Reimagining Education With 3D Printing

Inspiring the next generation of innovators

Until five years ago, the average price of a 3D printer was around $50,000. Today, it has dropped to $18,000. However, as you can see from a quick online search, there are much cheaper options available. The Makerbot Replicator+ 3D printer, for example, retails at less than $4,000. The affordability, accessibility, and usability of 3D print technology has accelerated adoption, opening up new opportunities in sectors outside of manufacturing and construction. One relatively new application is in formal education. D/SRUPTION spoke to Karol Górnowicz, CEO of 3D printing startup Skriware, to find out how 3D printing could transform traditional learning.

No matter where you are in the world, formal education remains largely traditional. Aside from interactive whiteboards, online portals and the odd robot teaching assistant, the school environment looks much the same as it always has – a teacher, a board, and a class of students with pencils and exercise books. As employment requirements evolve, so must education… But change, stunted by legacy infrastructures, has been painfully slow.

Inspired by issues within the sector, Górnowicz founded Skriware in 2015. The Polish 3D printing startup provides a package of hardware and software solutions including robots, an e-learning platform, 3D printers, a 3D modelling tool, and a 3D model library.

“Our mission is to help students develop interdisciplinary skill sets to face the challenges of the 21st century’s job market,” says Górnowicz. “The ultimate goal of all good education is to inspire passion for learning, and give children confidence that whatever background they come from, they can be successful in the job market. We want to do that early on and have children interact with technology, and play in the way that they usually interact with toys.”

Much more than a game

By gamifying education, students are more likely to enjoy and therefore engage with their lessons. According to Górnowicz, 3D printing is such a useful educational tool because it enables ideas to come to life. Much of current education is based in theory, but seeing an idea go from concept to product teaches valuable problem solving skills that are hugely sought after in fluid, digital markets.

“3D printing is a technology that brings together the creative world of design and the scientific world of programming and engineering. You can easily help children to understand abstract concepts like chemistry models, and they can understand by using all of their senses. The more senses you use, the more engaging and fun it is and more effective in memorizing abstract concepts,” he says.

As part of their educational ecosystem, Skriware offers online courses such as Destination Mars. The set of interactive missions uses 3D printable programmable robots called Skribots, which are built and programmed by students. Through Skribots, the students learn a wide range of cross disciplinary skills including programming, engineering, and electronics. 3D printing has obvious advantages for subjects like Design and Technology (DT) and science, but what about less practical fields like languages or the humanities? As expected, Górnowicz takes a holistic view.

“The 3D printer is the answer here. You can print literally any design, be it a coin from 19th century or a model of a galleon. We can create any narrative and build around it,” he says.

Skriware is currently working with experts from Dartmouth College, the Astro Center at Texas A&M University, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education to help the Skriware academy to become fully ready for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, Maths)… As well as the humanities.

Ubiquitous 3D printers?

3D printers are cheaper and more easily available than ever before, but there are still a number of obstacles to adoption. Although costs have dropped significantly, underfunded schools could easily prioritise textbooks and other traditional resources over tech that they might not fully understand. While many schools could afford to buy their own 3D printers, the education sector as a whole appears reluctant to change. Another issue is the confidence of teachers themselves. If they are unsure of how to use 3D printing, how can they be expected to teach it to students? Despite these setbacks, Górnowicz says that schools are becoming more willing to embrace new technologies. With guidance and support from companies like Skriware and Lulzbot, educators could feel more comfortable about integrating 3D printers into their lesson plans. There are also options for schools that aren’t ready to buy their own printers, too. At the Fabrication Development Centre (FDC) in South Wales, local schools can use the centre’s in house 3D printers as part of their DT lessons.

In a world where individuals work in teams and draw on a range of skills, education should arguably be geared towards encouraging creativity and collaboration. Through working with flexible technology like 3D printers, students can develop their communicative and creative skills while learning how to practically apply knowledge. In turn, this could help to address a number of challenges faced not only by the technological community but in wider societies and the global economy.

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