Prior to researching 3D printing’s impacts on education, my knowledge was pretty limited on the subject. I was aware of small objects (gears, gismos, etc.) that were printed in liquid plastics and used for fairly mundane tasks. I assumed I would learn about simple educational manipulatives, useful in a few specialized subject areas like robotics. What I was not prepared for was the mind-blowing implications of 3D printing in health care, industry, and education. Its impacts have the potential to revolutionize almost all aspects of our lives and our students need to be prepared to contribute to this industry.
My initial lack of excitement about 3D printing simply stemmed from a limited vision. “If you’re not excited by 3-D printing it’s because you’re not thinking big enough” (Federico-O’Murchu, 2014). Forget simple plastic gears and miniature toy soldiers and start thinking about artificial human tissue and replacement organs and all of the sudden 3D printing takes on a whole new light. A new method of 3D printing is being proposed that could help treat diseases like osteoarthritis. Dr. Tuan, a leader in this field who is trying to help million of Americans says, “We hope that the methods we’re developing will really make a difference, both in the study of the disease and, ultimately, in treatments for people with cartilage degeneration or joint injuries” (Sher, 2014). Not only will 3D printers improve our physical quality of life, they also have the potential to increase human life expectancy dramatically. “Realistically, we’re going to be living to 100 …110. With bio-printed organs, living to 110 won’t be anything like living to that age today” (Federico-O’Murchu, 2014). While we are a long way from advanced 3D printed organs, the future applications of 3D printing is thrilling.
The graph above shows a variety of industries that are soon expected to rapidly utilize 3D printers. But the truth is, nearly every industry will be impacted. Imagine a world where instead of running to an auto-parts store, you purchase the specific part from the Internet and print it off right at home. This advancement would save significant money in transportation costs and potentially a reduction in pollution. “A 3D printer such as the open-source RepRap may not only pay for itself but actually save money by making just 20 household items — such as shower-curtain rings and safety razors — per year” (Hsu, 2013). Another major advantage of a 3D printing is that you can make modifications on projects to fit your specific needs. Imagine a world where 3D printing occurs at home or in local stores and replaces large-scale manufactured goods. “In such a world, only raw materials and digital designs would cross national borders” (Hsu, 2013). As 3D printing develops, new industries will rush to create and sell digital designs and new laws and protections will need to be put into place. Our government has already scrambled to protect the public from potential terrorists downloading and sharing bombs, grenades, and machine guns – all capable of being printed in 3D (Winter, 2013). More alarming, these weapons will be printed free of any serial number or other common ways of being traced. “Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production, even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these digital files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files” (Winter, 2013). Currently objects printed cannot compete in quality or final polish of a manufactured good, but given time there are many products that consumers will increasingly want to print for themselves. Security, safety, copyright questions will need to be answered as this newly emerging industry sorts itself out and schools are just the place to begin discussing these issues.
All of this is relevant information as we look at 3D printers and their applications in schools today. It is obvious that students will be working with 3D printers in their professional and personal lives in increasing numbers. In the graphic below, there is a list of educational uses for 3D printers. This is certainly not a comprehensive list of uses. Most of these examples enhance tactile hands-on learning. The benefits of 3D printing easily range from K-college and in all subject areas. “As far as how this can be used in education, it’s a matter of bringing objects out of the computer screen and into the hands of students for inspection, analysis, and other processes that can benefit from physical manipulation. In that way, 3D printers may eventually be able to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital–use a screen to find what you need, then print it into existence” (“10 Ways 3D Printing Can Be Used In Education [Infographic]”). There are many critical thinking opportunities 3D printing opens up to our students. Government students will need to debate the ethics of open source vs. private property rights as it applies to 3D designs. As well as the government’s ability/right to regulate this industry (Freedom vs. Safety). 3D printing in schools isn’t just about plugging a printer in and pushing “print”. This emerging technology opens the door for educators to equip students with the ability to design, create, modify, and engineer new products to fit specific learning objectives. Students will be able to collaborate and share design ideas and improve upon those ideas and apply them to a variety of different situations. These critical thinking and problem solving abilities are enhanced through 3D printing and will be in high demand in the future.
3D printing has amazing ramifications in medicine, industry, and education. The more I learn about what they can do, the more my mind starts to spin with the possibilities. The video below addresses how 3D printers have changed education in one school. As this technology advances and becomes more affordable, I expect 3D printers to find a regular place in the classroom as well as our homes and offices.
Federico-O’Murchu, L. (2014, May 11). How 3-D printing will radically change the world. Retrieved June 28, 2015, from http://www.cnbc.com/id/101638702
Hsu, J. (2013, August 12). How 3D Printing Will Save You Money. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from http://www.tomsguide.com/us/how-3d-prinitng-save-money,news-17332.html
On a mission to help schools uncover the benefits of 3D printing for teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2015, from http://www.lpfrg.com/education
Sher, D. (2014, April 29). New 3D Bioprinting Method Using Visible Light – 3D Printing Industry. Retrieved June 28, 2015, from http://3dprintingindustry.com/2014/04/29/researchers-demonstrate-new-3d-bioprinting-method-using-visible-light-cartilage-production/
Winter, J. (2013, May 23). Homeland Security bulletin warns 3D-printed guns may be ‘impossible’ to stop. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/05/23/govt-memo-warns-3d-printed-guns-may-be-impossible-to-stop/
3-D Printer Powers High School Projects. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpYp2qCbWLs