Dr. Potter: A Maker Field Trip

Dr. Steve Potter, an avid Decatur Makers’ supporter, gave his exit talk as he leaves Georgia Tech’s Dept of Biomedical Engineering to head over to Ireland in search of time to make. What better reason for a maker field trip to hear his perspective, based on an earlier sabbatical to visit makerspaces worldwide, on how the maker movement will impact higher education.

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A Maker Field Trip

by: Paulette Richards

On Monday February 29th, Irm Diorio, Suzanne Elbon, Maureen Haley, and I piled into Greg Coleson’s Leaf and headed across town to Georgia Tech for Dr. Steve M. Potter’s farewell lecture on “Real-World Teaching and Learning: How the Maker Movement Will Transform Higher Education.”

dr potter presFrom the magnetic levitation candy dish he kept in his office to the wooden computer keyboard he built using Scrabble keys, Dr. Potter always had a desire to build, share, and explore even before he encountered the maker movement. In his classes he emphasized project-based learning and sought to create assignments with real-world outcomes. Since 2006, his students have contributed over 200 Wikipedia articles on topics related to neuroscience. They have also published some of the top-ranking reviews of neuroscience books on Amazon.com and have posted informative and humorous videos that explain neuroscience concepts on You Tube. With his dynamic, witty presentation style and projects like these, it is clear why Dr. Potter has won a university system of Georgia teaching award and why he still receives glowing testimonials from students years after they have graduated.

Faced with Biomedical Engineering seniors who did not know how to solder, Dr. Potter gained a deep appreciation for the apprenticeship model of learning and consequently designed project based learning courses that emphasized real-world outcomes. His project-based learning approach required students to design and build equipment and write software in order to collect and analyze relevant data. He felt it was important for students to plan and execute complex group projects with lots of iteration, failures, and class discussion. Thus he values the Do It Together spirit of the maker movement and sees many advantages to this kind of making:

  • makers gain wider access to expensive tools and equipment.
  • makers receive hands-on instruction from all sorts of experts.
  • makers benefit from the creative input of non-experts.
  • makers enjoy more family bonding experiences.

An early supporter of Decatur Makers, Dr. Potter commended our group as a family-friendly space that attracts a diverse mix of members.

Indeed, Dr. Potter saw so many positive benefits of the maker movement that he took a sabbatical and has spent the last two years studying maker spaces. An eminent neuroscientist, Dr. Potter believes that within five years we will see important discoveries by amateur neuroscientists thanks to the sharing of inexpensive and easy to use technologies like Arduinos, Raspberry Pi processors, and 3D printers. He himself will be fostering DIY neuroscience from his new home in Ireland where he plans to devote his time to conducting maker workshops and writing books instead of grant proposals.

Dr. Potter was honored with a reception after his talk and was gracious enough to pose for a photo with a contingent of Decatur Makers.

Potter and Makers

(Left to right: Lew Lefton, Paulette Richards, Maureen Haley, Suzanne Elbon, Greg Coleson, Irm Diorio, Steve M. Potter, Robert Butera)

We brought some of his infectious enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity back with us, debating the ethics of using cockroaches in “robo roach” neuroscience experiments on the rush hour crawl back across town.

Thank you Dr. Potter for your inspiring lecture and your generous donations to our maker space!