Wyoming's Maker Access Pass
By Dale Dougherty
June 10, 2022
0:00 / 29:54
Tyler00:05

The students are rockstars. The students that typically work in makerspaces are so hardworking. They're so enthusiastic. They're so passionate about this stuff. And what we did is identify a student who's really passionate about the laser and had them research, and essentially coalesce all of these different resources around the web into these courses that describe how to operate a laser cutter, what materials you shouldn't be using with laser cutters, what might be challenging. And so the students really took charge and built this.

Dale00:38

Welcome to Make:Cast. I'm Dale Dougherty.

Tyler Kerr runs the Innovation Wyrkshop, a makerspace at the University of Wyoming, and largely because of COVID, state officials saw the potential for makerspaces for vocational rehab and developing skills in local communities. And so they are funding the build out of a network of makerspaces throughout the state.

Tyler and his students set out to build a safety pass, the Maker Access Pass that would allow students to be trained in one makerspace and work with machines in another makerspace. He believes that having standardized safety training as courses is important and he'd like to share this work with other makerspaces around the country.

Welcome Tyler. Tell Us a bit about yourself.

Tyler01:29

Sure. My name is Tyler Kerr. I'm the makerspace manager here at the Innovation Wyrkshop Makerspace on the University of Wyoming campus.

Dale01:37

Now that's workshop with a Y in it, right?

Tyler01:41

Yep. Yeah. We had to do the goofy thing, I think. And so we leaned into a little bit of that Wyoming spirit. We are Innovation Wyrkshop with a Y.

So we started off perhaps five years ago with one brick and mortar makerspace on campus. Today we operate and collaborate with five other Innovation Wyrkshop makerspaces throughout the state. So we are essentially an informal network of makerspaces that share ideas and curriculum and just help to leverage resources to Wyoming communities across the state.

The five makerspaces that we've set up are largely funded and supported by a partnership with a state agency, specifically the Division of Vocational Rehab and they themselves are within the Department of Workforce Services. So this is at least in the case of those five, funding came from those partnerships. And the real idea was to provide access to resources to all members of the community specific to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. These are youth ages, 14 to 21 with disabilities. So the idea there with those spaces is they're open to anyone in the community, but they are specifically looking to target and provide educational opportunities and technical skill building opportunities for those youth from ages 14 to 21.

We're partnering with the governor's office to build a fleet of four mobile makerspaces. And those were hoping to deploy in fall of this year.

Dale03:14

So are these five other locations, are they at colleges or high schools orwhat are they?

Tyler03:21

That's a great question. Essentially it differs, they're all located in differing aspects of the community, let's say, so one is located in a library, the large community library. Two are located on community college campuses and are available for anybody across the campus to use.

And two are involved with their local VOC's buildings and communities. So it's a little column a and column B where they might be located on college campuses, they might be located in kind of key strategic resources across their community.

Dale03:55

How did government officials understand making and makerspaces particularly in service of this population?

Tyler04:03

Sure. It was an interesting conversation that sort of sparked the initial growth of our network. The conversation was really actually born out of the pandemic. If there's any sort of silver lining from this pandemic, it's largely that I think folks started to realize the pure utility of a makerspace, they're not just for hobbyists, although they certainly can be. And that's one of the things we want to encourage. But they're all also to address supply chain issues. And so the conversation for us was actually started by the division of vocational rehabilitation group.

They came by because they needed face shields for their community and in passing one of the administrators just said, wouldn't it be amazing if we had makerspaces in our communities that could also do this and provide these resources?

Dale04:50

During COVID, early COVID anyway, hospitals and others were running out of things like face shields, face masks, and it was one of the bright shining moments of the maker community. People stepped forward and said, we can do this. We can make things locally, often from designs that were developed elsewhere but could be replicated and even modified locally. If you had some basic equipment and some expertise in the community, you could do these things. And I guess I just want to hammer home that that it was such a really remarkable thing that I've always wished the governments would pay a little bit more attention to this and say, we need this kind of infrastructure widely distributed, especially like in rural areas. And one of the things that did strike me I think I told you about the, my interview, the Montana mask folks, that rural hospitals and others started to realize that they were the end of the law the back of the line. If things were going to start to become available to them, they would be among the last to receive them. So they had a different kind of problem then if you were an urban area. And you're going to get a. Truckload of these things or plane load of these things.

So this response was more, can we take care of this ourselves? Can we help?

