DiDIY and Education: perspectives of an early research

(LIUC student Lorenzo Di Fulvio decided to focus his master's research on the themes of DiDIY and Education. This guest post by Lorenzo is a presentation of his thesis "Education in the DiDIY Era: Implications and Opportunities")

Lorenzo participated in a double degree master's program attending both Industrial Engineering at Universita' Cattaneo LIUC (in Castellanza) and International Business at The Robert Gordon University (in Aberdeen); his thesis was developed under the guide of his Italian supervisor Professor Luca Mari (the coordinator of the DiDIY Project) and his Scottish supervisor Professor John Park and will be presented to both universities.

The aim of the research was exploratory, and a qualitative approach was adopted. The main purpose was to conduct a preliminary analysis of the implications and opportunities that DiDIY can bring in the field of Education, especially taking into consideration the dual perspectives of students and of teachers/researchers. Data was collected through the organization of two experiential workshops and 12 semi-structured interviews.

another moment of the didiy workshop in Aberdeen

The workshops were organized in Aberdeen in cooperation with the digital fabrication studio "MAKE Aberdeen", who provided the location and the equipment. The workshops were scheduled for the 1st and 8th of June and provided an introduction to 3D Printing, 3D Modeling and the concept of DIDIY. Given the fact that no previous experience in digital manufacturing was required, people from very different backgrounds and age groups participated, including kids.

Participants were given a brief theoretical overview and were introduced to the 3D modeling software Onshape. They were then tasked with a simple challenge, to be carried out in groups of 2: given some size constraints (mostly to ensure that the printing time would not exceed the duration of the event), they were asked to model and print the blades for a windmill. At the end of the event participants would join in teams and 3 blades at once would be mounted on the windmill. Using a simple blow-dryer, the groups who could make the windmill spin faster would win!

The reception was very warm and most of the participants proved very interested to continue learning about digital manufacturing and DiDIY. Participants generally recognized a great potential in adopting a DiDIY approach in education; however, they are not convinced about the way in which this potential could be concretely exploited and some appeared concerned about the effective implementation of DiDIY and its integration with the existing curricula.

The following phase of Lorenzo's research consisted in semi-structured interviews; an identical set of questions was administered to a group of 6 students and of 6 teachers/educators/researchers (identified as the sub-set of teachers for simplicity purposes). The research sample included participants form very different backgrounds and different nationalities (namely: Italy, Great Britain, Spain, Russia, Ecuador, Germany and Belgium). The questions analyzed several key-topics that Lorenzo identified during his literature review, such as Creativity, Technology Literacy and the importance of working in a group. The interviews were carried out through Skype and the average duration was of about 45 minutes. Surprisingly, the general opinion of students tends to coincide to that of teachers.

Main results

Findings suggest that DiDIY offers great opportunities to improve education. Namely, its introduction in the existing curricula could help stimulating students or allow teachers to tackle themes that would have previously been very difficult or impossible to explore. Furthermore, given the flexible nature of DiDIY activities, it is possible to adopt a DiDIY approach in virtually any stage of education and to tailor each activity according to the desired learning objective. Findings also show that DiDIY should not revolutionize the existing curriculum but rather be adopted as an integrating and enhancing tool to existing teaching methods.

The main challenges regarding the adoption of DiDIY revolve around its implementation: in fact, schools and universities would need to undergo relevant investment in resources and training (especially for teachers) in order to properly incorporate DiDIY activities in the curriculum.

Given the novelty of the theme, Lorenzo's research represents one of the first, formal approaches to the study of DiDIY and its implications in education. As such, its findings should not be regarded as final but rather be used as a reference by future studies aimed at further exploring these concepts.

The full thesis can be consulted here.