Student Spotlight with Debora Lui

Debora Lui

Mark Stehle

DIY 2.0: Do-it-yourself culture has evolved to include a lot more than the needlework and canned vegetables of yore. From personal 3D printers to build-your-own robot kits, the DIY landscape is quickly changing, and Debora Lui, a joint Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Education and the Annenberg School for Communication, has made it her mission to study this phenomenon known as the Maker Movement—and the ways people are using it to exchange knowledge. “A lot of resource-sharing in education seems to be happening on informal channels, and I think that’s one of the great things about the digital world that is also representative of what’s happening in maker culture,” Lui says. “It’s not a formal thing instituted from above, so it’s interesting to see how these informal groups form.”

A NEIGHBORLY PRIZE: To study the educational and social impact of the Maker Movement, Lui recently received a $10,000 scholarship from the Academy of Television Arts & Science Foundation’s Mister Rogers Memorial Scholarship. “One of the novel things about Fred Rogers is he really tried to incorporate research in the field into his work,” Lui says. “In his lifetime, he worked to develop programs that supported that message, fostering positive growth in children.”

HOLLYWOOD-READY: To accept her award, Lui flew to Los Angeles, where she rubbed shoulders with some of the most successful producers in the entertainment business. “It also exposed me to people beyond the Academy, in research divisions in places like the Disney Channel and PBS. I really liked that the award was more than just a monetary prize to do your work.”

BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK: What exactly does the Maker Movement encompass? Lui says she’s answering that question in her dissertation. “It’s an extension of the DIY movement that has some more technical elements—3D printers, laser cutters, microprocessors. It’s a trend, not only in the U.S., but internationally, where people are moving from becoming consumers of products to makers of things.”

FROM MIT TO PH.D.: Lui says she first became interested in the intersection of communication and education while completing her master’s degree in comparative media studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After a two-year stint as an education coordinator for the MIT Museum, she decided to pursue the topic at the Ph.D. level at Penn.

READY TO LAUNCH: While Lui’s post-Ph.D. plans are still up in the air, she says her experience at Penn teaching undergraduates and meeting key stakeholders in her industry has opened her eyes to the breadth of possibilities. “There’s a lot of interest and funding out there with the rise of digital apps and online learning,” Lui says. “People are really interested in what you can do with education and technology, and so it’s really an exciting place to be.”

Originally published on June 5, 2014