In the last several years, interest in 3D printing in higher education is expanding, with faculty in visual arts, science, and even surprising areas such as psychology, philosophy, and English, considering how 3D printing might be integrated into their teaching and research.
Tim Simpson, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and engineering design at Penn State, and co-director of the University’s Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition, first became involved with 3D printing as a graduate student at Georgia Tech in the mid-1990s. Today, he is sharing that experience and knowledge as a Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology Faculty Fellow. The fellowship program partners staff members from Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) at Penn State’s University Park campus with faculty members interested in experimenting with new ways of using information technology in higher education. His fellowship is focusing on expanding the usage and access to 3D printing across Penn State’s University Park campus, and building a community of educators who use 3D printing as an effective learning tool.
Simpson is creating a dynamic, interactive community designed to increase access to 3D printing at University Park. This community will be built by increasing the amount of 3D printers, creating a website that shows location of 3D printing resources, cataloguing courses and programs that use 3D printing, and sharing best practices among members of the Penn State University Park community.
Simpson is not just documenting these resources, he has reached out to the staff at 3D printing labs to help with the planning and execution of the Maker Commons, a new 3D printing lab that opened on March 24 in the Knowledge Commons at University Park. The Maker Commons includes 32 MakerBot 5th Generation Replicator 3D Printers, support and equipment for 3D modeling and 3D scanning, and the Invention Studio, which includes LittleBits electronics and other materials for rapid prototyping. “What we did over the summer was I went around and took the Faculty Fellow team on a tour of all the other spaces on campus,” he said. “We were able to introduce the team to the staff that was running the facilities so they could hear about the pain points and challenges that they face, and to get to know each other.”
Simpson is extending this 3D printing community-building via other activities. Ryan Wetzel, manager of the Media Commons and the team leader of the TLT group Simpson is working with, said they have held several events to bring together people from across campus who use 3D printing for teaching and research. “We held a series of three lunch meetings last semester with 50 faculty, staff, and even some students,” Wetzel said. “We are planning a few more in this semester. At these lunch meetings we talk about projects and how to do them better in the future. This is very important because we can learn from each other, based on our experiences.”
Simpson said that his work on the Fellowship is just the beginning for building a dynamic 3D printing community at Penn State. “The Fellowship really doesn’t end, the focus just shifts as things progress” he said. “We had phase 1 through summer, going around and meeting everyone, phase 2 was building the community, and then after the launch of Maker Commons, phase 3 will be getting people up and printing.