Tyler06:07

That was one of the wonderful things that we saw was that so many folks came out of the woodwork, small makerspaces that we had no idea about who tuned into this Montana Mask model, and then just started essentially providing access to their resources to build this out across the state.

Wyoming I think to your point because we are so rural we were pretty far down on the list in terms of priority of these resources. So it really did come down to some of these communities where we were trying to provide resources out to these hospitals. And we for the first time in, maybe let's say 140 years, we put back together the pony express model, and we were shipping, we were sending cars and caravans of folks to meet other folks, to bring it up to other folks to try to address this.

I think it was really remarkable to see what, what came out of it.

Dale06:54

It was a local supply chain.

Tyler06:56

Yeah. But I think that you hit the nail on the head, at least for Wyoming, that was that sort of spark where state agencies and government groups said there's real potential here and more communities should have this access to these resources

Dale07:11

Perhaps a realization how vulnerable we are in these areas and when we don't have a backup plan. That was the spark for, getting this rolling.

Tyler07:21

Yeah, that was the initial conversation. That what if conversation came from the division of vocational rehabilitation folks and from there oh man, it has expanded. So I think right now, probably by fall, we will have around nine to 12 makerspaces and Makerspace resources available to different communities across Wyoming.

Dale07:44

When let's say you're going from five to nine, is there a template or a model they're following or is each one kind of building their own version?

Tyler07:53

There's a little bit of a foundational model that we have constructed based on the time that we've been around and what our community is like.

But I think, truly, what we have to respect is every community is different. And we'll have different needs and interests already. We see that with some of our makerspaces, where if we approached it with maybe more of a cookie cutter, you should have X amount of this equipment, Y amount of this equipment. Some equipment by might be significantly underutilized.

So we've really put some of the work towards these communities to find out what specifically will they need, what will help their communities the most. And we tend to plug in the gaps and say, Hey, we're going to send you a couple of these to augment or compliment those. A really great case example, there's a big craft and fabrication community in Cheyenne, Wyoming. And so they tend to use a lot of embroidery machines, domestic and industrial sewing machines. Contrast that with Pinedale Wyoming, where they have a larger outdoor and hunting community. And so they do a lot more leather working.

They do a fair amount of 3D printing and laser cutting. But they're also, I think last summer, they were prototyping how to make outdoor supplies and supplies out of canvas, whether that's hammocks or tents and things like that.

Dale09:05

Some people have access to leather working equipment or craft equipment; they have it at home.

Having it in a makerspace makes it accessible to more people. But probably more importantly, it's the transfer of knowledge that can happen a little more easily. You meet someone who can show you how to do something that you don't know how to do. And the those people that are doing the same things learn from each other and level up because of that..

Tyler09:31

Sure.

Dale09:31

I wonder this also, maybe just a side thought, but I tend to believe in America today, community is more important than ever. Building community, not just taking it for granted and not just saying we all live in Cheyenne or somewhere, but actually doing things that create a sense of common goals, common purpose.

And I think a makerspace can help that. When people share a space, share a workspace, they're working together, they're not just doing their own thing and it's a different twist on it.

Tyler10:02

I think that's what you've described as the beating heart of any successful Makerspace. We could buy equipment all day, every day and supply what we think a community might need.

Really truly, if you don't have that sort of collaborative network of folks sharing ideas and teaching each other and maybe bouncing these next innovations off each other, helping each other with projects, I think it doesn't set makerspaces up necessarily to succeed, but when you have that robust network, spaces are alive and buzzing. It feels a bit like the world is your oyster.

Dale10:36

I just want to advocate that this is community infrastructure you're building that brings people together. As I said, I think in our day and age that the internet in some ways has made people feel more alone than ever. And so getting together physically learning from each other, doing things together is a wonderful thing.

Maker Pass

So one of the problems that you set out to solve was that if you have a network, even an informal network you, might have students and others moving from one Makerspace to another. You've identified a problem that you wanted to solve.

Tyler11:12

Yeah. Yeah. Ultimately when we've set this network up, we wanted to be able to reduce a little bit of the redundancy when it comes to setting up new makerspaces and developing the programming around them.

But we also really critically wanted to make it as easy as possible for folks to hop between these communities. As they might go to school in one community and work in industry in another. I think at the heart of it, innovation typically happens with this free exchange of people and ideas.

