perhaps an expanded machine shop or a specialized area focused on automotive technology could be substituted for those areas in the plan.

Issues of access also need to be considered from a safety standpoint. Increasingly, you can do with a very safe laser cutter what was previously the province of much more dangerous tools like bandsaws and jigsaws. Ultimately, the space may need to be reconfigured to allow greater access to areas that have become substantially safer to operate.

The Main Assembly Area of the West Houston Institute before equipment is installed. Note the flexible ceiling power and the open deck that allows for maximum flexibility for future equipment changes. The Wood and Machine Shops are on the far side of this space but still visible through windows. The idea is to allow for scaffolding users from less complex tasks taking place in the Main Assembly Area (3D Printing, Electronics, Laser Cutting, etc.) into the more complex areas.

Equipment costs are falling rapidly and through the strategic selection of tools the basic infrastructure of tools can be assembled for this space for under $1 million. In some cases, such as 3D printers, the more expensive ones are actually not as useful to the vast majority of users. This is because of the learning curve necessary to operate them is particularly steep and the output is not significantly more useful than the much cheaper models. In many cases, supplies are also more expensive and difficult to obtain the more costly the piece of equipment is. Some of the more complex pieces of equipment might be appropriate in a Production Space but might not find much use in a space designed for maximum accessibility. Tools always need to be adapted to programmatic needs.

Wherever possible, accessibility of the tools needs to be considered when drawing up an equipment list. Finally, as tool costs are dropping rapidly and the technology is shifting so fast, equipment should be one of the final items purchased in any building process. This is because the costs of many of these technologies can drop significantly from the time of specification to the time of purchase. For instance, similar 3D printers dropped in price from $3500 to $500 over the course of the development of the West Houston Institute MakerSpace. These kinds of price adjustments, coupled with the emergence of new technologies that could do the same kinds of jobs at a fraction of the cost of the original solution, resulted in an overall savings of between 40 and 50% in the equipment budget of the project totaling almost half a million dollars.

Staffing is also more complex in these kinds of spaces. In the “safe” zones, staffing the area with part-time students is still an option but the more complex areas such as the wood shop, metal shop, and machine shop will require specialized staffing, usually faculty, trained in the safe operation of the equipment there. The more staffing, the more accessible the space will be, and therefore evening or night staffing might prove necessary. Certified volunteers might be an option in some areas, especially if you intend to allow community access to the space during non-instructional hours.

If your model allows it, off-hour use can become a profit center for the space. Arizona State University has developed a partnership with TechShop in Phoenix to operate such a space shared by students and entrepreneurs from the community. It is possible to replicate this model without a private partner and different economic models may be appropriate for different circumstances.

What are the benefits to instruction?

We have already discussed the benefits of Making extensively in the sections on Creation Spaces, Design Labs, and in the blog Hacking School. Creating a broader set of tools will benefit a wider range of programs and curricula than the less complex spaces. At the High School level, CTE programs can and should be rethought with Making in mind as Making creates a more flexible path toward the same learning outcomes. It also future-proofs the spaces far more effectively than more technologically (and architecturally) rigid spaces do. At the college level, more advanced programs in the STEAM fields will be given access to a wider range of potential projects for their students. Additionally, bringing in entrepreneurs, engineers, artisans, and craftspeople from the community brings in a whole range of “teachers” capable of providing valuable lessons and even partnerships for students working in the space.


EQUIPMENT LIST: There are many configurations for Fabrication Labs and this will have a significant impact on the equipment list. The best way to approach the equipment list is to develop a floor and then customize based on programmatic needs. MIT has developed just such a floor through its Fab Lab Standard. This equipment list can be found at:

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The One-Button Studio

A One-Button Studio at Houston Community College

What is it?

Penn State University originally created the One Button Studio as a solution to eliminate barriers to multimedia production, especially video, workflow. Its design is meant to provide students and faculty who have little experience in video production with the ability to seamlessly produce high-quality content for assignments, podcasts, online learning, and a host of other uses.

The workflow is designed to be extremely simple. The user enters the room with a USB flash drive and inserts it into a reader. There is literally a button that is pushed which fires up the lights, turns on the camera, and starts a countdown timer. The user positions him or herself in front of the camera and makes a presentation. At the end of the session, the button is hit a second time and the system encodes the video into a compressed file. In a few seconds users have a finished video on their flash drives that can be immediately uploaded to a wide range of online platforms.

The system consists of a ceiling mounted lighting system, a Mac Mini computer, a microphone, and a digital video recorder. All of these are tied together with a simple set of controllers borrowed from home automation systems.

The biggest design/budget question institutions have to ask themselves is what kind of display system they want to give users of the system. The simplest solutions put up a green screen (Rotoscope) or a background for the speaker. A wide throw projector, however, when coupled with a second PC, gives users access to PowerPoint, the Internet, and other technologies to enrich their videos. Adding touch through a system such as an Epson Brightlink interactive projector allows users to seamlessly interact with that content.

How big an Investment is The One-Button Studio?

In its simplest configuration you can set up a One-Button Studio in 80-100 square feet. Some electrical work is usually required to mount the lights to the ceiling and, if necessary, to mount the projection system. Electrical outlets will be needed for the computer(s) that drive the system as well. With those pieces in place the technology is relatively inexpensive. A basic system with a simple backdrop will cost around $7000. Adding a second computer and projection system adds $3000-5000 to that cost.

Since most of the components in this system are off-the-shelf computer components most IT personnel will be able to support this system with minimal training. The operation of the system requires little or no staff. One institution we have worked with simply has a key to the room at the front desk of the library and students are responsible for checking it in and out. The system is self-operating so no dedicated staff is required.

What are the benefits to instruction?

“We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all the forms of communication, not just the written word.” – George Lucas

New state and national educational standards are emphasizing the importance of creating across a broad range of media using technologies that are increasingly available to students. The problem to this point has been one of access, both in terms of cost and the skills required to operate video equipment. Full-blown studios can cost more than a million dollars and require specialized staff to operate them. Most institutions cannot afford this kind of investment at scale. As a result, students are unable to access professional video production. The One Button Studio solves the access problem by providing a relatively inexpensive solution that doesn’t require specialized staff, yet produces professional-looking content.

The uses of this technology in instruction are expansive. At Penn State in the first two academic years after constructing the One Button Studio, over 8,800 students – more than 10% of the main-campus’ student body per year – recorded well over 13,000 videos equating to a staggering 658 hours of recording. At other institutions students have created entrepreneurship pitch videos, mini lectures (teaching is one of the most effective ways of learning), club announcement, and many other kinds of videos. Faculty members have recorded short videos of particularly thorny instructional items such as solutions to complex equations or explaining the technicalities of the Senate committee structure. These examples clearly demonstrate that the One Button Studio represents a tool that can be applied to a wide range of educational challenges and needs.