Tinker, tailor, solder, ply

MakerSpace@NYP, which opened last July 4, has become increasingly popular with students.
MakerSpace@NYP, which opened last July 4, has become increasingly popular with students.PHOTO: DON FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Nanyang Poly lets students give vent to their creativity and realise their ideas on campus

Instead of going home when school is over, some Nanyang Polytechnic students head for a design workspace on the second floor to tinker and make things, both for work and play - and quite a few don't leave till it closes at night.

MakerSpace@NYP, which opened last July 4, has become increasingly popular with students, seeing about 150 a day.

Across the brightly-lit, 700 sq m space are tools and machines such as 3D printers, drills and a laser cutter. When The Straits Times visited last month, the atmosphere was relaxed, and one could make out the whirring of machines beneath the chatter of students at work .

Gathered near the entrance were about 20 students waiting to begin a safety training session, part of a six-hour course they must pass before they can use machines in the controlled-access area.

MakerSpace@NYP, according to its designer and deputy director Yang Tien, 49, aims to be an "open, cross-disciplinary platform that allows just about anybody to come and go and explore ideas".

NO BOUNDARIES

You will seldom find us saying no. We don't give grades (at MakerSpace), we don't have the pressure of that. Once you take that away, we can explore just about anything.

MR YANG TIEN, designer and deputy director of MakerSpace@NYP, on encouraging experimentation.

 
 
 
 
 

It aims to encourage students from different departments to collaborate. They can use MkzApp, which has more than 1,400 registered users, to book tools and invite peers to work on projects.

Every object there, from toolboxes to work benches, has a QR code, which students can scan for videos offering tips and advice. There are also people offering help.

The idea of a "maker space" in Singapore schools is not new.

Singapore Polytechnic has a FabLab, launched in 2011. And in March, Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Infocomm Technology will open a Smart Learning Space with a "digital makers" zone.

At Nanyang Polytechnic or NYP, the goal is to encourage experimentation. Said Mr Yang: "You will seldom find us saying no. We don't give grades (at MakerSpace), we don't have the pressure of that. Once you take that away, we can explore just about anything."

NYP principal Jeanne Liew sees MakerSpace as a place where students can "learn that failing is okay if one bounces back with better ideas - and (that) there are many paths that can lead to eventual success".

Student makers can apply for project funds ranging from $30 to $5,000, which are awarded based on a tiered system, "so students don't think, 'the very moment I think of an idea, I must pitch a product' ", said Mr Yang.

"Having that mindset that things don't have to be perfect at the get-go, and letting it evolve, that's an important process in cultivating innovation," he added.

Mr Yang, previously deputy director of the polytechnic's school of interaction and digital media, has a keen eye for detail.

This is reflected everywhere in MakerSpace, down to the colour of its walls. The machine room walls are a metallic yellow to make users more alert. The room storing toolboxes, he explained, was painted a pinkish hue to discourage theft. "If an individual comes in thinking, 'Should I steal this item?', the pink shifts this person psychologically into a more gentle state."

MakerSpace offers sound booths and a dark room for videography for students who want to market their products. There is even an old-fashioned letter press from England. All this, including renovation works, cost the school less than $1 million in total.

While students are expected to source most of their materials, they can also pick scrap pieces from a stash atMakerSpace.

Pointing to a mobile food stall salvaged from a canteen pancake seller, which is now used to hold food during talks, Mr Yang said: "We are the karang guni people of NYP."

Student Leong Tze Wan, 17, a regular user of MakerSpace, said: "I've made new friends along the way; it's also where I belong, my own little bubble where I can express myself."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Tinker, tailor, solder, ply'. Print Edition | Subscribe