It's really a rising tides approach where we can all help each other. We can all help with curriculum. And so what we wanted to do when we built this network, was ensure that, one, it was fairly straightforward for folks to build a new curriculum, design curriculum around their specific equipment, but then also for them to be able to share their people and their knowledge outwards with the rest of us.

I think as we've built out these makerspaces and as we've observed other makerspaces, there is this sort of call to action where we've seen a lot of folks and a lot of administrators have to invest a fair amount of effort in that foundation building and that curriculum development. So then folks can use their equipment safely.

Dale12:29

To be clear, this is largely around the safety training for new users.

Tyler12:34

Exactly right. Yeah. So we wanted to make sure that folks would be able to safely access equipment and learn how to use things with spinning blades or hot nozzles. And then we started thinking, why doesn't there already exist this sort of shared common standard, this democratized system where if makerspace A develops curriculum, it's immediately shared out with the entire network to refine and then to deploy in their communities.

And that was where the Maker Access Pass. We call it the MAP. That was essentially what it was born out of was that question.

Dale13:15

It's a pass or passport that says you've been trained in these areas and you should be okay using the equipment in the next space you move on to. These days college campuses often have multiple makerspaces. So it isn't just even across town, but across a campus you might be going from makerspace in the engineering department to one that's in the theater department. And can you carry any of your training with you into that other space?

Tyler13:45

Yeah, I think that's exactly it. We wanted this to become a passport that could be shared out across spaces. So then, the space in the education building or the library could also recognize those as clear credentials and clear competencies, that show, one, that they'll know how to use the equipment safely, responsibly, that the equipment won't get damaged.

But more importantly that the maker won't get injured. And I think this sort of passport is the compelling idea that we're starting to explore now.

Dale14:14

You mentioned earlier in each space can have its own flavor of Makerspace, but it does seem right that safety training and protocols should be standardized.

It isn't an area where being different buys you a lot. Having a standard and promoting that standard is a really good thing. And I think we've lacked that. I know you've solved this problem in a way for Wyoming, but you're looking beyond this, but I just felt like makerspaces together should think that we share the same standard for safety training, monitoring and reporting, even so that we hold ourselves all to that standard. Because it's for the benefit of the people that use it. Certainly we don't want accidents to happen. And if they do, we want to have means to correct them and make sure that they can be eliminated in the future.

What were the challenges in coming up with this as a kind of standard?

Tyler15:12

I think the challenge was, or the largest challenge was to create a system, and the term that we've been using is site agnostic. So a system that is site agnostic. If we deploy a program or a course in Massachusetts or Moldova or Mars, that all of them will have the same competencies and they're not going to differ based on location.

We wanted to really respect and acknowledge how unique every makerspace in every community is, and not step on that, but at the same time standardize what we could, the idea here being that a Prusa 3D printer, it doesn't matter where it is. They all turn on the same. They all load filament the same. Where that filament is stored, it's going to be dependent on the site. Any additional requirements for that can be built in by individual sites into the curriculum, but creating essentially a database of courses that could be deployed anywhere and making sure that the language reflects that and how these courses are built, reflect that was the biggest challenge I'd say.

Dale16:15

Who developed the initial curriculum?

Tyler16:17

Oh gosh. So it was my team and I. So I have a team of about 10 students. For those who run makerspaces or have been in makerspaces they can certainly perhaps empathize with this, the students are rockstars. The students that typically work in makerspaces are so hardworking. They're so enthusiastic. They're so passionate about this stuff. And what we did is identify a student who's really passionate about the laser and had them research, run through the manuals, find the core competencies and essentially coalesce all of these different resources around the web into these courses that describe how to operate a laser cutter, what materials you shouldn't be using with laser cutters, what might be challenging. And so the students really took charge and built this. Now we have the funding and a lot of the state support to bring in curriculum designers and industry partners to build in additional aspects of the curriculum and really polish what we built.

Dale17:17

. The average high school shop class, if you go back and look at them, safety was like the first six weeks of the class. Like you didn't touch anything until you went through all that period of training. It's a different environment today.

You can't really hold people to a really extensive training, which leads me to think that training has to be almost continuous rather than completely front-loaded. It has to be enough to get you started. It has to keep you from going into places that you shouldn't without more training and that you should almost on a constant drip, be getting, more training as well.

