Over the years we’ve received many grants to support and research youth and minority groups learning STEM

As a key component of Informatics Programs the Fab Lab has worked with several units around UIUC on grant projects, including the iSchoolI-CHASS (NCSA), Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL), U of I ExtensionHuman-Computing Interactions (Computer Science), Art Education (FAA) and multiple units within the College of Education.


Fostering Enduring Interest in STEM through Exoplanet Education and Interactive Exploration and Creation of Potentially Habitable Worlds (2019-22) NSF – Chad Lane, Jorge Perez-Gallego, David Condon, Neil F Comins, Jeff Ginger – $1,950,733 This AISL Innovations in Development proposal investigates the use of interactive, engaging, and intelligent educational technologies for the triggering and sustaining of interest in STEM across several informal learning contexts. Our work is driven by four related research questions:
  • How can digital/virtual learning experiences be designed and deployed such that they trigger interest in STEM? (design of triggers)
  • What features of informal learning experiences best frame science learning and encourage re-engagement with content over time? (framing of learning)
  • What pedagogical strategies, as delivered by pedagogical agents, are most effective in promoting STEM interest and learning? (promoting interest)
  • How can a technology infrastructure be used to monitor and track changes in STEM interest over time, specifically for groups who are underrepresented in STEM? (monitoring of interest)
This proposal significantly extends our prior AISL EXP project (listed below) that investigates the design of virtual environments to act as triggers of interest in STEM for learners ages 9-13. It also brings together an interdisciplinary team including learning scientists, psychologists, computer scientists, astronomers, and informal science educators to address three AISL priority areas: Enhancing Knowledge-Building, Promoting Innovation, and Broadening Participation. Through development of new programs and technologies for triggering interest and integration of new informal learning contexts, the next phase of our work focuses on the challenge of triggering and sustaining STEM interest over time.


NSF – Jeff Ginger, Maya Israel, Lisa Bievenue – $669,253

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). The MAPLE project plans to develop and study a series of metacognitive strategies that support learning and engagement for struggling middle school students during makerspace experiences. The makerspace movement has gained recognition and momentum, which has resulted in many schools integrating makerspace technologies and related curricular practices into the classroom. The study focuses on establishing a foundational understanding of how to ameliorate barriers to engaging in design learning through the use of metacognitive learning strategies. The project aims to translate and apply research on the use of metacognitive strategies in supporting struggling learners to develop approaches that teachers can implement to increase opportunities for students who are the most difficult to reach academically.

UC2B – Janice Mitchel, Jared Dunn, Jeff Ginger – $24,410

UNCC, an after-school center that provides educational, social-emotional, spiritual and recreational enrichment to youth and their families, in partnership with the CU Community Fab Lab will create a Technology Learning Lab for Teens located at UNCC.

There is little standards-based emphasis on specifically measuring and teaching digital literacies in public education. This often leaves learners reliant on informal learning settings at home and in after-school activities like UNCC to acquire critical life and job skills related to technology. At-risk populations may not have sufficient access to broadband or computers at home, or the communities of support and project-based learning opportunities necessary to make good use of them, which puts them at a disadvantage. Makerspaces and digital media labs in established after-school settings like UNCC offer a community-oriented model for addressing many of these needs. The Fab Lab model provides the sort of sustained, generative, collaborative access to digital technologies that is vital for developing empowered digital literacy that complements traditional academic support.

The goals of the new teen lab and associated programming are to teach digital literacy with a STEAM focus, reinforce basic computing skills and academic achievement, and promote learning strategies such as problem solving, persistence, curiosity, collaboration, and design thinking. This project presents an opportunity to fulfill a key part of the original promise of the UC2B project. By bringing together the resources, capacities and aspirations of the community, the university, and the schools, we can create a self-sustaining and generative educational support system to help address digital inclusion and digital equity issues in the Champaign-Urbana community.

NSF – Chad Lane, Neil Comins, Jorge Perez-Gallego – $299,949

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative resources for use in a variety of settings. This project will advance knowledge in the design of interest triggers for science in immersive digital simulation learning games. When learners are interested in a topic, it can have a profound impact on the quality of their learning. Although much is known about how informal learning experiences can promote interest in STEM, much less research has addressed links between technology use and interest development. This Exploratory Pathways project will investigate (1) the impact of entertainment technology use by middle school learners on STEM interest development, (2) the design of interactive educational technologies created specifically to trigger interest in astronomy, and (3) informal learning resources for sustained interaction with STEM content over time.

