Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hack Shack on the Decline?

By Kagan C

Recently, I have heard talk of the decline of the Oyster River Hack Shack. Apparently, in prior years, the Hack Shack was a bustling makerspace. It was constantly in use with tens of customers coming in on a daily basis. Their enthusiasm for the space was so great, they required quieting down frequently. This is in stark contrast to what the Hack Shack is now, a barren, desolate place with few customers. Though my descriptions are largely exaggerated and my experience with the Hack Shack is limited, I still wonder what changed?
A quiet moment in the Hack Shack. Where is everybody?
Between the previous school year and this one, there was a sharp drop in attendance at the Hack Shack, but what caused this? This is a question I have found myself thinking about quite often, and I have found that there are a variety of possible explanations. Perhaps the current students in the class aren't putting in the same level of work as students of the past did, maybe the students who visited so often last year have graduated, or maybe maker spaces no longer hold the same appeal they once did with students. It is possible that as the types of technology seen in the Hack Shack progressed, they lost their mystique that once drew students in. The decline could easily be attributed to anyone, and likely a combination, of these reasons, however, since my time here has been so short, I do not have the experience to determine responsibility with any sort of authority.
There is another reason, however, that I do think I have the authority to so speak on: the high barrier to entry. I have spoken with numerous students about the Hack Shack, and while a majority express interest in visiting, a common issue is that many have trouble finding the time.
Some of the most exciting tools in the Hack Shack require large time commitments before students can begin seeing results. A perfect example of this is the 3D printer. It is Hack Shack policy that students can only print models that they themselves have designed, therefore, if a student wishes to 3D print something, they have to learn how to use a 3D design tool along with the 3D printer itself. These design tools range in difficulty to use. While the basics of some, such as Google Sketchup, can be learned in a little under an hour, the more powerful and comprehensive tools, such as Blendr, can be studied for weeks while barely scratching the surface. This level of commitment can be incredibly intimidating to students who may only have a passing interest in the Hack Shacks facilities. I have seen that this large investment can often turns students away from the Hack Shack. I find this disheartening as many of the great benefits of this place are being obscured by this fact, however, I find it hard to blame the students. If it were not for my enrollment in this class, it would be unlikely that I visit the Hack Shack often or take the time to learn about what it has to offer. With so much going on in a student's typical day, it can't be seen as a huge surprise that they don't want to spend their short period of free time each day mentally exerting themselves.

This is not a problem I can see being solved overnight, and furthermore, it is not one that I see going away anytime soon. If nothing within the Hack Shack changes, I would not be surprised to see this downward trend continue. As things change, the Hack Shack must adapt to change with them, and I hope that if it does so, it will begin to see success in the near future.

**Editor's note: While we have anecdotally seen a difference between this semester and last, we do not have the attendance data to support the idea of a big decline.

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