Tyler17:57

Yeah, I agree. The way that we have compartmentalized all of these courses, is in a means to effectively package them together. So what we've tried to do is build out courses as foundational instruction. To teach you how to use the machine at a very basic level. For instance, if we're talking about the 3D printers so you don't get injured and the machine does get injured, but then the machine doesn't get injured. I've been spending too much time in the makerspace. I'm starting to empathize with them. What we've tried to do is compartmentalize these into essentially packages that then we can curate based on a specific career focus or based on a specific interest or CV or resume builder.

So for instance, a user, somebody who just wants to come in and prototype a quick part on a 3D printer can do so in, in essentially one or two courses. If they really want to hunker down and learn that machine, we have additional coursework to teach them how to maintain it and how to troubleshoot their prints and how to really dive into some of the nitty gritty.

So I think altogether we've tried to create these short courses to package it in digestible chunks. So it's not a six-week course per se, but still provides the same amount of rigor.

Dale19:13

And so the student pass. What did they just get a credential that they took that course. And is that credential online?

Tyler19:22

Exactly. The entire system is digital and browser based and we did that intentionally. I think we certainly know that things like RFID chips aren't terribly cost prohibitive now, but there is a certain level of technical knowledge to set up a system that can recognize and like unlock equipments based on RFID.

And instead we've created a system where we truly don't even really need to check a user's badges. The badges are there in a portfolio for them to collect. They can share it out because it's digital various professional channels and across social media, if they choose to but ultimately the general workflow is the system works because it only gates access to equipment to those who have successfully passed the course. So the moment you pass a course, you earn that digital credential and that goes into your portfolio. And then you unlock a hidden page in our digital modules that allows you to reserve that equipment.

Dale20:22

I've seen other systems, which the access is at the machine itself. Like you swipe a card and it says, okay, you're Tyler, you have 3D printer access.

Tyler20:31

We're thinking of potentially exploring a mixed model. But what we didn't want is for there to be, if this system is a system that we want to deploy in rural and remote communities that might not have the highest budget, or it might be a single K-12 educator who's doing this in their classroom, we wanted them to be able to adopt it too.

Dale20:50

But I'd really love to see a system, through education where young people begin to acquire the badges. I've had people saying you should have all these skill badges for maker stuff. And when you get into it it's really hard to figure out where those levels are. Safety is its own thing. You're not necessarily optimizing for someone being productive on the machine. You're just trying to make sure they don't hurt themselves or the machine. And that they understand basic operations, things they need to do before they start working on it. But nonetheless, I think long-term, it would be nice if a high school student acquired some of those badges and went onto the community college and they said, good, you already know how to do these things, come on in.

Tyler21:34

Yeah, I think that's exactly the system that we're trying to build. Some of our industry and state agency partners are looking to build in additional curriculum into the course, which we can certainly do. So we're hiring a team now to infuse some of the coursework with some of those critical social and emotional learning skills. We're doing a fair amount in the CTE with workforce readiness where we provide programming for young folks typically in high school. Not only can they earn the badge to learn how to use 3D printers. So when they're ready to go to college or go into industry, they can choose that path. But they can also learn professional communication or design thinking skills, some of those maybe more intangible, soft skills.

There's also those students that you mentioned earlier that become really committed to running the space and managing it. That's a whole other level of skills too. They fix machines, troubleshoot problems and perhaps more importantly, help students with projects that don't know what tools to apply to create or make something. I could try to lecture students and teach students all day. But the folks that resonate most with the student body are their peers. And so when we have these classes that are taught by students they're typically full, they're bubbly. They're exciting. And they're very fun to watch.

Dale22:52

But what's an example of one of those courses that the students...

Tyler22:56

oh, gosh. So the students are coming up with some very fun courses. I don't know if we'll integrate them into MAP, but I can talk about them. We teach maybe 20 to 30 workshops a week. They're about 60 minutes each and they run the gamut. It could be learning how to use an Ultimaker 3D printer or a Stratasys, j750 PolyJet machine, could be using table saws.

What we try to do is play to an individual student's interests and strengths. So we teach across the board. What we're starting to put together now is a fun course series called adulting 101 that teaches gen Z folks, maybe baking at altitude or how to repair their bikes, how to start investing. There are things that are just fun that can really cover a broad spectrum of kind of fun competencies and skills. Not necessarily, balancing a checkbook might not be something that you typically run into a Makerspace, but when makerspaces are tied to things like entrepreneurship and design thinking, these are conversations that sometimes what happened in makerspaces?

