3-D Printing in the Classroom

The other day my little sister remarked, “I wish television was a vending machine and I could get whatever is displayed in the advertisements right out of it at the push of a button”. Considering the omnipotence of technology in today’s world, I was

 sure something like this technology existed. I found my answer in 3-D Printers that allow objects to be produced at the push of a button at the comfort of your home and office.

Interestingly, 3-D printers have been in the market since the past 30 years. Since our times have allowed reduction in cost, their introduction into the classroom is being thought about. However universities like University of Mary Washington, Full Sail University, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State University and University of Rhode Island have already incorporated 3-D printing into their classroom.

As predicted by the NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Higher Education Edition), 3-D Printing is going to impact education in the future. And when education shakes hand with this technology, we get some never thought of results. Something of the sort we see in Sci-Fi flicks that sets our heart racing. But before that, let’s look at what is 3-D Printing. Also known as ‘additive manufacturing’, 3-D Printing is the process of creating an object by printing or layering down material layers until the object is formed.  The process involves either the scanning of the object by the printer or entering of the 3-D specifications of the object into a computer application. Following this the data is sliced into 2-D layers like salami since the computer works by printing each 2-D layer.

These printers allow a diverse range of raw materials (in liquid, powder or any other form) to be used in the formation of objects such as plastic for smartphone covers, stainless steel for rings and medical grade titanium for spinal implants. The printing process takes as little as a few minutes to print small objects such as a keychain and a few hours to print larger, more intricate objects.

Having outlined the knowhow, let’s look into the interesting possibilities opened up by using 3-D printing in the classroom.

  1. Sick of biology diagrams that restrict your visual understanding of complicatedly constructed organs?  Study 3-D cross section of organs instead.
  2. Let go of fragile, transitory models of molecules and bonding made up of paper in your chemistry class and use solid, strong ones instead that you can retain for further use.
  3. Auto class students could print replacement or modified car parts in the classroom itself and get hands on learning.
  4. Cooking class students could make their classes even more interesting by printing innovative, intricate moulds for ice and gelatin
  5. Geography class can come to life using printed maps showing the topography, population or demographics of an area.
  6. Graphic design students could create 3-D versions of their art work
  7. History students could print out historical artifacts for closer examination
  8. Architecture- students can experience their models out of paper in 3-D by printing them.
  9. Engineering and design students could print prototypes of their creations within the classroom and experience their designs live.

Apart from these interesting ways in which 3-D printing could revolutionize the learning process, here are a few reasons on why should schools should use 3-D printers in their classrooms

  1. Tactile learning:  Each student learns in his own way and a number of them learn best through tactile faculties. 3-D printing can be the bridge in their learning process.
  2. By lifting designs off two dimensional paper sheets into the three dimensional world, students can get quicker gratification and increase their level of interest
  3. Printing prototypes can help look into finer structural details and help in refining the design
  4. MakerBot’s , Thingiverse.com allow the uploading and downloading of 3-D designs. These printers can come in handy in printing these designs.
  5. Also companies like MakerBot are developing 3-D lessons for the classroom, which could again be effectively utilized when equipped with a 3-D printer.

You can find the edtech infographic detailing the use of 3-D printers in classroom here . What are some fun ways that you think 3-D Printing can be utilized in? Drop in your suggestions in the comments below.

About the Author
Author: Keerti Arora

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