Technology

The 3D printer carving out a new curriculum

A team of engineers, robotics experts and industrial designers is developing a design and manufacturing curriculum for Australian primary and high schools based around a 3D printer they hope will revolutionise how Science Technology Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) is taught in Australian schools.

The Zeus 3D printer is the world's first and only 3D printer that allows users to 3D scan, print, copy and fax objects without having to connect to a computer.

The Zeus 3D printer is at the centre of a proposed syllabus.
The Zeus 3D printer is at the centre of a proposed syllabus. Photo: AIO Robotics

AIO Robotics CEO Jens Windau and CTO Kai Chang built the device when they were PhD robotics students at the University of Southern California out of frustration with the lack of high-quality, affordable tools available to them in their chosen field.

Their company would go on to be named an Innovation Awards Honoree at the annual Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas earlier this month.

3D printing brings the design and manufacturing process to life.
3D printing brings the design and manufacturing process to life. Photo: AIO Robotics

Containing its own built-in PC, the Zeus connects directly via ethernet or Wi-Fi to Thingiverse: the most prominent online repository of free 3D printable objects on the web. Curated and founded by MakerBot Industries, it houses an archive of more than 458,000 3D printable designs which users can search, modify and print themselves under a Creative Commons licence.

Jo Sommers of Australian marketing firm Creative Directions first met Windau and Chang at a Silicon Beach conference and was "blown away" by the Zeus printer. She and husband Roger, a recording technician turned engineer, then partnered with the pair to develop a primary- and high-school design and manufacturing syllabus which they hope will go some way towards remedying Australia's declining industry.

Advertisement

"Ford and Holden will be gone from Australia by 2017," Roger Sommers told Fairfax Media.

"Plants and manual manufacturing, sadly, are going to disappear from this economy. The worst part is once that knowledge goes with it, there is nobody left to teach it."

Having consulted with many Australian manufacturers in putting the course together, the team's goal is to fill this gap in the syllabus with a fundamentals program that teaches the basics of digital design and manufacturing from concept to production. It will provide kids with the tools, techniques and vernacular to interact with professionals.

AIO technical officer and 3D modelling expert Marc Jolivet, who contracts to the CSIRO, will oversee the business aspects directly connected to industrial and manufacturing entities. He'll also offer his expertise in 3D Computer Assisted Design (CAD).

Jolivet says the program will see kids producing products which they've designed themselves in "real factories", as part of a year-long project.

"The outcome isn't making toys, we're making a real product," he says.

Students will be able to connect with experts in the field over video link to see how their projects are designed in the real world. They will have complete ownership of their designs, although if the team is successful in attracting sponsors, they may also have the opportunity to patent their designs and court investors.

"We want to mirror exactly how industry does it at the moment but we're doing it at a much smaller, accessible and realistic scale," Jo Sommers says.

Sommers, now AIO Robotics chief marketing officer, says the program is about more than just "if I build it they will buy it".

A "third industrial revolution" is afoot, she says, and it will come in the form of manufacturing on demand. Students will need hands-on experience with production processes to catch the wave.

"We are really excited to bring it all back, localise it and give Australian kids that power back: actually being able to see the machine and its potential and then design the program around that," she says.

"The Zeus printer allows us to do that."

Annette Gough, Professor of Environmental and Science Education at the School of Education at RMIT, described the proposed syllabus as "a really exciting innovation that has great potential to expand the horizons of Australian education".

While finding a new place for the proposed curriculum may prove challenging, there is room for it at least in Victoria, she says.

"In this instance there is a space here in Victoria with a new foundation to year 10 Design, Creativity and Technology curriculum that would easily accommodate the proposed program," she says.

Unfortunately, NSW does not have an equivalent curriculum, and the Design and Technology curriculum is only for years 7-10, missing crucial opportunities for learning and creative development in foundation years, Professor Gough said.

However, a spokesperson for the NSW Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) said students have already been using 3D printers for a decade.

"There are no barriers at all as our curriculum provides ample opportunity for students to develop excellent design and technology skills", the spokesperson said.

"From Kindergarten to Year 8 all students learn about the basics of design and technology in the mandatory Technology syllabus. Students in Year 9 and 10 can build on this when they choose their electives from a range of technology related courses".

Nonetheless, Professor Gough stressed the program would need sufficient teacher training to succeed.

"Without training, the program will be cherry-picked for the bits that can be done easily or that are of interest, but the integrity of the innovation may well be lost," she says.

"There is a long history of the floundering curriculum innovations in many countries due to the lack of support from teachers to implement new, innovative ways of educating."

The team will pilot selected components of the proposed syllabus in coming months.

The Australian Board of Education and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority did not respond to requests for comment. The Department of Education and Training declined to comment.

0 comments