3D print technology could transform teaching – but training is essential

  • 3D print technology could transform teaching – but training is essential

As a fresh, innovative method of providing creative opportunities for pupils, the 3D printer has the potential to prove a technological marvel for schools. “Understanding and using 3D printing can benefit children’s learning – particularly in STEM subjects, but also beyond these more traditional fields in music, design technology, history, geography, biology and more,” confirms Simon Biggs, education outreach executive at global engineering technologies company, Renishaw. “Exciting and innovative 3D printing projects are also a simple way to keep pupils engaged in STEM subjects, which is a vital step forward in addressing the skills shortage in this crucial area.”

However, teacher training is key, as Simon goes on to explain: “Educators need to be able to convey to young people how the skills and knowledge they gain in the classroom will relate to what happens in the world of industry and business,” he insists. “Without this context, the future advantage of what students are learning may be lost. Dedicated CPD sessions are extremely useful, whether face to face or with the support of training videos that are uploaded to the internet by many 3D printing companies.”

Renishaw also offers its Fabrication Development Centre as a “unique educational resource for hands-on learning.” It includes two classrooms (staffed by a qualified teacher and Renishaw’s STEM ambassadors), and state-of-the-art equipment.

“The aim is to inspire young people and to encourage a pipeline of talent into STEM careers,” says Simon. “Schools or groups of young people can use the facility for lessons or workshops, completely free.”

Time and variety

Paul Boyd runs bespoke courses based on teaching and learning for D&T and STEM, with his partner, Julie – and argues that training in specific areas, such as timing, can make a huge difference to outcomes. As he points out, when you are trying to print off products designed by 20-30 students in a single class, it can be a logistical nightmare. “With an average time exceeding 20 minutes per object, it’s a difficult prospect,” he says. “However, there are ways to get around this problem, including adding several individual objects in one print, limiting the size of a product as part of a design brief, or printing after the lesson.”

Paul is also concerned that, without the right support for teachers, 3D CAD can become an instructional-based lesson with all students creating the same objects, and little to no differentiation for higher or lower ability students. Training can lead to the delivery of more ‘learning based lessons’, starting with sketching ideas, then introducing design constraints and getting learners to come up with stories around the initial concepts, for example.

An exciting future

“Once any potential issues are overcome, 3D printers offer great learning facilities for pupils,” Paul concludes. “The technology is becoming quicker and smarter; and if schools are able to invest on something just a little more pricey than an entry level machine, they’ll be rewarded with greater efficiency and speed, plus less hassle and a higher quality end product.”

According to Simon Biggs, the increasing numbers of 3D printers in schools is due both to the increasing recognition of the technology as a relevant and engaging educational tool, and to the range and availability of low-cost machines. “It is now possible for schools to buy a 3D printer for around £500,” he observes, “whereas previous versions were cost prohibitive. The decreasing price tag is drastically improving the technology’s pick up in the education sector.

“With the reduction in cost of materials and printers, and schools’ focus on active learning and addressing the skills gap, it would be logical for 3D printers to become a widely used educational tool in years to come.”