At Makers Making Change, we often get questions from teachers about how they can learn 3D design for assistive technology in the classroom. In this article, our Community Coordinator Zee Kesler chats with Jason Yeung of about their collaborative curriculum created in partnership with Autodesk and Fushion 360.

steps in the make: able challenge curriculum by printlab and autodesk

Q: Jason, what inspired PrintLab to work with schools and educators?

The education sector is an area we’ve always been passionate about. For 2 years before we launched PrintLab, our team was responsible for building and managing the international reseller network for a leading desktop 3D printer manufacturer. And in that time, we supported a lot of schools with hardware. We thought it was truly amazing that students could get hands-on with a technology that’s transforming so many industry sectors but as we distributed more and more 3D printers into schools, we discovered that there were some big challenges. 

There was a huge amount of content available to explain why 3D printers should be in education and how to operate them, but there wasn’t much out there to guide teachers in using them as a creative tool for learning. So many 3D printers in schools are heavily under utilized or used in limited ways such as only manufacturing models designed by other people.

The thing that inspired us to start PrintLab was the belief that we could use our skills and knowledge to make a positive impact. A positive impact on how students learn, a positive impact on how teachers facilitate and a positive impact on industries by nurturing the next generation workforce.

Q: What was the inspiration to focus educational content on creating assistive technology?

The inspiration to put a strong focus on assistive technology was coming across the work of Makers Making Change. Your project library really opened our eyes to the possibilities with 3D printing and assistive technology.

One of the things we learnt was that assistive technology doesn’t always have to be overly complicated or over-engineered. From this point we knew that with a bit of guidance, even students as young as 8 or 9 could design low cost, customized devices that could improve the lives of others

One of our core missions at PrintLab is to break down the silos between schools and the wider community so that students can make an impact in society, not just in the future, but in the present. From our experience and the experience of our teacher community, there’s no better way to do this than through assistive technology projects.

Q: How many students and schools have participated in the Make Able Challenge at this point?

The make:able 3D printing and assistive technology challenge began in September 2020 through a collaboration between PrintLab, Autodesk, Makers Making Change and other partners. It runs through until the submission deadline in April 2021 and to date, we’ve had almost 17,000 students across 500 schools register.

“The interest has far exceeded our expectations and we’re so excited to see the outcomes and stories from schools in over 70 countries worldwide.”

I truly believe challenges like make:able can do so much good in the world. Due to the school disruptions from the pandemic, we might not see all 17,000 students participate but imagine if even 10,000 students entered and worked in teams of 4. If you do the math, that’s 2500 assistive devices. And then if you take it further and make these designs open source and shared on platforms like Makers Making Change, you can begin to understand just how many lives can be supported in programs like this. 

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Why do you think teachers might be hesitant to take on 3D printing in the classroom?

There’s several common reasons why teachers might be hesitant to take on 3D printing but the one that stands out to me the most is time. As with all new technologies, it takes time to learn how to use them. Teachers are more than capable of learning how to use 3D printers, how to design models etc, but we have to remember that 3D printing isn’t the only thing on their plate. And learning how to use 3D printers themselves is only the beginning. It then takes more time to learn how to maintain them, how to manage them and how to integrate them into the classroom in a meaningful way.

If I was to give advice to teachers hesitant to take on 3D printing, I’d say start off small, learn together with your students and embrace failure as part of the process. The rewards you will get from providing students with these amazing experiences will 100 percent be worth the time you invest in bringing 3D printing into the classroom.

How can PrintLab’s resources address some of those hesitations or challenges?

Our online platform of 3D printing projects provides teachers with foundational skills in using 3D printing to ‘design for purpose’, whilst saving them the time and stress of creating meaningful lesson plans from scratch. We constantly add new projects that relate to the innovative uses of 3D printing in industry. Assistive technology is one of our key themes but we also branch out to themes such as the circular economy, architecture and even product design for pandemics. 

Each project comes with adaptable lesson plans that take students through a blended learning experience, guided by explainer videos, tutorials and creative methods used by designers around the world. This means that rather than teachers spending countless hours creating resources, they can focus on facilitating and coaching the next generation of creative problem solvers.

What’s next for PrintLab?

This year’s focus will be on introducing new technologies into our projects that compliment 3D printing. We’re beginning the 3D scanning but we have plans to expand to electronics, programming and more. 

We’d also like to continue our collaborations with organizations like Makers Making Change and search for new industry partners to work on creative strategies that extend learning outside of the classroom and into the world.

If you want to keep up-to-date with our developments, you can follow @weareprintlab on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.



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