[hackerspaces] How To Teach a Hackerspace Class?

christopher lopez coyoinu at gmail.com
Thu Nov 15 20:12:26 CET 2012

hey guys,

i'm from 23b shop in Fullerton, CA.  while i'm out in Phoenix for work
training, i've made some time to visit HeatSync Labs, and taught a class on
the manual milling machine.  the hope is to bootstrap the community there
to be more willing and able to use their machine equipment, to work up to
being competent on their new CNC mill.

teaching is a learned skill, just as much as the skill one is trying to
teach.  it's one thing to say you have a personal understanding of a skill,
however, it's an entirely different thing to say that you can explain a
skill to someone new, in a dynamic way, who probably doesn't think like you

a lot of what hackerspaces do is artistic, rather than scholastic.  you can
only learn so much about coding, machining, welding out of a book, but
you'll never be an expert with only theoretical knowledge.  i had a guy
tell me he "theoretically" knew how to operate my bridgeport, and
subsequently mounted a tapered shank into a straight collet.  it was a
small mistake, hardly noticable unless you had an intimate knowledge of
the machine.  the only reason i noticed is that the drawbar looked unusual.

mistakes happen, and they're an incredibly essential component to the
learning process.  Scrap parts, burn holes through metal, and write buggy
code, because hopefully the next time you do it, you'll scrap them better.

you can't expect to be a great welder after reading a book.  while it does
help, lacking the practical, physical experience will always be a barrier
to true skillfulness.  it helps to have someone show you the basics and
turn you loose, rather than giving boring, endless instruction without any
physical interaction with the equipment.

my teaching style felt very improvised last night, and it generally HAS
to.  when you are trying to teach a skill to a group of people, you can
generally expect a wide margin of experience in any particular subject, so
a dynamic, flexible teaching style shows that you are adaptable and
knowledgeable.  when i taught dirt bike skills years ago, i generally
limited my class size to 4 students.  being a very physical skill, limiting
the size seemed best so we could spend most of the time practicing, getting
a sense for your body's kinematics and sensing the feedback coming through
the bike.  the milling class last night had 6 students, so everyone was
able to get their hands on the machine, so they could each
individually feel the collets clamping, the tool cutting, etc.  things will
inevitably turn out wrong, you might lead someone down a dead end by
accident, all you have to do is make it look like you were supposed to do
that, show some nice scenery or an important point, then quickly change
direction rather than being distracted because of struggles on a specific
concept or direction.

i constantly find myself surrounded by a bunch of paper engineers who have
no practical shop experience.  while these guys are highly intelligent,
they lack the physical component of their education, which is essential for
my line of work (i program CAM software).  i'm on the other side of the
spectrum - no degree, just a little shop time and diverse experience, which
goes a long way when interfacing with these machines.  it's my niche, but i
suppose that also makes me some kind of "expert" as well.

On Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 10:31 AM, Doug Philips <doug at hackpittsburgh.org>wrote:

> On 11/14/12 12:08 PM, Michael Zeltner wrote:
>> Excerpts from Jerry Isdale's message of 2012-11-14 09:32:52 +0100:
>>> Hackerspaces quite often have classes, right?
>> I'd say sharing not only infrastructure but also educating each other is
>> one of
>> the pillars of interaction at spaces ...
> Agreed. This year at HackPittsburgh we'll have done 12 classes (we were
> shooting for one/month, and by end of year we'll have averaged that). Three
> of the classes haven't happened yet, but are advertised and up for ticket
> sales so they will be happening.
>  sometimes these are for members only, but many spaces teach public
>>> classes as
>>> a revenue stream (and to build community).
> All of our classes are open to anyone who can satisfy the prerequisites.
> We charge to cover cost of materials (and food, if provided) and a little
> bit more; members get a discount so they're paying for cost of materials
> only.
>  Just to put it out there as well: there are spaces which have a no-charge
>> policy. Whatever happens at Metalab is free, including "renting" a room
>> for
>> the meeting, whatever that may be for (Esperanto class, soldering
>> workshop,
>> counter-lobbying organisation meeting ...)
> We also open our space for outside groups to meet, so long as they are
> free and open to the public. For insurance reasons they're restricted to
> use of tables, chairs, internet; no tool use that might cause injury (saws,
> soldering irons, etc). Given that our due structure is inexpensive and that
> we don't have \sugar daddies, we're not in a position to offer free classes
> where there are materials expenses.
> We also, sans holidays, have a free and open to the public event every
> Friday night. The event is designed, like our classes, to get folks in to
> see our space and our community, and also to educate members and
> non-members alike. Often our events are put on by members, but other times,
> they're put on by outside folks. We don't pay for these events, and if they
> have materials costs (not usually), we pass the hat or some members will
> chip in before hand.
>  How have you prepared for teaching a class?
>>> Have you tried teaching when you were only a bit more advanced than the
>>> students?
> We don't have any formal process for vetting teachers, and usually members
> are hesitant to step up and volunteer unless they're pretty versed in what
> they're teaching, so that hasn't been much of an issue. It's been more the
> case of convincing them that they do know enough to teach.
> Hope this helps!
>     -=Doug
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