June 30, 2014

As applications of 3D printing expand and prices drop, this technology is more accessible to schools and young students. A three-month research project conducted by researchers Vasilis Kostakis, Vasilis Niaros, Christos Giotitsas attempts to examine to what extent the technological capabilities of open source 3D printing could serve as a means of learning and communication.

The project is based on learning theory Constructionism, defined by Seymour Papert, which points out that learning can be more effectively when people construct tangible objects to understand the world around them.

Totally 33 students from one public and one private high school in Ioannina, Greece were called to collaboratively design and produce, with the aid of an open source 3D printer and a 3D design platform, functional artifacts of their own choice. The project began on January the 23rd, 2013. The first learning goal was that students grasp the concept of 3D design using simplified software and the basics of 3D printing. For two hours per week students learned about the 3D printing technology, and they were encouraged to think critically and participate in discussion, and get familiar with the working environment. Afterwards they formed tentative working teams (2-4 persons) to select objects which can be printed on an open source 3D printer. The object should carry messages in the Braille language, and should be novel, functional, and/or usable by blind children.

"We assumed that 3D printing and design would motivate students express their ideas making them tangible and shareable via processes that stimulate students to make various connections related to the under creation artifacts." notes the researchers.

They listed examples of such processes below:

  • Learning to design and think in 3D.
  • Researching material in Greek and in English about the Braille language.
  • Exploring the mechanics of the objects to be designed or the open source 3D printers.
  • Studying designs of similar objects made with conventional manufacturing techniques and understanding the engineering process behind them.
  • Envisioning what blind people would need that 3D printing could deliver.
  • Combining ordinary hardware with their 3D printed artifacts.
  • Applying knowledge from different disciplines such as geometry, physics, architecture or the arts.
  • Sharing their creations with the world under Commons-based licenses.

So what's the result? According to the teachers, "greater engagement by students along with a reduced need of discipline and less disruption were observed.

''My class consisted of generally uncooperative, especially concerning the project course, students who, surprisingly enough, were very willing to engage in this particular project'', Loukianos Xaxiris, a school teacher told researchers.

''This change is a result of children's increased connection with the world (new ideas, technologies)... followed by an increase in their self-esteem''. said Christos Bitsis from another school. Both teachers claimed that they have noticed an increased involvement by parents. In addition, the use of open source technologies also developed a sharing culture, "i.e., child to child and school to society".

In total 16 + 1 artifacts were designed and printed; the extra one was made by a public high school's third-class student, G., who was very interested in joining the project. 13 of the 16 objects were specifically designed for use by the blind, including:

3D comic with Braille ("Save the world")

  • a 3D comic where the hero exclaims ''save the world!'', written in the Braille language;
  • three, complementary touristic sites of Ioannina printed in small scale which could ''help the blind understand the forms of their surroundings'';
  • a cup with the message ''drink me'' in the Braille on it ''to make drinking more fun for the blind'',
  • a stamp on which one can read in Braille the name of their school in Greek;
  • a working Rubik's cube using Braille language's letters instead of colors;
  • a Braille-based Sudoku board;
  • an informed version of the old sand-timers for use by the blind which used marbles to produce sound instead of sand;
  • etc.

'Drink me' Cup

Through this three-month educational experiment researchers attempted to use 3D printing as a learning tool to help students to "think differently than they did previously and, thus, see the world differently". They hope to create a network of collaborators at the second phase of the experiment, for example a network of teachers and scholars from other schools and institutions, or even from other countries, who are willing to apply, test, criticize, enrich and improve further first phase's educational scenario. And the third phase will contain the investigation of the communicational potential of 3D printing amongst blind and non-blind students.

In addition, researchers also planed to focus not only on open source 3D printing but also on other open source hardware such as the Arduino micro-controllers. The goal is to "educate children so they can creatively face a future that we may never see." notes the researchers.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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