Jennie Levine Knies, head librarian at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, and Timothy Sichler, instructor in engineering, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, were recently awarded a $2,037 Teaching Project grant from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence.
The project, Student Engagement with 3D Printing, addresses two main themes. The first is providing undergraduate students in engineering hands-on, practical experience with principles of design. This encompasses the conceptualization of an idea, designing the physical object and then bringing the designed object from the abstraction of a computer-generated object to a physical object. Part of this process is to obtain valuable feedback as to what can be made with 3D technology with regards to parts tolerance and multiple part interoperability. The second theme is to expose the general public to this technology and broaden understanding of how technology works.
Commercially-available 3D printers are becoming more common and libraries are purchasing them and encouraging patrons to use them. On one level, use of 3D printers can be simple — a user can upload a schematic drawing into a piece of software and print an object from that drawing. However, use of 3D printers can be much more nuanced.
"We want to differentiate between students understanding how to use software, and students understanding how technology works," explains Knies. "Different 3D printers have different strengths and weaknesses, and a variety of factors, such as speed of printing, types of plastics, and orientation of objects in the design can all influence the final product. For our project, only 3D printers that use open source hardware and software will be used to allow for additional creative and critical thinking in construction and utilization of the technology."
The 3D printers will serve as a mechanism to transform students from passive users of technology into active, critical thinkers about how technology works and how it evolves.
At the end of the semester, the printers will be made available for all patrons in the Nesbitt Library. By providing a range of printers and by educating library staff on the nuances of 3D printing technology, the hope is to enhance understanding on the Wilkes-Barre campus about this emerging technology.
In the library, the project hopes to broaden the scope of decision-making regarding the purchase of 3D printers, and extend perceptions of how library space can be used. From a teaching and learning standpoint, the project hopes to explore applications in the creation of 3D landscapes and topology models in Surveying, or in the creation of prototypes for a variety of other disciplines, one example being Architecture. Other faculty can use this experience as a model.