Digital design and fabrication in education

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Digital design and fabrication (in french "Conception et fabrication assistées par ordinateur", CFAO) is the combination of computer-assisted design (CAD), computer-assisted manufacturing (CAM) and Computer-numerical control (CNC) machines. This combination is also known under other terms, e.g. Digital modeling and fabrication, defined by Wikipedia (May 2018), as “design and production process that combines 3D modeling or computing-aided design (CAD) with additive and subtractive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is also known as 3D printing, while subtractive manufacturing may also be referred to as machining,[1] and many other technologies can be exploited to physically produce the designed objects”. Another term is digital design and making, e.g. in the ECRAFT2LEARN project.

Digital design and fabrication is particular interesting way of learning technology itself and learning through technology (e.g. IT skills, design skills, project skills). According to Hsu, Baldwin and Ching (2017), “Making, a process of creating something, has become a movement tied to encouraging growth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The maker movement incorporates: 1) makers, who are involved in experimental play; 2) the makerspace, a community of practice for makers featuring a variety of supplies; and 3) making, activities focused around working and learning with technology (Dougherty 2013). Making spans a myriad of activities, including cooking, sewing, welding, robotics, painting, printing, and building (Peppler and Bender 2013). Making activities often involve programming and physical computing (e.g., robotics) that creates interactive experiences of sensing and controlling the physical world with computers (O’Sullivan and Igoe 2014).”

Digital design and fabrication also allows teachers and other persons to create, share and adapt various tangible learning materials such as models (e.g. 3D printed molecules in biology), group animation tools (e.g. board games, or tokens), interactive objects (e.g. educational robots), etc.

We may expand this sometimes later. For now, also read:

There is also a consolidated bibliography

Digital design and fabrication from different perspectives

Several rationales to introduce digital design and fabrication for learning in general and ICT in particular have been put forward, directly or indirectly. Below, we summarize a few strands of thinking.

Maker spaces

Digital design and fabrication usually happens in a makerspace, i.e. a space within which people can create things, usually in two steps. In a first step, some design is digitally created, e.g. with a general or specialized drawing program. In a second step, the design (or parts) of it are made by a digitally controlled machine, e.g. a 3D printer, a laser cutter, a milling machine or an embroidery machine. Educational makerspaces are usually different from fab labs in two respects: They are closed to the public and they lack more expensive (e.g. laser cutting) and dangerous (e.g. milling) machines.

Davee et al. (2015) found 45 different titles for these spaces. “Makerspaces, as a more generic and inclusive term, has increasingly come to represent an extremely wide variety of creative endeavors, tools, demographics, and types of places where making happens. Reflecting this, these spaces go by many names.”. E.g. make space, makery, idea lab, maker art, tinkering space, maker lab, but also design-lab, hands-on-learning space or domain specific such as art center, gallery space, media lab, arts camp. From this variety, the authors conclude: “Evident in these names are a diverse range of making forms, including robotics, music, media, arts, and technology. Various approaches to making are also revealed, including those emphasizing play, design, the arts, science, tinkering, collaboration, informal and hands-on learning, as well as lab and studio approaches.” (Davee et al., 2015). Finally, their review reveals three types of makespaces in libraries, museums, schools and community organizations: dedicated spaces that concentrate tools in a single space, distributed makerspaces that use several spaces and mobile that allow bringing equipment either with carts or full trucks to other places.

Abbie Brown (2015) distinguishes a curricular hierarchy of making activities, derived from her own experience in a year-long 3D printing experience:

  • Print trials involves parametrizations in the design software, preparing the machine and evaluating the result and its use.
  • Design experiments involves designing an object by modifying an existing one or by creating a new one scratch. I allows both creativity and technological skill development..
  • Engineering tests addresses a production challenge, i.e. a real need that requires a physical solution, e.g. creating a box for a computer board.

