The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Is 3-D Printing Really Educational?

As 3-D printing is becoming more affordable, many in public and higher education are racing to get on the bandwagon. The question for Trevor Shaw, director of technology at the Dwight-Englewood School in New York, is: What are kids learning?

While doing research for a summer class on 3-D printing, Shaw found there wasn’t much to teach after turning on the machine. He also determined that the focus of current 3-D printing is more often on the product rather than the design process needed to make it.

“Schools have been teaching 3-D design for a long time. How could a single piece of equipment, whose job seems to be all about the output of learning products rather than the design of them, have a meaningful impact on instruction?” he asked in a column for eSchool News.

Shaw decided there were 3-D printing lessons to be taught, starting with the understanding that precision is valuable but has constraints and costs. Students could also be shown that design tools have a limited number of variables; that persistence and adaption can lead to success; that collaboration is difficult but powerful; and that it’s possible to create something that was once just the figment of someone’s imagination.

“Sure, students should learn the tips and tricks of removing stuck objects from the build plate and knowing when it’s important to use rafts and supports, but these are probably not anyone’s real objectives,” he wrote. “Quick access to the tangible products of their imagination makes learning opportunities possible, where students can begin to uncover enduring understandings that make them fundamentally better designers and problem-solvers.”

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