Dale23:57

The DIY roots of making is just helping people figure out how to do more things for themselves. Be more competent, more capable. So that's cool.

Let's talk a bit about what your plans are for Maker Pass. You are creating an open system that you imagine could be shared and propagated to other states and other networks, right?

Tyler24:20

Yeah. I think what, we've just, I can't say that we've done this with anything besides just accidentally stumbling upon something that seems to work here in Wyoming. Because it works here, we do really want to actively share this system out. So if other folks are interested in contributing to the program or collaborating with us or helping to effectively form a grassroots collaborative review board to integrate new coursework, develop new coursework and share it out. I think this goes back to the general idea of a rising tide lifts all boats. If we can all just help each other build out this system, I think that's where we want to head next.

This is really born, like so many other things in the makerspace world, out of a desire to be open source. Let's share what we know with our neighbors. Let's learn from them. And let's compile that into a program to together.

Dale25:14

So that would be nice to see the community being able to work together on that.

Tyler25:21

You touched on something there that I think is really important.

One aspect, whether it's the Maker Access Pass system, or maybe the maker community at large comes up with a different system. I think either way, if there's a shared common standard for safety that we can also work on together, it allows these new makerspaces to potentially get up and running a bit faster.

They can focus on what, what really matters. Curriculum and safety are certainly important, but if those already exist in a repository that they can learn and pull from and adopt to their system, administrators can focus on building community and laying that foundation.

Dale25:57

One of the interesting things that we find in maker world is a lot of the knowledge that you need is it comes verbally to you, or someone showing you how to do something. It's not written down. And even if it's written down, people don't read it. They don't learn that way. And the kind of thing, sometimes called shadowing. That you go with someone who shows you how to operate the machine and then gives you a turn and watch as you do it. Almost no good substitute for that kind of hands-on learning how to do something.

Tyler26:27

Yeah. I think for us, that's one thing that we realized early on in the pandemic. How do you teach experiential hands-on learning when folks can't come in. So that was where the system evolved out.

What we currently offer is any one of several options. They can take the courses online at 3:00 AM, if they're a night owl and just really want to complete it so they can gain access. And in the online courses, there's written content, audio, verbal or video content and some interactive content as well.

I think I'm right there with you. I learn best by hands-on, by tinkering with it, by hopefully keeping all my fingers doing so but just working through and doing that hands-on experimentation. So we still offer that route as well. Folks can go either avenue to reach that end goal of earning the credential and gaining access to the equipment.

Dale27:16

Thank you for sharing this information about maker access pass with you. I wish you good luck on it. And please let us know at Make: if we can do anything to help promote that. The idea of standardized safety training is something I think as makerspaces become more institutional, the more you have students coming in, you have to have this covered, you have to have a plan for it. And I think standardizing it makes a lot of sense. And I always felt that another side of it was monitoring. You have to monitor that program to see if it's working. If the students are breaking your machines, or if they're misusing them, the makerspace becomes a lot more expensive to run. And also importantly, those machines aren't available for other people to use.

That's an issue. And then reporting just I think for insurance purposes and other things over time, I think it's going to be important to have a low safety log. Most makerspaces that I'm aware of have really good records of safety, but the insurance companies don't know that.

Oh I think it's going to be important to have that documentation that you do a review regularly of your safety program. That the compliance with safety programs are high and that the effectiveness of the program is high.

Tyler28:26

I love the idea of a periodic audit that can say effectively, the spaces that are using this system are or have had this many safety incidents or they were mitigated in such a way.

Dale28:39

Makerspaces should have a safety officer that monitors the program, maybe meets with other spaces that have safety officers.

And I think that's a good way to maybe get towards that kind of collective sharing. You're right in that there's almost a resistance, getting help from other people. We can do it ourselves. We don't need to talk to them. We can develop curriculum. But it really would be much better for all, if we could agree on those things.

Tyler29:05

I agree. This is our call to action. We want to make this available to anyone who's interested in it. And more importantly, still, we want to hear from those other groups and integrate their lessons learned and work together to build out this system..

Dale29:19

Yeah. Good. Tyler, great to talk to you. We did not have a single Osprey flying overhead during this call. As a reference, I tried to record this podcast in San Diego and we went outside to do it. It turned out to be very windy and I didn't realize that, but more importantly, there were these airplanes flying overhead. We had to stop every few seconds to let them go through. So thank you very much and good luck.

Tyler29:41

Thank you. I appreciate it.