On the 25th September, the 3D Printshow announced its commitment to providing 3D printing technology for schools, by promising to supply all schools which turned up at the show with more than 35 students at the event a free 3D printer. It raises an interesting question - just where do we see 3D printers being useful in education?
A tool to help engage and inform
Whilst 3D printing is still in its formative years, there is definitely a lot of excitement around the benefits that 3D printing will bring. In schools, it seems that design and technology departments would benefit greatly from the printers' range and ability to reliably and consistently churn out component parts. Even art departments could benefit from 3D printers, allowing children the flexibility to have a new medium to experiment in. Engineering students would also find themselves faced with a tool that allows a greater range of creation; often processes can be slowed down by the need to rely heavily on outsourcing of components to make complicated working models. With a 3D printer, the whole process can be in their own hands.
The same benefits can be applied to the sciences also. If we think of Chemistry, and the usual tools they have available in class: if the chemistry class wishes to have working models of atoms, but only have certain ones available at that time, it becomes quick and easy to print out some more. In Biology, replicas of cells or viruses become easy to visualise with a printed out copy. In Physics, there are a whole host of opportunities, with many dioramas which would work as teaching aids readily available.
The ease of entry
At the 3D Printshow it was shown just how committed the companies behind 3D printers are to getting their products into schools. A few years ago there was an understandable hesitancy to even consider such printers for schools given their price-points, and necessary ongoing costs. There has never been a doubt as to their usefulness, but price-points will always prove to be prohibitive. Fortunately, that looks set to change.
A new 3D printer, called Tinyboy, markets itself for students, even down to its arrival. At a cost of $130, it requires assembly on arrival, but you only need a screwdriver to complete this normally daunting task. Whilst the content it can create is relatively small (just over eight centimetres cubed), it's cost and small physical footprint make it an attractive prospect for schools looking to add 3D printing to school's repertoire.
With products such as Tinyboy entering the marketplace, we find a new category has opened up. Where schools have, for years, been used to getting students to build computers which everyone will use, 3D printers now seem ready to join that very same league. Whilst the focus, for now, is on using 3D printers, getting children involved in their creation is even more rewarding. Perhaps one day we will even have children 3D printing their very own 3D printers.