3D Printers, Creativity, and Innovation

Do-it-yourself!Creativity and innovation are at the heart of my library school experience at Syracuse University. 3D Printing is an innovative technology being adopted by some public and school libraries as a tool to foster innovation and creativity. In my Motivating 21st Century Learners course, we were asked to think of ways 3D printers could encourage creativity and innovation in the library classroom–this post is based on our classroom discussions and my investigation of that question.

I first heard about 3D printers in libraries during my introductory library course in summer 2011. Since then, I have wrestled with “That is the coolest thing ever!” and “Do we really need more little plastic things in the world?” I love the makerspace concept, and support the use of all libraries as collaborative creation spaces. I’m still not sold on libraries as individual manufacturing centers through 3D printing, though. For this reason, I framed my 3D printer investigation to look for ideas that foster creativity as well as information about the materials used in 3D printing. After a few weeks of investigation, I’m starting to see how 3D printing, in the big scheme of things, personalizes production so that we are ending up with (eventually) fewer plastic things in the world made en masse, and more original items of our own invention. I like the potential for 3D printers to use recycled materials, garbage, and other renewable resources in the production process. I want a 3D printer of my own. Do I think they are great tools for all libraries? No. Do I think they are great tools for some libraries. Yes.

Here’s why the “No.” Most of the ideas we came up with and read about for using 3D printers in the elementary and secondary library classroom environment could be accomplished through more accessible and less expensive means. Now that I have that ugly reality out of the way, I want to share a few of the ideas that I’d love to try in my library classroom one day when I get my possibly-unnecessary-but-totally-awesome 3D printer!

At the heart of our challenge for this assignment was innovation, which requires learners to employ a number of inquiry skills and to engage on multiple cognitive levels. Also important to this assignment was encouraging students to engage in the creation process–to use prior knowledge as a context for new learning, engage in problem solving and critical thinking, and contribute to an exchange of ideas to collaborate with others.

One method of employing 3D printing tools to encourage innovation is to ask students to look for a problem in their school or home life that they would like to solve. Students could browse Thingiverse to see examples and start brainstorming, and then be given time to get out into the world to discover a problem they could solve. They could improve the design of something they already use every day, or come up with something completely new.

Another method of fostering creativity is to incorporate 3D printing tools into interpreting and sharing stories. As a creative project, students could be asked to invent something that represents what they are reading, or to solve a problem for the characters in the story. Then students could present their creation along with an explanation of the process through which they interpreted and developed it. Students could then debrief the design and manufacturing process. This would have students pull from a number of different subject areas to interpret a story and learn more about a variety of elements from the story and symbolism—as well as learn to interact with and navigate online 3D printing communities and support to generate ideas and learn the manufacturing process.

One of my favorite ideas for fostering creativity and innovation using 3D printers in the classroom was suggested by my classmate Jenny, and did not require the students to ever even touch a 3D printer. Her suggestion was to involve students in determining through research which printer would best meet their school’s needs, and then make recommendations of whether the investment would be a good one for the school.

I’m excited to learn more about 3D printers. I’d love to hear your 3D printing experiences and ideas.
Maker Librarian, a site dedicated to providing resources about participatory librarianship, maker spaces, and hacker spaces, provides a number of useful links to informative articles and videos about the 3D printing process, 3D printers, and the intellectual property questions that accompany 3D printing.

I found a cool review of some popular 3D printers here, titled 3D Printer Round-up: Cube 3D, UP!, and Solidoodle, from Hot Hardware: The hottest tech, tested and burned in.

And, here is the article, 3D Printing Tech: The Big Green Implications, from TG Daily that inspired me to think about the eventual green possibilities of 3D printing.