Saturday, February 27, 2016

3D printing: what a short step-by-step workshop taught me

The perhaps world flattest toothpaste tube.
Even as a more experienced maker, exploring the Make Innovate Learn Lab (MILL) at the IU School of Education I sometimes feel similar sentiments that Paulo Blikstein discussed in his forthcoming Makeology chapter. He reflects on the feeling of being overwhelmed with possibilities, and the need for people to be given a way into making, be it through facilitation of activities, guided group work, or materials that invite exploration. Throwing oneself out there and stepping outside of one's comfort-zone is hard, and it can be especially hard when there are people around who know so much about the technologies available in the makerspace.

For me this is the case for 3D printing. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about 3D printer set-ups through the analysis of the spatial-material arrangement of a youth-serving makerspace. However, I never made a 3D print of something that I would take home and keep myself. So, I decided to step up and print something!

Small entry activities, such as 3D printing a gadget, can help get people to start imagining the possibilities that a conversation with makerspace tools and materials would have to offer. Often these are short, instruction heavy workshops, in which participants create pre-determined projects with little opportunities for derivation. It seems like a stretch to consider the making of a keychain in a 30-minute workshop as an example of making as a way of becoming more closely connected to one's humanity or to foster communal change (Blickstein, 2016). For some makerspaces, this might be the only way to foster making, such as those spaces with large amount of visitors that are not likely to return frequently. What are the advantages of these discrete moments?

I was hoping to find out while making a 3D printed trinket myself, a came up with steps and followed them:
  • Selecting a model to print
  • Setting up the software
  • Pressing print
  • Waiting
  • Taking my print home
Selecting a Model to Print

The toothpaste squeezer model I selected to print
Online people shared models of brightly colored egg cups, cable holders, smartphone stands and cases, key holders, and whistles. There was so much to make, and settling on one quick thing was a challenge I solved by asking others. Pointing at the picture of a simple toothpaste squeezer, one of my class mates said "I have this at home, and use it." I downloaded the model from Thingiverse. Ready to print. The interactions with others, online and offline, helped me make sense of some of the possibilities and how my 3D printing activity could be sensible.

Setting Up the Software

I did not set up the software. Instead, I got a 3D printing mini-lesson from Justin, the MILL makerspace mentor and my friend. Things I learned included that the model needs to run through a slicer because the 3D printer prints in layers, stacking coating on top of coating until the final artifact is there. Flat things like the one I was about to print do not need support structures. Tall and complicated models, such as the coral reef model that is sitting on the MILL window sill, do need support structures that can be pulled off the finish model once the print is complete. A brim, a very thin flat surface for sticking to the class, is needed so that the model is not being dragged across the surface. Useful stuff! The models Justin pulled up while explaining made these concepts tangible. Holding the models close, I could see the layers of the prints that were made at higher speed. 

Pressing Print

Once the SD card was plugged into the printer and we pushed go, the printer chirped and then got quiet. It was warming up. Suddenly, it started moving radiating alternating high and low-pitch tech buzz into the room. The predicted printing time was two hours, and I stuck around for the entire time to see the object slowly grow, listening to the rhythmic back and forth unfolding on the glass plane.


Slow slows slow, then fast fast fast then slloooooow – The gears of the printer steadily rotated, complexly holding the filament dispenser in place, moving it back and forth in computational presicition. When covering the hollow shape, the printer made little steps, accellerating in the sounds before slowing back down, making a low mechanical stopping sound when reaching an edge. It also circulated all the way around the rounded edge triangle that was my model, accommodating this movement with what sounded like softly spinning a turn-table. Perhaps not a beat to dance to, creating the 3D print was a noisy endeavour that expanded across the room. When culmulating in it's final squeek, I wonder whether the space might need some sound insolation. 

The finished print on the 3D printer.
The self-inflicted step-by-step creation of a 3D print may not be a great comparison to an instruction-heavy workshop facilitated in some makerspaces, but it did give me the change to get somewhat of an idea of learning under constrained conditions in spaces that could offer so much more. For example, watching the print grow and listening to the 3D printer sounds brought up ideas for improving the MILL and made me reflect on the odd noises that can be lost once the technology becomes obsolete, such as the sound of dial-up internet (not dissimilar to the 3D printer sound I heard). With this experience in my repertoire and the 3D print hanging out in my living space, I wonder in which kind of situations it will become a useful experience to draw upon: perhaps bringing up in conversation, perhaps teaching someone about 3D printing.

Connected Learning principles, such as production centered learning as stretched across different learning environments (Ito et al., 2012) could help devise ways for capturing the potentially rippling effects these kind of learning experiences might have. What if we would know more about where the learning about 3D printing might go. Are the practices transposed to other materials or learning spaces? Do they give rise to more in depth projects in other learning environments and what are productive ways to support this during 30-minute workshops? Giving the projects away to family friends or leaving them in one's living spaces for anyone to see, what do 3D printed gifts spark in recipients? If anything, it seems productive to engage in explorations of short instructional workshops from a research perspective. I am all excited to explore some of these questions!

No comments:

Post a Comment