3D Printing : Transforming How Students Learn

Instructional challenge

Susan Stryker and Johnathan Cromwell teach in the Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Strategy program at the School of Management. One of their challenges has been to give  students an opportunity to solve problems in more meaningful and tangible ways. When students in the program are asked  to create a new product or to innovate in class, they often need to  identify and use tools outside the classroom to complete the assignment.  

Instructional solution

3D printing has provided opportunities for  students to enhance their innovation potential by helping them translate ideas from their mind into tangible objects that represent the new product, helping them get one step closer to developing a viable prototype or product. Before, students relied on  sketching their ideas in 2-dimensional space; but with 3D printing, they can now develop and refine their ideas  in a materialized 3-dimensional  space.

With 3D printing, experiential learning can also be more fully realized, because it allows students to think of an idea, implement a design, and reflect on the process. By taking action with their assignments, they can have a real experience that enables more effective learning and knowledge retention.

Students love the 3D printer. It opens up a world of imagination with unlimited possibilities. Incorporating 3D printing into the curriculum allows faculty to teach concepts and ideas related to creativity, engineering, and design. It helps faculty overcome the challenge of having students retain knowledge because it provides an  experiential touch point that reinforces and enhances learning.

It is helpful to have student interns in ETS to teach students how to use the technology and to provide students with the needed support. USF’s Academic Innovation Lab in Gleeson 236 has provided a hub for supporting students with their 3D printing projects.

Lessons learned

It is important for students to assess whether 3D printing is the appropriate tool for them to use when developing or prototyping their ideas. Sometimes, it is more effective to use other tools at the university such as the laser cutter, and other times, adapting mundane objects from around the house can be a better approach. For example, one time a student wanted to develop a new product that allowed senior citizens to pick up a golf ball without needing to bend over. The first prototype was developed with the 3D printer, which resulted in about 9 cylindrical pieces that were taped together to create a cane-like object. On the day of presentations, it kept falling apart and it was clear that the 3D printer was the wrong tool for the job. In the next iteration of the prototype, they used a modified selfie-stick to prototype the idea, which was much more effective.