With the surging interest in science, technology and makerspaces, The Mind Lab is paving the way in which technology is applied in education, giving teachers and students the ability to be more creative while broadening their horizons.
That’s according to The Mind Lab’s Education Director Chris Clay, who says the organisation has recently put four XYZ Da Vinci 1.0 3D printers into its Auckland facility.
The Mind Lab by Unitec is a collaboration between Unitec Institute of Technology and The Mind Lab, drawing on the education expertise of both organisations to provide teachers and their students with the opportunity to learn how to integrate technology, enhance digital capability and activate new teaching practices in the classroom.
“We help schools create lessons which are personalised and apply technology in a way that is often not usual in schools and we offer a post graduate qualification for teachers in digital and collaborative learning; we also offer after school and holiday programmes for children which helps broaden their horizons using technology," Clay explains.
"We want to raise the quality of how technology is used in education, with a particular focus on doing things which simply aren’t possible without technology.”
An ideal component?
Along with robotics, coding, film-making, animation and augmented reality, Clay says 3D printing is an essential component of The Mind Lab’s programmes.
“For example, we’re using the XYZ Da Vinci 3D printer as a component of exploring 3-dimensional space and the relationship between X, Y and Z axes," he adds.
"Adding an element of 3D design completely changes the learning experience, moving it away from a purely academic exercise to a practical one.
"That fits very well with the difference between ‘pure’ learning and ‘applied’ learning; we want to help teachers and pupils to apply knowledge to identify, and then solve problems."
The XYZ Da Vinci 3D printers, supplied and supported by Auckland-headquartered Comworth Technologies, have quickly become a centrepiece for The Mind Lab.
“We have a philosophy of doing things which can easily be replicated in the school or the home – that means tools which are accessible and affordable," Clay adds.
"Included in that is reliability and ease of use, so we also seek solutions which are good quality.”
When Comworth suggested the XYZ Da Vinci, Clay says the "fit was ideal."
“We work these machines hard, so it provides a very good test bed for Comworth to prove just how robust they are," he adds.
“And at a retail price of under $1000, backed by local support, they really are accessible to most households or schools, thus fitting perfectly into our philosophy.”
Potential for change
According to Clay, 3D printing is a technology which has the potential to lead enormous change.
“By giving students and teachers the ability to create their own object is powerful on so many levels; it can literally change how we innovate," he adds.
"It is a tool to create physical things in much the same way as developing apps is a tool to create virtual ones.
"Drawing 3D printing into the educational experience broadens horizons; it is used in many fields including prosthetics, the production of large scale items like houses, soon we could have 3D organs printed.
"These machines open the mind to wonder and ponder what is possible.”
Affordability of the XYZ is also a major advantage, continues Clay.
“Where in the past, students would design an item and it would come back later after being printed overnight [and out of sight], we now have so many more machines because of the low cost, which means the objects are created right in front of the students," he adds.
"Each individual has more contact with the printing process and a far greater opportunity to rapidly create prototypes,” he explains; not only that, but watching a 3D printer in action is itself fascinating."
There is a focus on collaborative work, too – Clay says a group of students were tasked with producing plastic construction blocks, “which are no good unless they have specifications which allow them to fit together.
"That meant three students working together to make sure there was consensus on the size of the blocks, and the way they could be designed in order to ensure they connect," he adds.