RE:FORM - Reimagining Education for the Future Of Redistributed Manufacturing

Gaved, Mark; Dallison, Delphine; Jowers, Iestyn; Elliott-Cirigottis, Gary; Craig, Mark and Rochead, Alan (2016). RE:FORM - Reimagining Education for the Future Of Redistributed Manufacturing. In: Papadimitriou, Irini; Prescott, Andrew and Rogers, Jon eds. Engineering the Future: as part of the V&A Digital Design Weekend 2016. United Kingdom: Uniform Communications Limited, pp. 49–53.


Manufacturing supply chains are being reshaped and redistributed by the Internet. Designers in Delhi are working with makers in Manchester, transporting bits over networks rather than boxes by container ship. We are moving to a world where software files rather than physical products are posted, with makers local to consumers fabricating products designed and developed globally.

How do we educate future makers and designers for this new industrial reality of networked prototyping and manufacturing? The Open University (OU) and MAKLab have been exploring this challenge as part of the Royal College of Art’s Future Makespaces in Redistributed Manufacturing project.

The OU is a distance learning institution. Providing hands-on making experience for our design students is difficult as we cannot assume our students have access to any equipment or materials, yet we recognise the importance of materiality in a design education: not just understanding the theories, but also how materials and tools perform. MAKLab specialise in providing individualised training pathways in design and digital fabrication, but are interested in exploring how to scale up that individualised educational model in partnership with educational institutions.

Partnering allowed us to explore what benefits learners might gain from being involved in an online collaborative design and making process, from sketches to software models through to full scale prototypes: not only learning technical expertise but also the soft skills of negotiation, collaboration, and project management. As educators we were interested to find out how universities and makerspaces might work together to set learners a challenge that more closely resembled what they might experience in their professional lives.

To address these questions, our project was underpinned by a number of research workshops and interviews to establish the context and potential challenges to be addressed, but we were agreed that our project wouldn’t stop at the theoretical stage. We would test our ideas by running a live study with participants, aiming at real measurable outcomes.

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