I’m Helena – one of the Student Team members at the Learning Commons, where we provide support for all of the AGLC’s activities as well as feedback and guidance from a student perspective. Involvement with Digilab is one of the most exciting aspects of working as part of the student team whilst helping to run and guide the workshops provided by the Learning Commons is one of our biggest responsibilities, so when the new Madlab workshops were running attending one to provide detailed feedback seemed like an ideal opportunity!
Last week I attended one of the Digilab workshops running at Madlab in the Northern Quarter. There were three different sessions running – ‘build your own games console’ and ‘getting started with Arduino,’ both of which used the Arduino microcontroller, but I opted for ‘build your own mini-speaker’, the only workshop using all analog electronics. This means most of the hard work was going to be soldering, and accordingly the room was laid out in workstations with plenty of space, a soldering iron and pliers plus an exciting box with the speaker kit inside per person.
I was pretty keen to try it out because I’m something of a sound nerd and interested in electroacoustics and my involvement in the DIY music scene means anything you’ve built yourself is automatically more exciting, but I was also wary: I hadn’t touched a soldering iron since DT lessons aged 14 and I don’t remember anything I made during them turning out all that well. I was also the only person in the relatively small group who hadn’t already been to one of the other sessions here, so I felt like even more of a newbie, but the staff were enthusiastic and the demo and instructions seemed easy enough to follow, and I got straight to work (as did everyone else – apart from the instructors coming round to check on progress and offer help, there was very little chatter going on when we were building!)
While the soldering demo looked a lot tidier than I remembered my own efforts being eight years ago, it turned out that I had magically also gotten a lot neater and more confident and I settled into putting the circuit board together pretty quickly – and didn’t even make any critical mistakes, despite having held my pliers the wrong way around for the first four or so components. The instructors were really attentive and made sure that anyone who had an issue managed to work through it and any questions were answered as well as showing us how the tech we were working with today could be used with the Arduino controllers from the other sessions. Admittedly this kind of engagement could be expected considering how small the group was but it still made for a really friendly atmosphere far away from the high school DT labs. Some of the other attendees totally sped through the work and there were some hiccups (some of the speakers started off a lot louder than others) but by the end of the afternoon everyone who’d signed up came out with a noisy, handmade speaker to impress (or annoy) our friends with!
As a humanities student the session definitely didn’t tie directly into anything to do with my university work, but it was a refreshing change from the routine (which at the moment involves a lot of dissertation stress) and also a real confidence booster to find that something I’d effectively given up on because I’d struggled with it in the past was so easy to return to and pick up again successfully. Even since posting some of the photos here on Facebook I’ve also encouraged a couple of friends (sadly not current UoM students so I couldn’t talk them into future workshops) to look into the kits we used, so hopefully the session’s given me something of an infectious sense of enthusiasm.
I really enjoyed this session and am definitely looking forward to enrolling on future Digilab workshops, and judging by the fact the other attendees were already on their second session others also seem keen! Hopefully if more are scheduled in the future attendance will grow through word of mouth, as the feedback overall seems very positive and time out from studies – whilst still learning! – in a unique setting like Madlab is the kind of unique opportunity that makes being a Manchester student so special.