WEDC, UW-Stout to launch statewide online tool to promote collaboration among public school fab labs

Announcement comes as state prepares to expand its fab lab network

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the University of Wisconsin-Stout today announced that the university is developing an online tool to increase collaboration and the sharing of resources among Wisconsin school districts with digital fabrication laboratories (fab labs).

The web portal, being developed by the UW-Stout Discovery Center with guidance from teachers statewide will allow teachers and others at fab lab schools to communicate with one another on topics such as curriculum development and implementation, equipment usage and troubleshooting, training and professional development. The web portal is expected to be fully developed by August.

The announcement comes just days before WEDC is set to award nearly $500,000 in Fab Lab Grants to 21 school districts statewide. Governor Scott Walker, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, WEDC Secretary Mark R. Hogan, UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer and other key state leaders will travel throughout Wisconsin Tuesday to make the announcements. Governor Walker has declared Tuesday as “Fab Lab Day” to honor the latest grant recipients and to recognize the efforts of teachers, students, community members and other partners who are part of the state’s growing fab lab network.

With the latest grants, WEDC will have invested more than $1.1 million in fab labs in 34 districts over the last two years. That investment is expected to continue as Governor Walker’s 2017-19 budget calls for allocating another $1 million in Fab Labs Grant funding over the next two years.

“As the number of schools establishing or expanding local fab labs continues to grow, the need for collaboration will become greater than ever,” said Lee Swindall, WEDC’s vice president of sector strategy development. “This web portal will help ensure that the great ideas and innovations developed by individual fab labs can have a much larger impact as they are shared by schools throughout the state.”

UW-Stout is honored to be asked to work with WEDC and school districts across the state to use fab labs to support education in the science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics fields,” said Meyer. “This effort aligns with our historical commitment to support technology education in pre-K-12 schools.”

WEDC has awarded a $63,000 grant to UW-Stout to develop the web portal and to pilot professional development and curricular support for teachers. Those efforts will not only benefit Fab Labs Grant recipients, but will be open to school districts interested in applying for future grants. In addition to providing a way for fab labs to share best practices and collaborate, the online tool will empower teachers in diverse districts throughout the state to deliver relevant science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) curricula.

A fab lab is a high-technology design center and workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components, such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and/or plasma cutters. The State of Wisconsin, through WEDC, is providing funding for local fab labs as part of its investment in workforce development to help ensure that students develop skills needed to prepare them to compete in an ever-changing economy.

The web portal is the latest example of the partnership between WEDC and UW-Stout in the development of the WiFab, the state’s fab lab cooperative that is open to educators, innovators and makers. The university in 2016 conducted a fab lab assessment that is being used to develop and strengthen fab labs throughout Wisconsin.

In addition, WEDC has developed a fab lab resource page for its website that provides districts with information and a video on how to set up and equip a fab lab, how to implement best practices to ensure a successful fab lab and more. Content for the page was provided by UW-Stout and Gateway Technical College.

UW-Stout also hosted a professional development retreat last summer for Wisconsin teachers interested in integrating digital fabrication tools into their curricula. This summer, the university will build upon last summer’s pilot retreat to offer a series of professional development courses to help teachers better understand how fab labs can support multi-disciplinary learning and inspire students through design thinking.

Fab lab teachers and others who want to get involved in helping develop the web portal are encouraged to visit https://muut.com/wifab. To actively engage with others in the state’s fab lab community, fab lab schools are also invited to take an online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/wifab.

Video: Governor Walker declares April 25 as “Fab Lab Day” in Wisconsin

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About the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) leads economic development efforts for the state by advancing and maximizing opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. Working with more than 600 regional and local partners, WEDC develops and delivers solutions representative of a highly responsive and coordinated economic development network. Visit www.inwisconsin.com or follow WEDC on Twitter @_InWisconsin to learn more.

About the University of Wisconsin-Stout and the UW-Stout Discovery Center

UW-Stout was designated Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University by the UW System Board of Regents in 2007.  It received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001. It has 9,619 students in 48 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. The university was established by educational pioneer James Huff Stout in 1891.  It has an employment rate for new graduates of 97.4 percent. The Discovery Center is University of Wisconsin-Stout’s primary outreach and engagement organization linking the extensive resources of the university with business, industry, and community.