3D printing (a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many successive thin layers of a material) may have been around for a few years now, but it has yet to be included in mainstream education, in the curriculum as part of a self-contained 3D element, or in fact, in many schools at all.
Mark Hamilton from Futuristic Jisc found says even though the majority of UK schools have yet to take up this revolution in technology s a permanent fixture in the classroom, the possibilities are practically endless when it comes to 3D printing and if you can imagine it, you can make it.
With the notion and assumption that 3D printing – and the use of it within the manufacturing and engineering industries – will only become more popular and more readily available, it’s easy to see that it has implications for creative thinking and design, and it’s even been used in medicine and the arts to support learning, something that’s not been possible in the past.
There’s a suggestion then that this type of technology could forward and help advance young people’s skills in order to prepare them for the digital job market, but with 3D printers remaining quite expensive, are they really going to be of any use if only one or two schools can afford them, and can schools make practical and theoretical use of them without proper training for teachers and without all the resources that are needed to accompany the technology?
In a recent interview, Mr Hamilton told Ed Technology that if these kind of printers were used to support vital skills developments rather than just being used to simplify teaching or to make lessons more engaging, then it’s worth spending the money on the equipment and looking at 3D printing in its own right.
By making use of them in schools the technology could help assist project work or work alongside other 3D ideas such as 3D scanning. However, as well as the cost of these machines, there’s also the issue of speed, as printing large objects often takes huge amounts of time which could slow down lesson and subject progression. But this is something that Martin thinks could be resolved over time.
At the moment, 3D printers are used mainly and more often in universities but as far as the benefits for schools go, many secondary and primary schools are interested in rapid prototyping technology and 3D printing in the classroom which would enable pupils to not only design in 3D using CAD and other such software, but it would allow pupils to bring their designs to life, making almost anything from flat-pack furniture to vacuum-formed moulds.
The printers can also allow for intricate designs to be made and most of the software that is compatible with 3D printers is easy to use. 3D printing also allows students to make and learn from their mistakes and to not be afraid to make mistakes in the first place. It encourages them to look beyond an object containing just one part and seek information on how several components can fit together to make something exciting.
A college in St Helens was introduced to Ultimaker and one of the teachers there has praised the enthusiasm of his students, saying that as well as the 18 year olds who are interested in the processes surrounding 3D printing, younger students are wanting to get involved too. The 3D printing phenomenon interests pupils with mathematical, scientific and creative skills from all ages, backgrounds and genders.
Even in primary schools, 3D printing can inspire young minds with new technologies and when printers such as the Ultimaker are being used, they will always draw a crowd of excited children as they love to watch the innovation unfold in front of their eyes.
Head to the Ultimaker (https://ultimaker.com/) website for more details, or check out the Create Education site for other stories and case studies about 3D printing (http://www.createeducation.co.uk/resources/education-resources/)
As with everything though, there are negatives, and it seems that the only drawbacks with this kind of technology, as we touched upon earlier, are the price, and as always, training teachers to use them so that they can efficiently teach their students and give them the best 3D education they could need.
An alternative solution to this lack of funding and training problem though is the ‘digital maker’ movement which is a global drive to encourage young people to be creative with technology (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-26871084) and includes support from things such as Fab Labs (Fabrication Laboratories) where digital ideas are turned into products and prototypes.
Despite the cost it’s obvious that 3D printing is here to stay and according to the 3dprint.com website, just about every subject taught in schools could benefit from its introduction (http://3dprint.com/27743/3d-printing-benefits-schools/), from replicating ancient artefacts in history lessons to producing earthquake data in geography.
Have a look at some of the many resources available regarding 3D printing, including this website http://3dprintingindustry.com/ which publishes up to date information and news almost daily, and where a recent article talks of how there’s a new Kickstarter campaign in the works which, if successful will be able to see the manufacture of a VR viewer made specifically for children to use.