The Necessity of Education in 3D Printing

3D Printing Education

3D printing innovations have been steadily moving from imagination to reality in recent years with a solid incline in commercial and industrial use, as well as a significant number of 3D printing devices popping up in homes. However, it seems the education sector hasn’t yet embraced the trend which many experts believe could offer value to the learning environment while simultaneously training our future users and developers in the technology. In a recent international survey conducted by Dimensional Research it was found that 87% of schools restrict student access to 3D printing, with three primary failures taking much of the blame: poor control of management and access to the 3D printing devices; poor management of material and time costs to be allocated to departmental expenses; and a lack of direction for the use of 3D printing in current curriculums. For those of us who recognize the value of this significant technology, such downfalls seem ridiculous impediments.

What 3D Printing Brings to Education

Though obviously faced with a few administrative hurdles, key considerations for educational institutions employing 3D printers in their curriculums include intensified motivation and creativity, as well as the recognition of the value of instruction in such technology. Already, STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) are recognised as areas able to benefit substantially from access to 3D printing, and suggests Mark Yorke, MD (UK) of education consultancy firm Tablet Academy,

“Educational institutions are challenged to prepare young people for jobs that don’t even exist yet. 3D printing will certainly form part of the technological advancements happening across the world so providing educators with the opportunity to experience and understand this emerging technology can only be a positive move for all involved.”

Encouraging Adoption in Schools

Gladly, the challenges to suitable utilization in schools are recognized, and along with administrators and educators looking for better ways to implement 3D printing technologies into their programs, a few external organizations are incentivizing and encouraging more intensive adoption. One such construction, the Ultimaker Pioneer Program, launched in August last year, calling educators to share their 3D printing work and experience with other forerunners, and shortly thereafter the Ultimaker Education Challenge was introduced asking educators if they challenge their students to get the best out of themselves and whether they believe it vital to let students discover their talents through experimentation and exploration. Over 250 entrants sent in their 3D printing ideas and designs and over 50 winners were announced at the recent BETT Show in London.

Another structure working to promote 3D printing in classrooms, MakerBot’s Educators Program is targeting classrooms across the United States as it attempts to help teachers exchange knowledge, receive guidance, and participate in challenges. Says Drew Lentz, MakerBot Learning Manager,

“After recently establishing Thingiverse Education, now the largest collection of 3D printing lesson plans online, we saw an immediate response from hundreds of teachers who were excited to contribute content and share best practices with peers. The new MakerBot Educators Program is taking it a step further by forging a closer relationship between MakerBot and the most engaged teachers of our community.”

And GE will, over the next five years, be investing $10 million in its own educational program, GE Additive Education Program, an initiative aimed at developing student skills in 3D printing technology. Recognizing the rapidity of growth in the industry, GE is one of a few forward-thinking companies that hopes to diminish future challenges by developing a skilled additive manufacturing workforce.

What Lies Ahead?

The future of 3D printing is unknowable, but it seems very likely that the technology will be a feature in every factory and home in the years to come. From printing body parts to be used in regenerative medicine, to the less exotic replacement parts for machinery, to the fascinating area of food production, investigations seem to cross all fields and potentials are expansive. And so, educating our youth in this ground-breaking sphere is a considerably worthy move.

by Jennifer Klostermann

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