The similar uTEC make model was developed by Loertscher et al. (2013) and includes four levels:

uTEC Make Model (slightly modified by DKS)
Level Elaboration Examples
4. Creating Inventing, producing, enterpreneurship Novel product
3. Experimenting Building, trying/failing, repurposing modifying and testing theories
2. Tinkering Playing, messing around, questioning, researching making changes to others creating
1. Using Enjoying, sampling, engaging, playing experience what others have created

According to Oliver (2016), makerspaces are defined by core tenets, e.g. self-directed learning, serious play, tolerance for failure and retrial, peer collaboration and sharing between experts and novices.

Learning organization and evaluation

Learning organization or making activities depend a lot on the context. Most digital design and fabrication happens outside formal education, e.g. after school activities in a school setting.

Learning arrangements in maker spaces depend on the context. Sheridan et al. (2014) found in a comparative study of three cases several adaptive learning arrangements. “One of the distinctive features of all the spaces is the way diverse learning arrangements (e.g., solo exploration, facilitated one-on-one or small group projects, collaborative projects, online forums, and structured classes) often informally evolve to support the projects and goals of the participants.”. Duration of projects ranged from minutes to years, depending on both the nature of the project and the type of makerspace. The same authors observed the emergence of a “We saw evidence in each makerspace of a hybrid model that includes many of the ways of seeing, valuing, thinking, and doing found in participatory cultures yet incorporates pedagogical structures found in more formal studio-based settings, such as demonstration, facilitated workshops, and critique (Hetland et al., 2013)”

In formal below university education, we can distinguish two situations: Formal classes, e.g. design and technology in UKs lower and higher secondary schools, and "technologie" in the french lower and higher secondary school system. These classes follow formal learning goals but are probably fairly open to more learner centered pedagogy. Occasional design and fabrication activities to support some curricular or extra-curricular topics.

Evaluation of learner activities both in formal and informal settings can evaluate products (things made), product presentations (e.g. in online portfolios) and other contributions, e.g. participation in class, on forums and on wikis. Oliver lists assessable competences “as both hard skills (working with tools and manipulating materials) and soft skills (pursuing interests, staying committed through trial and failure, effort), application of the design process (questioning, prototyping), craftsmanship in making, community building (collaborates with peers, cleans up), and content understanding when applicable (Chang 2015; Yokana 2015). In addition, educators can look at the emergence of “metarepresentational competence” in makers or an “understanding of how tools support communicating an idea, when to invoke certain tools, and for what purpose” (Sheridan et al. 2014, p. 508).”

Lisa Yokana (2015) developed a PDF a sample rubric for maker application that evaluates six dimensions: technique/concepts, habits of mind, reflection and understanding, craftsmanship, responsibility and effort.

Evaluation also can take into account evolutionary stages, i.e. whether participants can reach a "create" stage.

Educational robotics

Green at al. 2018, A Look at Robots and Programmable Devices for the K-12 Classroom

Digital design and fabrication for ICT education most often means assembling a robot from a variety of technologies and the programming it. Some technology, e.g. HyperDuino, Makerbit or LEGO Mindstormsare more suitable to combine making and programming while respecting the curriculum, according to Green at al. who created a little taxonomy that allows classifying use of tools according to educational outcomes. “The curriculum domain focuses on outcomes that support learners using the tools to understand and demonstrate understanding of content (particularly related to content standardsThe making domain is strongly focused on outcomes that are craft-centric (i.e., making a product). The principles of engineering and coding domain focuses on outcomes associated with coding as the curriculum; learning to use the tools is the primary outcome of this domain. The overlapping of the circles combines the outcomes of the different domains.” (Green et al. 2018)

Since both Digital design & fabrication and ICT education are most often associated with engineering and since educational robotics has long standing tradition starting in Papert's constructionism, it is natural that making is frequently associated with robotics. “Making spans a myriad of activities, including cooking, sewing, welding, robotics, painting, printing, and building (Peppler and Bender 2013). Making activities often involve programming and physical computing (e.g., robotics) that creates interactive experiences of sensing and controlling the physical world with computers (O’Sullivan and Igoe 2014).” (Hsu et al. 2017)

