Even though 3D printers have been around for almost 30 years, the recent rise of low-cost printers has led some to proclaim the onset of a new industrial revolution. Schools and libraries all over the world are bringing these powerful tools to students in classrooms and dedicated “makerspaces” where they are accompanied by other fabrication tools. For example, China is putting 3D printers in each of its 400,000 elementary schools. In the U.S., are adding 3D printers into schools at a good rate, particularly into CAD programs, but also into traditional art and social studies classrooms and even business programs.
If 3D printing is starting a new industrial revolution, it is well on its way to revolutionizing teaching and learning as well. The result of bringing these tools into classrooms is a rekindling of the powerful pedagogy of hands-on learning. 3D printing leverages hands-on learning to deepen our educational approach to traditional educational subjects. With 3D printers, teachers can literally add another dimension to their classroom practice; can use 3D printed objects to illustrate complex concepts, make abstract and inaccessible objects tangible, improve students’ spatial abilities and create a richer, more engaging learning environment.
3D printers are gaining popularity internationally across STEM education. So far the technology has been restricted largely to Design and Technology (DT) classrooms. There is considerable potential, however, for them to be used within a range of educational subjects, for example to enable links to be made between mathematics, design and physics in a similar way to, for example, ‘sound’ enabling links between music, physics (wave properties), biology (hearing) and engineering (concert hall design). Equipping learners to understand the application and potential of this new type of technology will be important to helping prepare them for a world in which similar technologies will be increasingly commonplace.
3D printing is an important technological development that aims to facilitate and grow a variety of social and scientific disciplines. So how could 3D printing be missing from education? 3D printing enables the learners to learn more complex concepts and provide them with new “tools”. Students can touch the concepts explained in class, such as various geometric shapes. Moreover, 3D printing in education:
Despite potential benefits, there are many barriers to the integration of new technologies into the education system. Along with institutional, cultural, assessment and resource barriers, these include teacher attitudes and beliefs, and teacher knowledge and skills. As a new digital fabrication technology, 3D Printing is not immune to these integration challenges; in the education system the current generation of teachers is not well positioned to take advantage of these capabilities. This lack of readiness derives from the fact that many teachers do not fully understand engineering, engineering habits of mind, or design thinking. This expertise is not currently provided in teacher preparation programmes. Others believe that teachers are not receiving sufficient guidance on the use and maintenance of 3D printers. This speaks to a more general need in the education system of teaching educators about 3D printing, supporting their professional development, and enabling their ability to teach others about 3DP.
3D Printing in VET aims to introduce the use of 3D Printers in Vocational Education and Training in Europe. In order to introduce the 3D printers in vocational schools and institutes in partners countries, the project consortium will explore the status quo on training structures in different EU countries and develop a highly innovative, internationally competitive training programme on 3D printing use.