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10 tips to encourage the use of 3D printing for education

There’s nothing sadder than a state-of-the-art 3D printer that everyone’s too scared to use. 3D printing has revolutionized the printing world, but given the cost of equipment and (relatively) steep learning curve, many students are hesitant to give it a try. 

In this article we’re going to run through some tips to make 3D printing more accessible for everyone. Especially 3D printing for education. The trick is to make 3D printing not only simple, but fun. At the end of the day, 3D printers are creative tools. When you start seeing them that way – instead of temperamental and expensive pieces of lab equipment – you’re way more likely to have a go. Otherwise they’re just $2,000 paper weights. 

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1. Provide a solid intro to 3D printing in the classroom

Students won’t use 3D printers for education and learning if they don’t know what they are, and what they can do. Make sure you explain the concepts, terminology and basic processes involved in 3D printing. Do demonstrations, and get students to join in. Hands-on learning is always the most effective way to upskill. 

 2. Keep it simple, stupid  

You need to make 3D printing as seamless and streamlined as possible. Like ordering UberEats. The best way to do this? Pre-configure distinct ‘products’, rather than machine model numbers and materials. Maybe something like ‘Basic plastic small 3D print’ or ‘High-strength plastic print’.

3. Offer 3D printing starter kits

You don’t need to design an object in order to print it. Websites like Thingiverse have tons of free designs available that let students experiment and explore the potential of 3D printing in the classroom. Try and work these starter kits into the course curriculum. 

4. Encourage 3D printing across all educational departments 

In larger educational organizations, it’s common to see multiple fab labs. Architecture might have a 3D printer, engineering might have one, and there might be several in bio-med. By offering 3D print services to students across departments, students will have access to a wider variety of machine types. You just need to make sure print jobs are costed and charged appropriately. 

5. Offer a design service

If students lack confidence in 3D printing in the classroom, you can offer a design service. This is particularly useful for some 3D production methods that are very expensive, like 3D metal printing and 3D bioprinting. Students and staff can then explain what they want, without committing to an expensive print job. 

6. Communicate and advertise

[If you’re running a fab lab, take the time to set up some friendly automated emails and welcome messages. Even something as simple as ‘Your product is now printing’ helps people feel more involved in the process. Don’t forget to advertise around campus either: offer free training nights and design services, or just spread the word. 

Feel free to get creative with this, too. One campus we visited proudly displayed failed print jobs to make 3D printing seem less daunting. Remember, it’s not about perfection at this point, just having a go.

7. Boost engagement with user-friendly software

Introduce students to some of the more beginner-friendly 3D printing software. Tinkercad, Fusion 360 and SketchUp are all great options. Run some free training seminars to get people up to speed. 

8. Blend 3D printing into the classroom

The quickest way to boost any tech adoption is just to make it ordinary. To use it every day. In an educational setting, this can be achieved by working 3D printing into the regular curriculum. Get biology students to 3D print organic structures, or chemistry students to print molecules.  

9. Learn together

Tackling 3D printing by yourself might be daunting. Doing it in a group is a learning opportunity. Assign group projects that incorporate 3D printing to encourage students to learn together. Get them to design, print and present their creations. 

10. Celebrate success

Display student-printed objects in a dedicated space. Maybe even somewhere outside the fab lab, where it’ll be seen by the wider student body. Include a little information plaque, with links to learn more, so passers-by can get involved in the program.  

Successful adoption of 3D printing for education is just like any other technology. It becomes easier with practice. If you need help setting up 3D printing at your campus, get in touch with our friendly team.   

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