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Learning Library Blog Sitka's Fab Lab gives students real-world skills
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To what extent and in what ways should digital technologies change career and technical education (CTE) programs in manufacturing? CTE teachers and administrators have been dealing with this question for decades, but recent changes in 3D design software and modern tooling, such as 3D printers and laser cutter/engravers, offer an opportunity for new perspectives on the matter.

Manufacturing — making things — is a compelling human endeavor. People like to make things. Historically making things involved a great deal of time acquiring hand and power tool skills commensurate with conceptual skills. But the advent of small-scale digital tooling enables people to make things without first acquiring hand and tool skills. There is a limited range of things that can be made directly with these tools, but that range is increasing at an astonishing rate.

At Sitka High School in Sitka, Alaska, it’s clear that 2D and 3D design skills are the most essential skill sets for all manufacturing programs. The output tool skills themselves — actually operating 3D printers, laser cutter/engravers and CNC vinyl cutters — are less critical and really fairly simple. 3D design skills, however, are vital for students who want to continue into more technical fields, such as machine tool manufacturing.

The video below documents the ways our rural Alaskan school’s Fab Lab integrated digital design skills into its programs and changed its manufacturing programs to more closely resemble a global manufacturing system.

Randy Hughey earned an undergraduate and master’s degree from Oregon State University. He has been a career and technical education teacher, counselor, and administrator in Oregon and Alaska. He currently manages a variety of projects while enjoying semi-retirement.