I-CHASS Receives Grant to Build Fab Lab in Togiak, Alaska to Provide Educational and Economic Opportunities, and to Study Indigenous American Perspectives of Technology

Posted on Dec 11, 2013 | No Comments

Alaskans explore temporary Fab LabI-CHASS members Dr. Alan Craig (I-CHASS Associate Director of for Human Computer Interaction) and Dr. Scott Poole (I-CHASS Director) in collaboration with the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Traditional Council of Togiak, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks-Bristol Bay Campus have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant of $299,963 for a project entitled, “Bridging the Divide: Exploring Native Approaches.” The grant begins with an award of $157,504 this year with the remainder of the grant distributed next year contingent upon the availability of funding to NSF from the federal government and progress on the project. This grant will be used to plan and develop a research project that studies the implementation of a fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) containing cutting edge technology in a rural Alaska Native village off of the Bering Sea.

Researchers have pointed to gaps in the understandings of Native and Western perspectives of science, as well as differences in cultures of learning (Deyhle & Swisher, 1997). This research project therefore focuses on the intersection and interaction of Western and Indigenous American perspectives on the implementation of science and technology. The fact that little is known about Indigenous American perspectives of technology is a problem considering that 78.9% of bachelors degrees earned by American Indians and Alaska Natives 25 and older are in science and engineering, or science and engineering-related fields (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).

To address these problems, the project will center on the implementation of a Fab Lab in Togiak, Alaska. A Fab Lab is an opportunity for community members to create personalized digital products using new technologies like 3D printers and laser engravers in order to gain educational and economic benefits (Gershenfeld, 2007, p. 13). This Fab Lab will also create an opportunity for researchers to better understand Alaska Native ways of knowing and perspectives on technology designed according to a Western logic. This research agenda also addresses the third digital divide, which is the cultural gap created when non-Western peoples are encouraged to adopt new technologies which embody only Western cultural orientation and values. This project will use a participatory design process that will enable the melding of Alaska Native and Western scientific perspectives by identifying stakeholders (see Freeman, 2010) in the community Fab Lab and exploring how they participate in the process.

The grant is effective immediately and the project will begin by planning the lab and connecting with the local community in Togiak. The participating organizations/groups are: (1) the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science, UIUC (I-CHASS); (2) University of Alaska Fairbanks-Bristol Bay Campus (BBC); (3) Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN); (4) Togiak partners (Traditional Council of Togiak, City of Togiak, Togiak Natives Limited, and Southwest Region School District); and (5) Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab. Dr. Alan Craig, Dr. Scott Poole, and Kate Cooper at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are coordinators on this project.

Question about this project can be sent to Dr. Alan Craig at acraig@ncsa.uiuc.edu.



Deyhle, D., & Swisher, K. (1997). Research in American Indian and Alaska Native education: From assimilation to self-determination. Review of research in education, 22, 113-194.

Freeman, R. E. (2010). Strategic management: A stakeholder approach. Cambridge University Press.

Gershenfeld, N. (2008). Fab: the coming revolution on your desktop–from personal computers to personal fabrication. Basic Books.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2011). American Community Survey. Retrieved November 25, 2013 from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb12-ff22.html.

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