The frustrations of digital fabrication: an auto/ethnographic exploration of ‘3D Making’ in school


Following initial educational enthusiasms for ‘Making’ technologies and the ‘Maker Movement’, increasing numbers of students are now using digital fabrication programs and equipment in school. Given the current lack of empirical research exploring the realities of Making as a school activity, this paper presents an in-depth auto/ethnographic account of 3D printing—currently, one of the most popular Maker technologies in schools. Investigating the case of an 8 week Year 9 design project, this paper seeks to broaden understandings of how 3D printing technologies and practices are shaping “what counts” as learning within contemporary school settings. In particular, this research focuses on the experiences of Making within a school context; what is learned through these experiences; and how the process of Making in school feels. This paper highlights three key issues that have been marginalised to date in discussions of Making in schools: (1) lack of pragmatic engagement, (2) affective labour of failing; and (3) mediated alienation.

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    All names in this paper are pseudonyms.


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This paper arises from a research project funded by the Australian Research Council (award number DP140101258). I would like to thank the participating school staff and students, and my colleagues for their contributions to this conversation. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions and comments.

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Correspondence to Selena Nemorin.

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Nemorin, S. The frustrations of digital fabrication: an auto/ethnographic exploration of ‘3D Making’ in school. Int J Technol Des Educ 27, 517–535 (2017).

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  • Learning
  • School
  • Design
  • Digital fabrication
  • 3D printing
  • Maker education