Monday, February 11, 2013

Makerbot 3D Printer Gains Traction on College Campus

I received our academic library Makerbot Replicator (the first generation model with dual extrusion) in the summer of 2012.  I spent a good deal of time tinkering with it during the summer, but still didn't have great success implementing it in the fall until I met a freshmen design student in a graphic design class I was visiting. Read more about my first experience with 3D Printing.

So, before I explain how the printer has "taken off" with some needed help, I have to back up a bit and explain what I tried to do to launch a 3D printer on a small private liberal arts college campus.

First, I created a step by step how-to guide on how to get started with 3D Printing.  This guide was meant to "flip the classroom" or give students on campus all of the resources and training they needed (in one place) up until they were ready to load their creation on the actual 3D printer (hardware).  Then I dropped links on the library's home page and sprinkled invitations to get involved with the printer on the library's and university's social media sites.  I got some initial attention and emails from students wanting to know how to get involved even before the school year started. This 3D Printer will be easy to get off the ground - I thought.

However, the undergrad students that did contact me either quickly found out that there was some actual work that went into designing and printing in 3D or were swept away with the beginning of the school year's coursework and social engagements (probably the latter). I also had some students come into my office with drawings days before the semester ended looking to print out a prototype or project for a class.  I had to turn those students away since they had nothing in terms of actual designs nor had spent any time trying to even learn about what a 3D printer was capable of.  So, my next bet was on the faculty.

I got invited to visit a 3D design class in the Art department after some self (and printer) promotion- and thought it was a great chance for these students to put the first student designs through the Makerbot. I showed up to the class and gave a demo of SketchUp, explained the workflow of file types up until you get to Replicator G, passed around a few sample prints, and left the link to my online Getting Started guide.  I instructed students to make their initial designs small or at most something that was 2" tall and 2" wide.

Fox with Hat from Makerbot (painted)
One student in particular responded quickly with her Fox with Hat design (left)- the first student to put a design through.  While it was a little rough going with the brim of the hat  falling off due to the lack of support, it showed a lot of promise.  I had even heard from the instructor that this particular student was helping her classmates navigate the software and the overall process. 

So, I did the smartest thing I could do and hired the student as the Makerbot 3D Printer Work Study for the Spring semester.  Since coming on the library payroll, she has made great strides in being the library liaison for the 3D Printer.  The student has made a video of the printer in action, gave a workshop to a spring 3D design class, printed out her peers' projects from the fall 3D design class, and was recently featured on the front page of the local newspaper. Most importantly, the student is printing student work and orchestrating everything (workshops, software, promotion) with interested professors and students.  

Our next venture will be to feature the Makerbot in action at an upcoming Student Achievement Showcase in the spring, where we will have a chance to take down more names of interested students.  The excitement and interest over the printer did not happen right at the start, but thankfully did finally happen.  While securing the grant to buy the Makerbot and the job of implementing it on campus was mine and mine alone, I always knew that these types of projects and technology belong in the hands of students.  Hopefully in 6-9 months I will post again and have much more to say about how our Makerbot is being used on campus.
*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.


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