We are fast heading towards a future where printers will be used to spew out solid objects of all dimensions. This means, a print out of the Eiffel tower will yield a solid miniature model of the tower. Yes, that’s what 3D- printing is all about – a technology that delivers tangible goods over the internet. With the click of a mouse it would be possible for us to have an acoustic guitar, camera lens, model of a developing fetus, IPad stands, bikinis, prosthetics, coffee mugs and almost any conceivable thing under the sun.
Organizations have begun to tap into the benefits of this technology in varied ways. Nike now uses 3D printers to create multi-colored prototypes of shoes instantly. NASA has already successfully tested a 3D printer on the International Space Station. It now requires a high resolution 3D printer to manufacture spacecraft parts during deep space missions.
General Motors and Ford Motors are using 3D printing to make prototypes of many parts of their vehicles. In the medical world, the transformation has been particularly revolutionary – a 3D printed skull for saving life and 3D printed leg to help a disabled dog run.
While these stunning developments, almost bordering on the surreal, may take some time to strike home, it’s time we conjure up the impact of this technology in the field of education. Imagine the reaction of a child every time you hand him over a miniature model of his drawings. The experience would be powerful enough to turn him into an active creator, consumed with a relentless desire to explore more.
The big advantage with 3-D technology is that it would allow for a greater level of customization to individual needs. With such customizations it would become a lot easier for the biology student to print out and examine cross-sections of lungs, heart, kidney or other organs; for the chemistry student to print out and understand the complex structure of molecules or for the geography student to print out maps showing the topography or demographics of a region.
Likewise, engineering and design students would find it easier to demonstrate prototypes of their creations, and students of architecture can validate their ideas with handy 3D models of their designs.
Yet another benefit would be, narrowing down of the existing gap between theoretical and practical learning. 3D printing will familiarize students with concepts and their application from an early stage and will encourage experimentation cutting across skill-levels. Testing and retesting ideas while working on projects will get easier and more absorbing. For instructors, the going could get lot easier as well. It would provide them with an opportunity to explain difficult concepts with a three-dimensional visual aid.
The need to change our education system from class room based to lab-based has long been debated, but to no effect. With the advent of 3D printer, classrooms would soon become more like labs where students will have a lot more to do than just sit through hours of lectures.