Artistic thinking

Sousa and Pileckki (2013) associated artistic thinking with divergent thinking. “in some STEM classrooms, the students are completing experiments that merely confirm a scientific principle that they have already learned. Such an activity is of little interest and hardly challenging. [...] In divergent thinking, on the other hand, the student generates several ideas about possible ways to solve a problem, often by breaking it down into its components and looking for new insights into the problem. After gaining those insights, the student may then use convergent thinking to put the parts back together and solve the problem in a different and unexpected way. [...] Divergent thinking works best with poorly defined problems that have multifaceted solutions. This is the type of thinking that is typical of artistic activities.”. In more simple terms:

  • Convergent thinking solves a problem by applying procedures to known sub-problems, i.e. allows to compute a solution with known tools for known problems.
  • Divergent thinking allows spliting a problem into new sub-problems, i.e. see it differently. According to Kraft (2007) cited by Sousa and Pilecki (2013), divergent thinking also seems to change the brain itself, i.e. enhance future creativity.

In a way, converting thinking allows to solve difficult problems whereas divergent thinking allows to solve complex problems, i.e. at Andersen and Krathwohl's create level. Both together allow to solve difficult and complex ones.

Based on Gardner, Sousa and Pilecki then relate artistic domains with intellectual skills: “music requires musical/rhythmic and logical/mathematical skills. Visual art, of course, clearly calls for visual/spatial intelligence. Drama involves verbal/linguistic, bodily/kinesthetic, and interpersonal skills. Dance certainly depends on bodily/kinaesthetic, visual/spatial, and interpersonal intelligences. When teachers purposefully incorporate arts-related skills in their instruction, the students’ benefits are abundant.”

Halverson and Sheridan (2014) cited by by Davee, Regalla and Change (2015) point out that maker and arts spaces share a similar architecture. “Many makerspaces resemble studio arts learning environments, where participants work independently or collaboratively with materials to design and make”. However, the study by Sheridan et al. (2014:526) also show that makerspaces unite more than other spaces. “Among us authors, we have prior experience in many sites for learning in the making—arts studios, performing arts companies, and game design and digital media labs. Unlike these disciplinary places of practice, makerspaces support making in disciplines that are traditionally separate. [...] This blending of traditional and digital skills, arts and engineering creates a learning environment in which there are multiple entry points to participation and leads to innovative combinations, juxtapositions, and uses of disciplinary knowledge and skill (Brahms & Crowley, 2014).”

Mathematics education

“Technology and Design is a purposeful and valuable subject in its own right and it is also a subject which enables the meaningful delivery of other subjects to be placed into real-world contexts. In a situation where there is full integration of the two subject areas, namely Technology and Design with Mathematics then the Mathematics can be taught within a context that is relevant to everyday living. The Mathematics has ‘purpose and focus’ through the medium of Technology and Design (Ainley, Pratt and Hansen, 2006:29).” (Gibson & Bell, 2011)

However, Gibson and Bell (2011) do point out that many teacher student's are afraid of mathematics. If it is seen as difficult and threatening by the teacher, mathematical contents cannot be delivered effectively in a "making" class


We believe that making pedagogy can be traced back to philosophers like Locke and Rousseau and educators such as Pestalozzi, Fröbel and Herbart who all advocated in one form or another that children learn through through experience, and in particular through somewhat autonomous play and manipulation of objects.

According to Hsu et al (2015) citing Martinez and Stager (2013), the maker movement is rooted in the works of Dewey, Piaget plus Paper and Montessori. We do not exactly share this view since tinkering and bricolage (and that is the essence of it) is not directly related to pedagogy and precedes it, e.g. in the form of craftsmanship, engineering, and more modern DIY. Also, the influential fab lab movement rather did start from "let us build spaces that allow to create most everything". However, makers in education quickly made the link, since making is per se "hands on". Consequently, the theoretical influence on making in education seems to be Papert and his Constructionism.

