Bringing the Museum into the Classroom: The Evolution of 3D Printing in History Education

Bringing the Museum into the Classroom: The Evolution of 3D Printing in History Education

Cultural institutions throughout the United States including the Smithsonian Institution are continuously improving their educational resources. There has been increased demand for online resources in part due to online learning becoming more sought out by state school systems. Now that students are retuning into the classroom, there are still aspects of their educational experience that have not resumed including field trips. Fields trips to various historic sites are important for students of all ages especially when exploring topics such as early U.S. History. Students throughout the nation are taught about U.S. History starting in elementary school. While field trips are often integrated into teaching curriculums by educators, there are some factors including lack of resources that prevent students from visiting historic places located in their vicinity. Alternatively, educators have found ways to use the growing online resources such as 3D printing, scanning, and modeling to ‘bring the museum into the classroom’. I plan to explore how the roles that 3D printing take part in history education in elementary schools, secondary schools, and higher education. Seven years ago, I stated learning how to use 3D printing for academic outreach under the auspices of Dr. Bernard K. Means and The Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at Virginia Commonwealth University. The VCL and other online curation laboratories are growing in popularity for educators of all grade levels.

7 Replies to “Bringing the Museum into the Classroom: The Evolution of 3D Printing in History Education”

  1. I had never considered the overlap between 3D printers and education, but it is rather interesting. As you pointed out, lack of resources play a role in the ability of teachers to bring their students on field trips. If it is strictly monetary, wouldn’t those same restrictions apply to accessing a 3D printer? Are there grants out there that allow schools, specifically those that lack the funds or resources to travel off campus, to purchase or rent a 3D printer? Do you have any specific examples in mind when you envision how these tools are used?

    1. Thank you for providing meaningful feedback and questions, Evelyn! I took your questions into consideration when creating my final digital project. It is true that many school districts would be faced with financial constraints. Especially, if there are not funds allocated to technology such as 3D printers. There are grants available that can assist schools without the adequate budgets for 3D technology. These grants are also available to museums and libraries. Cultural institutions that have ample resources often work with schools to provide educational resources. These same institutions can use 3D printers to create artifacts kits that are curated by grade level. I have seen this successfully applied at my former institution’s library where students would use the 3D printers to replicate 3D printed objects for academic outreach. I would love to see these tools used in STEAM (liberal arts, language arts, social studies, physical arts, fine arts, and music) education.

  2. This is super interesting! I used to be a classroom teacher and I know my kids would have been fully engaged with the 3D printing process and product. Also would be an interesting combo of STEM and Humanities! I know for a while the 3D printing craze was all over schools and, like Evie mentioned about grants, I feel like there are definitely ones focusedo n 3D printing. Would be super cool to be able to use that kind of STEM grant towards a humanities project as well!

  3. Michelle, this is absolutely fascinating! I’m curious to know your thoughts: do you think that 3D printing has the potential to become the new textbook (not necessarily replacing them as educational tools but becoming just as significant to the in-class experience)?

    1. Thank you, Sam! The comments and questions that I received were taken into consideration when creating my final digital project, so I appreciate the positive feedback. I believe that 3D artifacts paired with electronic educational resources would be an excellent replacement for textbooks. Not every school has 3D printing technology or can allocate funds to purchasing the adequate software. Therefore, I chose to use the upload 3D renderings for my digital project while revisiting artifact kits later. Artifact kits are used in various museums, libraries, and schools. I believe these sorts of institutions would be in the best position to apply for educational technology grants. The future of textbooks especially in history education will change for the better with the advancement of technologies such as 3D printing.

  4. Michelle, this seems like a fantastic way to study material culture and the form of objects. The only issue I see apart from cost – and I’m sure there are tech grants out there for this sort of thing – is time. 3D printing can take a pretty long time to produce a single object, let alone more complex, multi-part objects, which would have to be factored into lesson plans. It’s definitely not prohibitive though – I could image a teacher comparing the time it takes to print a model of a Roman amphora to the time it took to create a real one. Lots of interesting possibilities here!

  5. Hi Michelle,

    I think exploring the role of 3D printing in history education for museums is a really great idea. To that end, if you wanted to run with this as your research project, I think you have a lot of space to explore exactly how you would shape this kind of study.

    For literature review, I would suggest looking through some of the museum journals, and also looking into conference papers from Museums and the Web. I think that would help identify some key questions to explore about how effective or useful these kinds of 3D printing resources are for teaching and learning about history.

    Using that research as background context, I think you would likely then want to do some kind of mixture of looking at/reviewing resources that museums are creating about how/why to use 3D models and 3D printing for teaching and learning along with some interviews or email exchanges with people working on these kinds of resources. That kind of approach would likely get you the ability to surface questions about what would make this kind of approach successful. As some starting points, I know that Smithsonian has been putting out a number of resources around their 3D models I know some colleagues at the Library of Congress were similarly doing some exploration/experimentation on work with 3D models and 3D printing that might be relevant

    Overall, this is a really interesting idea and I think could result in something that could be a great journal article or conference paper if you wanted to work on it for a while.

    Best, Trevor

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