The Fab Lab helped to pilot curriculum and assessment models for this grant, and will help to provide opportunities for researchers to engage with youth during summer camps and through our community service network. Jeff Ginger also supports it as an advisory board member.

Wai-Tat Fu, Helen Wauck – proposals to various NSF grants

The Fab Lab is working with the CASCADE Lab in Computer Science to develop several proposals to investigate the impact of videogames on spatial reasoning skills in children. So far we have helped to provide community participant audiences for test-based analysis and are helping the investigators to develop a model for extracting collaboration and 3D construction methodologies from our Minecraft server’s command, player action and block state databases. Our hope is to develop a research model to parallel our existing curriculum to make a more comprehensive shareable package.

Illinois Learning Science Design Initiative – Emma Mercier – $37,000

This project sought to understand collaborations and learning processes during a project-based middle school science curriculum centered around social innovation and engineering. Additionally it worked to build models of how STEAM learning and identity development occurs through project-based experiences, in order to begin creating a framework to drive future use of such activities. By understanding the processes through which students have successful learning experiences, and identifying the types of STEAM knowledge and practices that are developed through these projects, the team investigated the potential for a larger project aimed at designing and studying such activities in a wider range of schools.

The Fab Lab provided assistance in introducing learners to makerspace technologies and techniques in order to help them accomplish community-development projects over the course of the semester. See  the grant report for more.


Illinois Extension and Outreach Initiative – Jon Gant – $300,000

DILP’s goal was to support digital literacy education and programming throughout the state of Illinois. It was an interdisciplinary collaboration that brought together a diverse array of individuals from higher education and community development. This network allowed us to leverage resources and expertise to run programs to foster and understand digital literacy and build key community capacities by:

  • Providing resources for programs through partnerships with Extension, 4-H, and other community organizations
  • Educating educators about digital literacy programming and activities
  • Raising awareness with public officials about what DILP does and our digital literacy efforts
  • Bringing together Illinois faculty, staff, and students to apply research to practice, from across campus

The CU Community Fab Lab provided the majority of the programming at community locations all around the state and continues to build opportunities with the network founded by faculty and staff in UI Extension.

DSC_0007Illinois DCEO – Martin Wolske – $106,000

A collaborative effort involving community volunteers and five local sites that served as community technology learning centers in Urbana-Champaign: Urbana Free Library, Champaign Public Library, Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, Tap In Leadership Academy, and Kenwood Elementary School.

The goal of the project was to foster basic digital literacy by teaching community members technology literacy skills. This particular project is unique because it employed a project- and capability-based approach rather than a more traditional approach of teaching skills like mousing and keyboarding.

NSF – Marshall Poole, Alan Craig – $299,963

The research focuses on the intersection and interaction of Western and indigenous American perspectives on implementation of science and technology. It will inquire into how Alaska Native ways of knowing and perspectives on science and technology refract a technology bundle designed according to Western logic. It will by extension explore how implementation of this technology according to Native Alaskan/Western perspectives impacts the local community. The project will utilize the creative skills and knowledge of Togiak residents to guide planning for implementation of the Fab Lab and in so doing provide additional opportunities for local community members. Togiak leaders face a number of challenges as they strive to increase benefits to low-income residents, to foster growth and job creation, provide educational and vocational opportunities to local youth, and to ensure the sustainability of isolated rural communities that are threatened by out migration, high fuel costs and limited connections with other communities due to geographical isolation. The project team sees the Fab Lab as an opportunity to provide new opportunities to residents as well as address questions concerning digital divides and cultural approaches to appropriating science and technology.

Community Informatics Initiative Grant – Betty Barrett, Dean Rose, Robert McGrath – $3000 (est)

Funding to set up mini fab labs in three locations in the Champaign-Urbana community and to establish tutorials and documentation. Setup work carried out by Jeff Ginger and Andrew Knight. Presented with Sherry Lassiter at the international Fab Conference in New Zealand 2013.

NSF – Cutcher-Gershenfeld – $352,409

Nine volunteers from CUCFL conducted 78 interviews of fab lab leaders from across the network of U.S. fab labs and contributed as co-authors of a case study of this network.