eWaste recycling makerspace changes lives

Dr Dhaval Vyas. Image supplied by QUT

An eWaste recycling hackerspace in Brisbane’s Logan has produced innovative road signs, ‘green’ bikes, affordable 3D printers, and improved mental health and wellbeing for its participants, who are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

These are findings from a research study of the social enterprise Substation33 that engages volunteers, welfare and Work for the Dole recipients, conducted by QUT Computer Human Interaction researcher Dr Dhaval Vyas who received an ARC DECRA award for the project.

“The ARC DECRA grant will enable an in-depth study of the benefits of do-it-yourself activities for people from low socioeconomic (LSE) backgrounds at high risk of digital exclusion,” Dr Vyas said.

“The grant will be used to study other LSE hacker or maker spaces – a woodworks-based recycling makerspace and two crafts and sewing oriented making workshops.

“Traditional makerspaces are technology solution- focussed and cater for a more affluent group and often fail to provide benefits for LSE people.

“I’m investigating how the social and cultural nature of makerspaces enables creative and innovative work while supporting members.

“Substation33 members have designed and made innovative technology such as road signs for local conditions that record flood levels which have been bought by the local council. They have also made green bicycles that run on refurbished laptop batteries.

“Members design and make 3D printers for their own use such as printing new battery packs for reclaimed and recharged laptop batteries, and DIY 3D printer kits for schools or for sale.”

Dr Vyas said design was normally done by professional designers, including user experience designers with mainstream, affluent users in mind.

“The creativity inherent in everyone is often left untapped or unnurtured, especially in the members from LSE backgrounds,” he said.

“This project aims to uncover and explore design by a diversity of people from marginalised backgrounds, to make products that suit their own needs and ones they can commercialise.”

Dr Vyas said peer learning and interdependent teams were essential for integrating new Substation33 members.

“Relying on peer learning helps new members gain communication skills and different members have developed their own strategies for teaching and learning hacking skills,” he said.

“These organic socialising activities have resulted in improved mental health for members and a sense of community. They have described the experience of ‘pulling things apart’ as means to ‘let my anger and stress out’ and be ‘happy the whole day’.”

Dr Vyas said the Substation 33 study was part of a project that would take an ethnographic approach to investigate current practices of members of four makerspaces that involve people from marginalized backgrounds

The project would then engage participants in co-design workshops to develop ideas that fit their own needs and agenda.

“Through these activities, the project will develop new models and theories of creative making that can be applied in other environments,” Dr Vyas said.

Source: QUT

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