UW Makerspace’s Virtual Workshops Brings Innovation To Your Couch

MADISON, Wis – The UW Makerspace prides itself on being a catalyst for innovation and creative thinking, so when 2020 came knocking and threatened to shut its doors, the staff knew what to do.

Despite only being open for three years, the UW Makerspace has garnered a reputation for facilitating learning and innovation via the use of cutting edge equipment and technology. It is their mission statement, after all. This process shines the most through Makerspace workshops; small, one-hour seminars led by student staff designed to teach students the basics of equipment, software, or engineering skills.

Traditionally, workshops are done in the Makerspace so students can take full advantage of the wide variety of equipment it has to offer. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, the idea of gathering a group of students together became unfeasible.

Luckily, adaptation, innovation, and exploring new ways of solving problems are the UW Makerspace’s bread and butter. With the help of the Makerspace’s full-time crew, the staff is providing a worthy alternative to the acclaimed workshops the Makerspace once provided: virtual workshops.

Staff members Akshay Vankayala and Quinn Sabin holding the “Simulating Guitar Pedals in LTSpice” workshop.

It seems obvious just to take workshops online. After all, slapping virtual in the title and calling it a day is practically the slogan of 2020, but the decision didn’t come easy. Virtual workshops pose a lot of problems for how Makerspace workshops typically function. How are students supposed to use the equipment if they aren’t allowed in the space? How will they receive the materials needed for the workshop? 

So far, staff has been remedying this issue by focusing on software-based workshops that don’t require a physical component. However, virtual workshops designed to take advantage of Makerspace equipment are in the works. 

While these physical components are still being ironed out, the plan is to give students links to free software they can use on their personal devices. After attending the virtual workshop, the students’ work is sent into the Makerspace where it can be entered into the respective equipment. Staff will then 3D print, laser engrave or do whatever is needed to materialize the student’s project. After they are finished, staff members leave the completed works in the lobby for a contact-free pick-up.

It’s a lot of extra steps, but it allows students to become acquainted with the equipment and its software without actually being there. Karl Williamson, the shop manager at the UW Makerspace, further elaborates on the staff’s progress in these workshops.

“The student staff is putting in a lot of work to keep people engaged, even in this strange time,” Williamson explains. “They’ve been working really hard to keep students making and building, even when we’re separated.”

So if you’ve been feeling deprived of your pre-Covid collaboration, consider checking out one of the UW Makerspace’s upcoming virtual workshops. Even if it’s online, you can rest assured that the student staff is working hard to provide engaging, innovative experiences that you couldn’t get anywhere else.

For a list of upcoming workshops and Makerspace events, click here.