Fernando Hernandez is European MD at XYZprinting, the world’s leading desktop 3D printer brand. XYZprinting is pioneering accessible and affordable 3D printers with dedicated STEAM educational bundles and curricula for schools to guide teachers and inspire students’ creativity.
Technology has transformed the classroom over the past decade. Computers, smart boards and laser cutters - which were once few and far between - are now commonplace thanks to the £900m spent on education tech every year. These changes have gone a long way in creating a more engaging learning experience, but the next wave of developments will take things to the next level, by creating more sensory experiences that help educators convey concepts to students in new, hands-on ways. So what should your school be looking to invest in? Here are three top choices.
1. The power of virtual reality
Virtual reality (VR) has the power to immerse users in a completely new environment. When applied to education, it can enable students to virtually visit a broad range of places and see theories conceptualised in a highly immersive way, all from their classroom. For example, VR headsets are being used by schools in Dubai to virtually transport students to Egypt, where they can measure the bases of pyramids.
With the appropriate financial investment, this technology could easily be instituted in the UK and used for the same purpose in a whole host of subjects. Students could take a virtual trip inside a live volcano for Geography, or go on a tour of the human heart when learning about its structure in Biology. Anything is possible, and everything will deliver a sensory, interactive and highly engaging learning opportunity.
2. The potential of smart materials
Over the next couple of years, we can expect to see intelligent surfaces and smart fabrics make their entrance onto the classroom stage. These will build on existing smartboard technology by turning any wall or tabletop into an interactive canvas for collaborative learning. For instance, it could be used in a Maths class to enable students to work together on a problem, facilitating not only academic development but also social skills.
3. The use of 3D printing
3D printing provides numerous possibilities for creating tailored, multi-dimensional learning tools that can bring experiences normally only accessible outside the classroom inside its walls. For instance, it would be financially and logistically impossible for most students studying Ancient Egypt to travel to Cairo to see the funeral mask of Tutankhamun. However, with 3D printing they could not only print a replica - bringing them face-to-face with the history they’re studying - but also handle the object, which is impossible with real artefacts.
As 3D printing technology improves, so does the level of engagement it can deliver. It used to only be possible to print in one or two colours, but new models can now create full-colour designs. For colourful objects, like our Tutankhamen example, these advanced capabilities make all the difference in creating a more realistic and visually engaging copy.
Designing a complex 3D model using CAD or CAM may be beyond the capabilities of certain age groups. However, many 3D printing companies produce scanners that enable users to create designs by scanning existing objects and converting them into printable files, as well as offering pre-made printable designs. This means that students could, for instance, download and print molecule parts, recreating the type of experience they could have at a science museum.
The value of virtual reality headsets, smart materials and 3D printers for facilitating learning across all subjects by providing more creative educational experiences is clear. With this in mind, it’s vital that schools and their governing bodies direct the £129 billion expected to be spent on edtech globally by 2020 into these avenues so that pupils can have the best learning experiences possible.
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When it comes to top classroom tech, 3D printing is continuously making headlines. Its place in the classroom is being cemented as the next generation learns to mould and manipulate the technology to feed their creativity, with applications across STEAM subjects and beyond. Historically, 3D printing has been out of reach for many smaller budgets, but rapid developments in the technology means that ‘plug and play’ 3D printers are more accessible and affordable than ever, with desktop models available for as little as a couple of hundred pounds.