• Parag Diwan

STEM to STEAM - Can 3D Printing Help?

3D printing role in education

With the dawn of Industry 4.0, the fast-emerging technologies of Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and the Internet of Things is coming into the mainstream. These technologies are permeating all facets of our lives and change how we communicate, work, and learn. 3D printing together with many other innovative technologies is changing our world. For instance, 3D printing already has a wide range of applications — from aircraft construction to prosthesis to printed food and garments. By using 3D technology, digital data can be embodied and made physically understandable — from one’s own idea to design to its own real product.

What is 3D Printing

3D printing is a common term used to describe a whole series of additive manufacturing processes. Additive, as it indicates, add layers of material, one layer at a time, to build up an object. What makes 3D printing technology ground-breaking is that it does not require the use of any tools or molds to build any object. The computer-generated 3D models are directly used to build objects.

Why 3D printing is revolutionary?

Typically, in the production process, tools and molds are very expensive and slow to create. Once created, they are used to produce plenty of the same products the same way. On the contrary, 3D printing has the ability to produce exactly in units; potentially just one, by using a range of materials such as plastics, metals, and ceramics, layer by layer to build up the object. Particularly, the production of finished products by using technology is a significant innovation in the field today.

3D technology has been around 30 years and it has been widely used in rapid prototyping and rapid tooling areas. Due to its infinite level of customization scope, the technology is being applied in the field of healthcare, defense, aviation, and engineering, to name a few. In the healthcare industry, thanks to 3D printing, where we see the development of low-cost prosthetics — for surgeons to both build models before they actually conduct surgery or to replace them with a broken part, such as the fractured jaw, missing cheekbone, etc. Also, especially in the area of spacecraft or defense equipment, where spare parts are required to be made available very close to where they are needed. This alleviates the need of having high-risk long-supply chains. 3D printers are not just limited to small fabrications. Recently, a Chinese company has constructed ten single-story houses in less than 24 hours costing about $5000.

Advantages of 3D printing in education

The true potential of 3D printing in the field of education is required to be foreseen and understood by educators. No technology, other than 3D printing, currently helps people to translate ideas and designs into reality so quickly. Because of its multiple and flexible characteristics, 3D technology can add value to impart real-world application and practical knowledge in numerous areas of study.

In recent years, the technology cost has come down significantly and also the machines have become a lot smaller. There is a wide range of equipment available at various price points.

Application of 3D printing in Education

Today, there are multiple ways 3D printing can be integrated readily and easily into teaching and learning. It applies to disciplines such as mathematics, geography, history, arts, medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, engineering, mathematics, arts, and architecture, and so on.

Geography: 3D printers can be used to create, for instance, interactive maps in the form of puzzles for students to organize and assemble. This exercise can help them learn which countries are located within Asia or the location of districts in India. Further, geographic objects like rivers and mountain ranges can be visualized.

Science: Perhaps the biggest range of 3D printing applications comes with the teaching of science. Things like the chemical structure and bonds in chemistry or explore planetary forces in physics becomes easy with 3D representation.

History: World-famous structures, sculptures of extinct animals, or even fallen historic figures can be recreated, with the help of 3D printing technology in the classrooms, intended to help learners to comprehend through much better.

3D printing makes learning exciting

Educators should embrace futuristic technology like 3D printing which will certainly augment the process of transition to Education 4.0. This allows learners not only to make better decisions about their future education and studies but also to better understand the digital world. In addition to specialized knowledge, it also focuses on the development of learning readiness, creativity, problem-solving, and holistic thinking.

To encapsulate, let me highlight a few key benefits if it is rightly adopted in education:

  1. Making Learning Interesting: 3D printing technology has a novelty about it. Therefore, it creates a ‘wow factor’ that can engage those students who otherwise shun learning. Hence, schools are adopting 3D printing to create student engagement.

  2. From STEM to STEAM Education: In recent times, there has been a great deal of talk about integrating arts into technology and science programs. With 3D printing, students become designers and creators using cutting edge technology to visualize and create their own design firms.

  3. Develop spatial cognitive abilities: Using 3D printing in the classroom helps students to develop spatial reasoning ability and imbibe 2D to 3D conversion skills.

  4. Develop “Hands-on” skills: By using 3D printing as a pedagogical tool, the student develops ‘hands-on’ skills by printing various parts of equipment and putting them together. The system assembly skills set are thus acquired.

  5. Developing innate inventors: 3D printing technology develops innate skills among students to become inventors. They see a perceived need for a particular object or tool and they invent using rapid prototyping facility to iterate.

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14 Jan 16, Article titled “3D Printing in Education: Where are we now and what does the future hold?” published in www.offfice.co.uk

The article titled “7 benefits of using 3D printing technology in education” by Jeanette McConnel published in www.makersempire.com

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