Instructor Ken Zupan critiquing a student project.


Hands-On Making with Materials Engages Students

March 08, 2019

Students taking IAT 336 will be learning through applied, hands-on experiences in making objects and prototypes. The course, in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, teaches students how to making judgements on physical material choices for designing interactive devices. The highlight of the course is its final project, which requires students to combine common and uncommon design materials using hand tools and automated machines, such as laser cutters and 3D printers. The end result of this project is an interactive physical prototype that blends traditional design materials and digital fabrication processes.

“Students get hands-on experience in creating artifacts using design materials like blue foam, styrene and casting resins. They also gain skills with hand, machine and rapid-prototyping technologies.” says Lecturer Ken Zupan.

A canteen created in IAT 336 that combines 3D printed plastic and fabric.

IAT 336 emphasizes a experiential learning process through iterative cycles of making and reflecting. “IAT 336 is about the development of a student’s intellectual, emotional, social, experiential, artistic, and creative potentials.” says Zupan. “I believe that the body is an instrument of the mind, and any training should develop the ‘total person’. Within each student resides a genuine creative power.”

Based on his experiences as a graduate student in Denmark and background as an industrial designer, Zupan’s approach to teaching embodies practice-lead approach to teaching that balances creative, critical, and reflective thinking. “When engaging a real-world problem or abstract concept, thinking through doing is a central tenet in my offering of IAT 336. Whether sketching, model making or tinkering with physical materials, I believe that my students gain valuable skillsets and knowledge through physical activity. I also believe that students need to use these tools repeatedly to build proficiency.”

Recent offerings of IAT 336 have included an project that gets students out of the classroom and into SFU SIAT’s Solid Space prototyping in maker lab. Here, they are exposed to hands-on experience with using woodworking hand tools and, more generally, maker space culture. Looking toward the future, Zupan envisions extending exercises like this to include more sophisticated fabricating processes and tools, such as a router, planer, and CNC mills. In addition to skills in interaction design and software development, expertise in three dimensional making will be important as computing increasingly moves out of traditional forms like laptops and mobile phones, and into our everyday objects and environments.