3D Printing in a School or Educational Environment

Do you look at the advertisements for 3D printers and wonder if there is one with your name on it?  Do you wonder how engaged your students would be if only they had access to a 3D printer? Are you reading articles that say that having a 3D printer is a necessary part of your new Maker Space?

Having a 3D printer is a great addition to a Maker Space no matter the age of your students.  3D printing allows students to create prototypes not limited to the available materials.  There are many websites that show designs that have been created to be printed on a 3D printer.  Thingiverse is one comprehensive collection of what others have designed to be printed.

Some students have the ability to design or invent a prototype or parts that do not exist in real life or on design websites.  For this purpose, many of the design websites allow students to create 3D designs for printing.  AutoDesk AutoCAD is recommended but facilitators may need to investigate and work through the design process first before introducing it to students.

Tinkercad is a great app or website to start out creating items and have students who haven’t experienced “design” to explore.

Remember that committing to a 3D printer in your space means that someone has to maintain the printer, make sure things are printing smoothly and organize the printing requests.  Local experience says that while the printer is printing someone should be present, not watching but in the area doing some other work.  If this will be your Library Assistant, it would be a good idea to train and be available as backup for their learning.

Having a 3D printer in your workspace also means continuing cost.  The same way we purchase paper for the printer or photocopier, the filaments that create the 3D printed object need to be purchased, loaded and maintained.

Although many schools have a 3D printer on their wish list, you may be the person who investigates before you get one and plans for its maintenance, use and all the other design sites and software necessary to make the best use of this technology.

Here at the University of Calgary, we are lucky to have a 3D printer administered by the Taylor Family Digital Library.  There are Tech Mentors that can facilitate students to complete a design that is recognizable by the 3D printer software.  And, for supply cost, you can print an object.  Occasionally, workshops are available to show students how the process works.  Visit the 3D printing page for more information.

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