The 3D printing landscape

On Saturday, Zara and I visited the 3D printing showcase at Melbourne Uni.  The showcase was held over two days (Friday and Saturday) and was a mix of exhibitions, hands on demos, guest speakers and student displays.  I went last year and the event was much smaller and so it was pretty amazing to think how quickly the landscape had developed in just one year.

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Walking around the showcase with my four year old daughter, I started thinking about where the 3D printing world would be when she was older.  In the 2013 Horizon report, 3D printing was listed as four to five years away from large scale adoption in schools.  So looking at that timeline leaves us about half way.  The price is a huge limiting factor for schools but with the increase in demand and in suppliers comes the price war that will drive it down and make it more affordable for all.  At my school we have dipped our toes in the water and purchased the UP Mini and it has been extremely popular with all age groups.  Students download images from Thingiverse or use Google SketchUp to create and print their own ideas.   We now have a large collection of things.  Printed models that look nice and have a wow factor but the learning in my opinion is low tier at the moment.  For me, the purpose of each printed item is largely lacking.  I would like a spinning top so I print one.  I would like a dragon for my desk so I print one.  I’m looking for designed solutions.  Items that add value to society, solve a problem or enable high level creative originality.  The best examples of 3D printing use at my school have fallen into these categories.  One of our IT technicians didn’t have tweezers small enough to complete a particular task so he printed a pair.  One student had an original idea for an engine and so he designed it and printed the components (this kid will be famous one day, amazing learner!!).  3D printing in education is still an emerging technology and so we are still in the midst of just printing things.

How does it become mainstream?  How does it become embedded?  In my opinion, Purpose, Pedagogy and professional partnerships.  Designs need real purpose and not just gimmicky.  The pedagogy needs to rich and enable original design and thinking.  Schools needs to partner with professionals in the industry to tap into their knowledge, skillset and resources.  Understanding how it is used in industries such as engineering, medicine, etc… really can increase the potential for students.



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