According to Blickstein (2018), there are several sources, i.e. what is called progressive education in the US, distributed cognition and apprenticeship learning, critical pedagogy and constructionism. “Progressive educators and constructivist researchers have been prescribing interest-driven, student-centered, and experiential approaches for more than a century (Dewey 1902; Freudenthal 1973; Fröbel and Hailmann 1901; Montessori 1965; Von Glaserfeld 1995).” (p. 420). “Critical pedagogy then highlighted the importance of learners’ empowerment, culturally authentic learning experiences, convivial tools, and the connection with local communities and their funds of knowledge (Freire 1974; Illich 1970; Moll et al. 1992). Critical theorists such as Freire fervently advocated that students should perceive themselves as change makers, capable of producing transformations in a world that should never be taken as static or immutable.” (p. 420).

“The idea that “teaching thinking” is appropriate in elementary school does have some antecedents but in 1970 it was certainly not current in the mainstream of American education circles. I see the movement that goes under names like “thinking skills” and “critical thinking” as something that came to prominence much later and was supported if not inspired by a wave of hype on the lines of “Logo teaches logical thinking.” Reading “Teaching Children Thinking” should show that my own views were much more complex: Programming can be used to support learning about thinking, which is a very different claim from saying that in itself it improves thinking skills.” (Papert, 2005)


According to Wenger [1] identity is what we know, what is foreign and what we choose to know, as well as how we know it. Our identities determine with whom we will interact in a knowledge sharing activity, and our willingness and capacity to engage in boundary interactions (Wenger 2000, p.239). [1] .

Maker identity

A first dimension to explore is the maker identity, i.e. become, through educational activities, someone with the mindset and the skills of maker, at least in the context of making activities and spaces. Chu et al. (2015) [2] define the maker mindset as a combination of self-efficacy, motivation and interest: “Three of the most common and highly significant constructs in determining one’s self-concept are self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation and interest or enjoyment. Bandura’s social cognitive theory of self-efficacy suggests that the child who thinks: “I CAN (am able to) Make technology things” may progress to thinking “I CAN BE (have a possibility to be) a Maker,” and ultimately to “I AM (identify myself as and want to be identified as) a Maker.” Hidi and Renninger [21] ‘four-phasemodel of interest’ development specifies that situational interest (that a single well-designedMaking activity may trigger) is able to develop into a maintained situational interest, then an emerging individual interest, and finally a well-developed individual interest. Among the influ-encing variables of such interest, Hidi and Renninger [21] have also shown that intrinsic motivation works to affect an individual’s intrinsic interest value for an activity.” Chu et al. (2015, p5).

O'Donovan and Smith (2020) [3] identified the following list of makerspace capabilities in the literature:

  • The capability to skilfully make and do
  • The capability to assume and perform a valued maker identity
  • The capability to establish and maintain maker community
  • The capability to sustain livelihood
  • The capability to modify one’s place in the world
  • The capability to participate in material culture.

The capability to assume and perform a maker identity is defined as follows in Annex Table A4: “Digital fabrication technologies help people cultivate new and valued identities. Users associate with identities such as maker, hacker, and design entrepreneur – we use maker as shorthand. The capability to be recognised as creative and smart by others, brings a sense of well-being to protagonists. Users value a technologically competent and creative identity that enables them to identify with, and be identified by others in makerspaces. There is also a commitment to involving others in making and openness, at least as an ethic, if not always in practice. (Anderson, 2012; Toupin, 2014; Troxler, 2014; Schor et al., 2016; Davies, 2017; Menichinelli and Ustarroz Molina, 2018)”

Using a Q-factor analysis, appraise “how this list of capabilities is actually experienced in practice amongst diverse users of different makerspaces” in the UK. They come to the conclusion that they are not as expansive as the list, e.g. livelhood capabilities or a more sustainable material culture. Second, and that is not so surprising, experienced capabilities depend on whether it is on a personal, an entrepreneurial or a social innovation level. That being said, new skills, assured identity and a sense community seem to arise from using technology in the social organization of a makerspace (e.g. collaboration or learning-by-doing). Finally, O'Donnovan & Smith insist that “the sociotechnical configuration of the makerspace is not separate from wider preference formation mechanisms. Makerspaces can mediate wider cultural and social influences, but the latter’s continued presence depends upon how actively they are countered or encouraged in the makerspace itself,...”

