During the summers of 2013-16, the MLab taught a week-long “Physical Computing and Fabrication” course at the University of Victoria. We introduced students to a variety of prototyping techniques involving microcontrollers, 3D scanning, photogrammetry, 3D modeling, everyday materials (e.g., cardboard and paper), and additive and subtractive manufacturing.

In 2013, Devon Elliott, Bill Turkel, and I facilitated a class that not only experimented with different microcontrollers but also built a 3D printer. In 2014, the three of us shifted gears a bit, encouraging students to build another 3D printer, experiment with MaxMSP for interactive exhibits, and emulate early videogames to be installed and played in their original arcade cabinets. In 2015, Nina Belojevic and Shaun Macpherson joined Devon and me to design a week-long session around the theme of “metaphors in a box.” Students in that class experimented with laser-cutting, microcontrollers, 3D (SketchUp), and photo-stitching (Agisoft Photoscan). Finally, in 2016, Tiffany Chan, Danielle Morgan, Katherine Goertz, and I conducted workshops on Arduino, Agisoft Photoscan, 3D structured-light scanning, 123D Design, and 123D Make in the class. Near the end of the week, students explored how they could use these tools to develop their own projects. Of all the iterations of “Physical Computing and Fabrication,” the 2016 offering was the most thoroughly documented, with notes and instructions for each workshop.

Below are links to the 2015 and 2016 course sites (including notes and instructions), which are also archived as compressed folders. I also point to the MLab project page for “Physical Computing and Fabrication” and to photos from 2013, 2015, and 2016. After the links, I include course descriptions for 2015 and 2016. Many thanks to Nina, Tiffany, Devon, Kat, Shaun, Danielle, and Bill for teaching this course with me. It was always lots of fun.


Photograph of a custom-made 3D printer with laser-cut parts

Physical Computing and Fabrication
Summer 2013-16 | UVic, with Nina Belojevic, Tiffany Chan, Devon Elliott, Katherine Goertz, Shaun Macpherson, Danielle Morgan, and William J. Turkel | No-credit course for 25 students

Links: 2015 course site (HTML); 2016 course site (HTML); 2015 archive (ZIP); 2016 archive (ZIP); MLab project page (HTML); photos from 2013, 2015, and 2016 (HTML; JPG); resource related to “Before You Make a Thing” (HTML)

This course was sponsored by the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, where I taught pedagogy, physical computing, and fabrication between 2012 and 2016.


2015, “Prototyping a Box: Material + Metaphor”: Throughout the week, we will survey physical computing and digital fabrication techniques by modelling, fabricating, programming, and repurposing boxes as both bits and atoms, materials and metaphors. We will consider how boxes serve multiple, often contradictory, functions. They are containers. They house computers and electronics. They frequently render their contents invisible. They are sculptures. They are conversation pieces. They can even be art objects. During the course, you will have the opportunity to prototype your own box and explain how it operates as both a material and a metaphor.

2016, “From This to That”: Throughout the week, we will survey physical computing and digital fabrication techniques by modelling, fabricating, programming, and repurposing objects as both bits and atoms. This process of converting objects from this material into that material involves negotiations between screen media and tactile media. It also prompts attention to the relations between form and use, metaphor and matter, code and composition, surface and depth. Instead of reducing these relations to digital-analog, electronic-print, or new-old binaries, we will approach them as entanglements of history, technology, and culture, where composing or thinking with media is actually quite messy. In fact, highlighting the mess or mangle of things will nudge us to experiment with the contingencies of otherwise routine conversions (e.g., from page to screen, from bits to atoms, from atoms to bits, from idea to prototype back to idea).


Image of a breadboard and a 3D printer both care of the MLab. This page was created on 28 July 2019 and last updated on 14 July 2021.