1.) What recent advances have been made in 3D printing within the education sector?
There have been a lot of recent advancements in mainstream 3D printing, mostly aimed at bringing the price down so that 3D printers can become true consumer devices, as well as some really exciting experimentation in the materials used. These advancements have all made their way into the education sector. The last three years have seen entry-level printers drop from US $1,000 all the way down to $299. That’s staggering, and means that 3D printers are within the reach of even more school budgets. We’ve also produced 3Doodler bundles just for schools, ensuring everyone can have that 3D experience.
On the materials front, if you can grind it and mix it with plastic then it’s happening! As with our new PRO pen, there are now wood filaments, metal filaments, and even filaments that extrude clay and wax. We’ve even developed plastics of our own so that 3D printing, and our pens, can be accessible to kids. That required us to develop plastics that are non-toxic, eco-friendly and work just as effectively as existing plastics, but at much lower and safer temperatures. That’s what we use in the 3Doodler Start, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the industry follows suit soon. The development of safer and more eco-friendly plastics is something educators are very interested in and one of the first questions they ask when they buy. Moreover, the various materials developed make learning (and understanding material science, design, and engineering) that much more engaging.
2.) We’ve seen 3D printing being used in many sectors but has it really moved forward in our schools and universities?
Absolutely. For us alone we’ve gone from no schools to over 1,500. We’ve seen districts in the USA purchasing for hundreds of their schools; government programs in Asia that put our pens in the hands of kids as young as 8, and we now have curricular materials that span whole semesters or just single classroom sessions so that 3D creation can be incorporated into any classroom, library or museum. You just have to go on Twitter to see proof that this is happening, with teachers and students sharing their excitement and creations. The feedback we get has been very valuable too, and shows that teachers are engaging with our products and materials, adopting them and tailoring them for their classroom needs.
3.) In your opinion, what skills can young learners gain from having 3D printing in the classroom?
The spectrum starts with basic social awareness and design thinking, but the sky is the limit. Taking young learners away from screens and putting tools in their hands will teach them how things work and how things can be built. It is also the perfect way to provide a hands-on and engaging way to learn STEM subjects, as well as challenge students to design and reimagine the world around them.
The development of safer and more eco-friendly plastics is something educators are very interested in and one of the first questions they ask when they buy
4.) 3D printers are generally still quite expensive, do the benefits it can bring to teaching and learning justify the costs?
The benefits justify the costs if used right. If students are encouraged to understand how objects are designed and built, that knowledge will transfer across to other areas of their learning and development. That said prices are falling. For just $1,000 an entire classroom can be kitted out with 3Doodlers and they can then be used across the syllabus. Another way that it justifies the costs is how, in one recent example, we saw how 3Doodlers could be used to bridge the gender gap in STEM subjects. Considering the drive to encourage girls to get more involved in this area, it was great to see female students signing up for engineering subjects in higher numbers after using the 3Doodler as a part of their course.
5.) Can you recommend any resources or training programmes which could help schools/universities and teachers to understand and use a 3D printer?
We publish materials for free on our education site: the3Doodler.com. These cover how to use our devices as well as bite size design challenges, classroom guides, and much neater curricular pieces.
6.) Will 3D printing continue to grow in education – and will these machines be a classroom staple in years to come?
We believe and hope so. We’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of educational adoption. Within 10 years we expect to see 3Doodlers in every classroom, used across art, design and STEM subjects. The engagement and results that come from using these devices mean it is only a matter of time before adoption ramps up and this becomes an educational staple.
Daniel Cowen is Co-Founder and COO of WobbleWorks