Bratich and Brush (2011) [4] notice that online crafting communities are not identity.-based communities, but rather some kind social meshworks. The same may be true for some physical makerspaces, in particular the ones that exist in educational institutions.

Making and identity

Personal and professional identities can be expressed and even developed through making. In particular, computerized embroidery, allows for quick and easy creation of a graphic that conveys some identity message, e.g. depict the essence of a role or an idea. At the same time it allows for a certain of fuzziness and surprise.

"Making" also can be understood as a form of fabrication with a critical identity. In more elaborate terms, post-automation contexts reappraise human agency in automation technologies.

Reynolds (2004) [5], in a qualitative study, found that engaging in textile art, practitioners cope better with illness but also enable them to “preserve a positive identity, develop socially valued skills,enjoy flow, and make social contacts grounded in mutualinterests.”

Leslie Forehand (2019), [6] explores the criticality of feminine craft. “With digital technology emerging as a point of power and creativity within the profession, traditionally feminine crafts can be seized as tools to reimagine women's identities, fostering cultures of digital craft and developing future opportunities that can differently position women's relationship to labor and ingenuity.”

Katz-Buonincontro & Foster (2012: 347) [7] argue that "avatar drawing" “reveals significant portraits of students’ racial and academic identity”. According to Zoran [8], “Work by Wiessner suggests the style of craftspeople in traditional practices reveals social information and expressions of personal identity”.

Amit Zoran [8] associates "creative style" - that has been the subject of many studies - with identity. “By creative style, I mean the formal variations in artwork or design that transmit information about personal and social identity. This is a variation on Wiessner's definition of style as a 'formal variation in material culture that transmits information about personal and social identity' [9].”. Zoran (2016), then points out inherent limitations of computational design and ends up “advocating for digital imperfection in computational design practices as a way to conjure a struggle between creative skill and personal style—a struggle that will contribute to an unpredictable yet meaningful product.”. Zoran et al (2014) [10] developed a milling device called FreeD' that enables users to interpret and modify a virtual model during fabrication.



  • ECRAFT2LEARN. Quote: “The eCraft2Learn project will research, design, pilot and validate an ecosystem based on digital fabrication and making technologies for creating computer-supported artefacts. The project aims at reinforcing personalised learning and teaching in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education and to assist the development of 21st century skills that promote inclusion and employability for youth in the EU. The eCraft2Learn ecosystem will support both formal and informal learning by providing the appropriate digital fabrication.” (retrieved May 2018).
  • Scopes df. Educational resources of the fablab foundation. Quote: Digital fabrication has the potential to transform k-12 education. With the SCOPES-DF project, the Fab Foundation is bringing together fabbers, makers, and educators to deepen our understanding of the “what”, “how” and “why” of STEM disciplines.
  • Fablearn, Quote: is a network, research collaborative, and vision of learning for the 21st century. FabLearn disseminates ideas, best practices and resources to support an international community of educators, researchers, and policy makers committed to integrating the principles of constructionist learning, popularly known as “making” into formal and informal K-12 education.

Education and training materials

Online tools

(see also other pages in the Category:Fab lab

  • Fab Modules, software to run any fab lab machine, e.g., a complete 2D input to milling and laser cutter toolpaths. The *.js files can be copied to your own machine.

