I’ve written before about the fact that I’ve acquired a 3D printer for my classroom this year. It’s been interesting in a lot of ways. Kids are fascinated by it, the possibilities of making things are almost endless and I’ve been pulling out the little hair that I have left trying to keep the machine calibrated and running.
It’s an adventure.
The hype behind 3D printers seem almost endless. Makerbot has been pushing hard, readying ads for the holiday season and contributing to a frantic Donors Choose campaign to put a 3D printer in every classroom in the US.
I think it’s time to step back from the hype.
As with any technology, dropping a 3D printer into a classroom will not fix all that ails education and learning. Some of the kids in my classroom are ready to tinker, make files and work on the printer itself. Others could care less. As I mentioned, the printer in my room seems to require constant work. After it was picked up improperly and knocked out of alignment, it took me hours of work to get it running again.How many people are willing to spend that time? No matter what you buy, it will break down. You can count on it. It might work right out of the box, but after a few weeks the filament will stick, the gears will slip, the calibration will come out of line. I can see all kinds of printers sitting in back rooms about 3 years from now when they have had mechanical troubles and no one is able to fix them.
The same story goes for the files themselves. While it is easy to download things from places like Thingiverse to print, there’s almost no educational purpose in that. This means that you will have to work with kids to design your own 3D meshes and stl files. These files are glitchy, incredibly finicky and often print improperly or sometimes not at all.
The hype behind 3D printers has been incredibly overbuilt as companies like Makerbot work to invent an industry from the ground up. While they are fascinating machines with incredible possibilities behind them, I would caution people to be sure they have a plan before they purchase. The trend and pressure is building. 3D printers are turning into a must have for a lot of teachers and schools, but in my experience, the machines are nowhere near prime time.
As with any other technology, purchase for your school or classroom only after you’ve done your homework and have a solid plan for making sure the goal is learning and not satisfying your shiny gadget syndrome.