3D Printing

Over the past few years I've written several articles about 3D printing and its potential application in education. I first came across a 3D printer at a City Learning Centre in London. That was 15 years ago at the time of writing, ie 1998. What I had not realised back then was that 3D printing had already been around for ages -- since the mid-1980s in fact.

I learnt this fact from reading Fabricated. Subtitled "The new world of 3D printing", the book looks at scenarios, and the possible implications of 3D printing, in the not-too-distant future.

It's well-written, and with chapters like "Digital cuisine", "Ownership, safety and new legal frontiers" and "A factory in the classroom", the book holds much promise.

I put it like that because I haven't actually read it yet! I've literally just started on it, and thought I would take the opportunity to give you the heads-up on it.

One thing I don't like, and don't really understand, is that the Kindle version is only a couple of quid cheaper than the paper version. So, if you can bear to be a bit retro, and don't mind waiting a couple of days for its arrival, I'd suggest buying the physical version.

I think it would be interesting to speculate on what 3D printing might mean for education. Apart from the fact that as soon as it becomes viable enough for kids to bring their own mini-printer to school they will be banned from doing so.

Interestingly enough, when I was taking my teaching qualification, specialising in economics, we had a talk from a visiting speaker who said kids would be able to understand 3d models of costs and revenues more easily than the usual 2-dimensional representations. He even brought along a model he'd created earlier. Made out of wood, with great precision, it illustrated fixed vs variable costs. However, I dismissed the idea at the time. That was not because I disagreed with the speaker, but because I couldn't see myself spending days and weeks making the wretched things -- especially given my complete lack of proficiency in carpentry.

But now, of course, or at least very soon, it will be possible to quickly and easily produce physical models of any concept you like, limited only by your imagination, to coin a phrase.

I wonder how the following concepts/ideas might be so represented:

  • algorithms and computational thinking
  • plot development in Hamlet
  • the rise and fall of the Roman Empire
  • the industrial revolution
  • freedom of speech

I don't even know if some of these things could be represented as 3D models, but I think it is an interesting idea to explore. Personally, I think if you ask pupils to wrap their brains around this lot (or some of your own choice), they would come up with better ideas than we might. Not because I think kids are naturally digitally brilliant: I don't. (This isn't even a digital issue anyway.) But because for the most part they seem to have fewer preconceptions than we adults do.

Well, I am off to read some more of Fabricated. While I am doing that, you may wish to explore articles on the ICT in Education website about 3D printing, and a special edition of nour newsletter. Links given below. Enjoy!

Website articles on 3D printing

Newsletter articles on 3D printing

cross-posted on www.ictineducation.org

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Computers in Classrooms."