Dancing with the Machines: the Assessment of Embodied Knowledge in Fab Labs

The notion of embodied knowledge, drawn from the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty “is a type of knowledge where the body knows how to act (e.g., how to touch type, how to ride a bicycle, etc.)” and recognizes that “this knowledge is that the body, not the mind, is the knowing subject” (Tanaka, S. 2011). This speaks to implicit knowledge, knowing how to do or operate as opposed to declarative knowledge, which refers to information and facts stored in memory.

We are interested in exploring how disciplines which assess embodied knowledge (such as music, dance, and art) can inform the practice of educators who are incorporating project-based learning (PBL) in Fab Labs.

Fab Labs, or fabrication laboratories, have been set up in a number of schools and higher education institutions around the world as spaces for prototyping, innovation, and learning. The learning that goes on in Fab Labs covers learning particular fabrication techniques, becoming skilled in operating fabrication machines and using related software (eg CAD).

Fab Labs are successfully being used as platforms for project-based learning and innovation in developing solutions for addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems, as those shared in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Projects can range from building water sensors to detect lead and mercury in local drinking water supplies, to developing recycling methods for plastic waste, to building out open infrastructure to bring digital learning content into rural and low bandwidth areas.

A lot of what’s being taught in Fab Labs is embodied knowledge. The use of machines and working with materials such as metal and wood require the learner to learn how to perform embodied actions with the machines and materials in order to arrive at a solution rather than learn how to purely think about the solution. This is where we see similarities between these modes of learning and those that happen in the performing arts, where there is a long and rich history of teaching and assessing embodied knowledge.

Similar in concept to procedural knowledge, embodied knowledge is better represented through performance, rather than through written instruction or verbal explanation. Embodied knowledge is in contrast to the more typical transfer of declarative knowledge found in educational settings, where learners represent their understanding of a subject through writing a research paper, or by completing a series of activities or tests that are measured against specific learning outcomes.

In this session, we invite educators from every discipline to explore the assessment of learning as an interdisciplinary approach. Recognizing that PBL in Fab Labs incorporates multiple disciplines and ways of knowing, we see the assessment of Fab Lab projects as one that requires interdisciplinary expertise and involvement. We are extending an invitation to all creators, educators and embodied learners to discuss embodied learning assessment and how it can be transposed onto the assessment of the work done in Fab Labs, considering the following questions:

  • How do the characteristics of OER contribute to fostering an understanding of shared learning outcomes, such as those in interdisciplinary Fab Lab projects?
  • What does an embodied knowledge OER look like?
  • How can OER and open standards for design and documentation be used in the sharing of maker projects across different cohorts, disciplines, and organizations?
  • How can embodied knowledge be credentialed (i.e. how can skills needed to perform maker projects be communicated between groups)?
  • What role can/should embodied knowledge play in OER for teaching PBL maker projects, as related to assessing for standard learning outcomes?

Assessment of learning in the educational setting is often mapped to standards indicated by local, regional, or national accreditation bodies with a shared approach to learning outcomes. By defining shared standards, mapping an assessment program to determine the efficacy of how the curriculum is scaffolded in a way that communicates to stakeholders (accrediting and funding agencies, credentialing bodies, and hiring firms) that certain learning outcomes are met by the structure recommended within the discipline being taught. Looking to the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the United States, for example, there are separate outcomes articulated for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics, and each set of standards is further subdivided into discrete categories focusing on writing, operations and algebraic thinking, history and the social sciences, and so on. With integration of knowledge and range of skill so explicitly defined for each subject area, discipline-specific curriculum crafted with these standards as a scaffold should easily communicate measurable learning outcomes.

Tanaka, S. (2011) The notion of embodied knowledge. In P. Stenner, J. Cromby, J. Motzkau, J. Yen, & Y. Haosheng (Eds.), Theoretical psychology: Global transformations and challenges (pp. 149-157). Concord, Canada: Captus Press.


:eye_in_speech_bubble: Presented by:: Max Mahmoud Wardeh, Sarah Hutton
:sun: Conference Track: Learning Lab
:spiral_calendar: Track Date/Time: 2022-05-23T14:45:00Z (your local time)
:speech_balloon: Language: English
:calling: Pretalx link: Dancing with the Machines: the Assessment of Embodied Knowledge in Fab Labs :: Open Education Global 2022 :: pretalx


Authors are asked to reply below with links to presentation materials, videos, and other relevant resources, as well as posting prompts for discussion.

Conference participants can reply below with questions, comments for the presenters or to share related resources. And please add anything relevant from this session as an annotation to a specific part of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.