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Digital Making and Emergent Thinking

By jnugent on April 27, 2018

A fly-fishing enthusiast designs and 3-D prints a functioning fishing reel and shares it freely on the web for others to download and make; an art student wants to make samples of sound more tangible and creates a model of a waveform that can be 3-D printed as a sculpture; a San Francisco design firm prints and assembles a three-dimensional 400-square-foot house in under 24 hours. These are but a few of the countless examples of how 3-D printing and scanning technologies are being used by people to make and share things in new ways. This digital making — enabled through the use of 3-D modelling software and printing technologies — is opening doors for creativity and problem solving that once required the services of fabrication shops and high-end manufacturers.

At Colgate, we have begun to explore the use of these technologies to support teaching, learning, research, and creative work. Over the past two years, we have increased access to resources, encouraged experimentation, and developed the capacity to support a range of student and faculty projects. This work has largely been supported through efforts to grow our fledgling maker space, The Hub, located on the fifth floor of Case-Geyer near the Digital Learning and Media Center. Visitors to the Hub will find they have free and open access to a collection of 3-D printers, scanning technologies, modelling software, and microcontrollers, all of which can be used to support digital making. In addition to these resources, we regularly consult with students and faculty members to assist with idea development or envision ways to design digital projects using these technologies. Doug Higgins, instructional designer in the ITS Learning and Applied Innovation group, has been providing expanded support for work in this space, offering both walk-in and more structured opportunities to learn about these technologies.

Recent experimentation with these technologies has led to the development of some interesting projects at Colgate. Working with Sarah Keen, head of special collections and university archivist at Colgate, we partnered with representatives from Brandeis University and Wellesley College to create professional 3-D scans of Sumerian cuneiforms that date back to approximately 2100 to 2200 B.C. The 3-D scans allowed for the creation of 3-D models that could be digitally displayed, printed as three-dimensional objects, and handled by students and faculty. You can view and interact with a collection of 3-D models of the scanned cuneiforms on the Sketchfab website (sketchfab.com/thehub).

William Peck, professor of geology, 3-D printed several models of crystal systems (e.g., triclinic, monoclinic, orthorhombic, tetragonal, trigonal, hexagonal, and cubic) to introduce students to basic concepts of crystallography. The models were downloaded from Pinshape, enlarged to twice their original size, and 3-D printed on equipment located in The Hub. The models allowed students to physically interact with each structure to gain a better understanding of their key characteristics.

Karen Harpp, professor of geology and peace and conflict studies, and Peter Tschirhart, former assistant dean for undergraduate scholars programs, incorporated 3-D modeling and printing into their Global Challenges: Science/ Technology/Culture (CORE 147) course during the fall 2017 semester. As part of their exploration of design thinking within the course, teams of students modeled and 3-D printed an item to facilitate a rapid prototyping process as they worked with real clients to offer creative solutions to identified problems or issues.

“We chose to use 3-D printing because it was a way for students to make their ideas come to life in a tangible way, relatively quickly and easily. The design process is quite accessible even for non-technically oriented people, particularly given the assistance from the IT staff (Doug Higgins). The 3-D printers allowed the students to prototype their design ideas, take them to their clients, and then amend their designs according to the feedback they received. Being able to do this with a solid, tangible object made the process more real, in a way, and therefore significant for everyone involved,” said Harpp.

Each of these examples highlights new and interesting opportunities to create enhanced learning experiences that are limited only by imagination and creativity. And while this digital making certainly holds promise, it is perhaps less about the affordances of the technology itself and more about the emergent thinking that encourages us to consider what is possible in a different light. We welcome you to reach out to us with an idea you’d like to explore, or just stop by The Hub to begin learning more about how to get started making your next creation.


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