Various links

References and bibliography

  • Walter-Herrmann, Julia & Corinne Büching (2013) (eds.), FabLab, Of Machines, Makers and Inventors. Transcript, Reihe Kultur- und Medientheorie, ISBN 978-3-8376-2382-6, home page.
  • Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.
  • Blikstein, P. (2018). Maker Movement in Education: History and Prospects. Handbook of Technology Education, 419.
  • Brahms, L., & Crowley, K. (2014, April). Textual analysis of Make Magazine: Core practices of an emerging learning community. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, Philadelphia.
  • Brown, A. (2015). 3D printing in instructional settings: Identifying a curricular hierarchy of activities. TechTrends, 59(5), 16–24. doi: 10.1007/s11528-015-0887-1
  • Burke, John J., Makerspaces. A practical guide for librarians.
  • Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books. Gardner, H. (1993).
  • Gibson, Ken S; Bell, Irene. When Technology and Design Education is Inhibited by Mathematics. Design and Technology Education: an International Journal, [S.l.], v. 16, n. 3, nov. 2011. ISSN 1360-1431. Available at: Date accessed: 10 july 2018.
  • Kraft, U. (2007). Unleashing creativity. In F. Bloom (Ed.), Best of the brain from Scientific American: Mind, matter, and tomorrow’s brain (pp. 9–19). New York: Dana Press.
  • Libow Martinez, Sylvia & Gary Stager (2013). Invent To Learn Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, ISBN 0989151107
  • Loertscher, D. V., Preddy, L., & Derry, B. (2013). Makerspaces in the school library commons and the uTEC maker model. Teacher Librarian, 41(2), 48–51.
  • Loertscher, D.V., Preddy, L.,& Derry, B. (2013). Makerspaces in the school library learning commons and the uTEC maker model, Teacher Librarian, 41 (2), 48-51
  • Makerspace playbook: School edition. (2013). PDF. Free ebook.
  • Oliver, K. M. (2016). Professional development considerations for makerspace leaders, part one: Addressing “what?” and “why?”. TechTrends, 60, 160–166. doi: 10.1007/s11528-016-0028-5.
  • Papert, S. (2005). You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 5(3/4), 366 -367.
  • Preddy, L. B. (2013). Creating school library “makerspace.” School Library Monthly, 29(5), 41-42.
  • Preddy, L. B. (2013). School library makerspaces: Grades 6 - 12. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Sousa, D. A., & Pilecki, T. (2013). From STEM to STEAM: Using brain-compatible strategies to integrate the arts. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
  • Wong, T. (2013). Makerspaces take libraries by storm.Library Media Connection,31(6),34-35.

Cited with footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Wenger, Etienne. (2000), Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, Organization, Volume 7(2): 225-246
  2. Chu, S. L., Quek, F., Bhangaonkar, S., Ging, A. B., & Sridharamurthy, K. (2015). Making the Maker: A Means-to-an-Ends approach to nurturing the Maker mindset in elementary-aged children. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 5, 11–19.
  3. O’Donovan, C., & Smith, A. (2020). Technology and Human Capabilities in UK Makerspaces. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 21(1), 63–83.
  4. Jack Z. Bratich, & Heidi M. Brush. (2011). Fabricating Activism: Utopian Studies, 22(2), 233.
  5. Reynolds, F. (2004, p. 65). Textile Art Promoting Well‐being in Long‐term Illness: Some General and Specific Influences. Journal of Occupational Science, 11(2), 58–67.
  6. Forehand, Leslie. (2019). Needle Point Cloud. Journal of Architectural Education, 73(2), 211–217.
  7. Katz-Buonincontro, Jen, and Aroutis Foster. 2012. "Examining students’ cultural identity and player styles through avatar drawings in a game-based classroom." Assessment in Game-Based Learning. Springer, New York, NY, 2012. 335-353.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Zoran, Amit (2016). A manifest for digital imperfection. XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students, 22(3), 22–27.
  9. Wiessner, P. Style and social information in Kalahari San projectile points. American Antiquity 48, 2 (1983), 253–276.
  10. Zoran, A., Shilkrot, R., Nanyakkara, S., and Paradiso, J. A. The hybrid artisans: A case study in smart tools. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) 21, 3 (2014).