Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

laser cutter classes

Last year I started teaching laser cutter classes at the local makerspace. Our laser cutter requires authorization to use, even if you're a member, and we were way behind on getting classes set up and new members were frustrated, so I suggested that we set up a simple cadence. The class is held every three weeks and alternates between Tuesday, Saturday, Thursday, Sundays. It fills up fast.

The basic presentation portion is easy - how the laser cutter works, safety tips, unsubtle encouragement to use the nearby fire extinguisher if your project takes a turn for the worst.

Then comes the project portion of the class. We want everyone to create a vector art file - we start with sample shapes on a wiki page, they download the sample shape of their choice and open it in inkscape, add their name, save as an autocad file and import into the software that talks to the laser cutter.

This is unbelievably difficult. It was important to me that people do a project, but taking a slice of the general population through a basic file setup in inkscape is very rough. In every class I'm bound to have some bored looking college students who do not find this hard at all, so they wander off and play with the software and miss steps. Then I've got some people who seem to have barely used a mouse, I get them to a web page and tell them to right-click on an image to save it and they are lost. What's worst, I learned that I have to walk around the classroom and check on everybody, because nobody ever tells me they're lost until they're 12 steps behind and I spend 20 minutes with them personally trying to get them to catch up.

I've improved the class this year to make it only last two hours...

1) Made a printed handout of all the steps and icons we'd use so I could yell "I am on step 3! Is everyone on step 3?"

2) Encouraged people to spy on their neighbors to make sure we're all on the same step, since we've all got to get there together. This didn't work like I hoped. It basically didn't work at all.

3) Limited class size to only 6 people. A sadly low number, given how fast the class fills up.

4) I always have someone in the class run the up front projector computer so I can walk around. This can be intimidating to people. I joke that I make the latest person to the class do it, as punishment. But as I explain, if I'm doing the computer stuff I get way too excited and move too fast and people get lost.

5) We tried offering a "daily computer user" class and separate "computer novice" class... no one signed up for the novice class.

Smaller class size had the biggest effect, because the more people are in the class, the higher the odds of having a computer novice in there who required personal attention.

Teaching the class has also made me a crazy person now because when I teach classes at work, I am very slow. I tell people to find File > Open and then say "DID EVERYONE FIND THAT? STOP AND CHECK YOUR NEIGHBOR!" and all these engineers are looking at me like I'm trying to teach them the ABCs.

I still enjoy teaching it. It's relaxing. And it's made me known in the makerspace, since I've taught lots of people the laser cutter.

Just have to keep improving.

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