I’ve mentioned the idea of moving students, and ourselves, from passive consumers to active producers many times, but I’ve recently thought of a slightly different version. In this updated idea, instead of consumers and producers, I’d like to suggest audience and performer. I think the more accurately reflects what I’d like to see in classrooms, where the traditional model has the teacher as a performer in an unending improv, and students as, hopefully, a critical and, at times, participatory audience. In a more progressive classroom, those roles are reversed, and it is the students who are the performers, and the teacher who is the critical and participatory audience. Take that up another notch, and the audience becomes more inclusive of affected stakeholders outside the classroom.
So what? Well, this helps to account for the spaces, the stage if you will, where the learning is taking place. It also allows for standards, which may be seen as the script which guides the structure of the performance. It just fits in so many better ways than the industrial model of production and consumption under which I’d always operated.
Which brings me to the next revolution. Makers have always been with us. We used to call the tinkers or inventors, and some of us even dabbled a bit when building models, fancied ourselves as writers, or participated in flights of fancy to which most children are naturally inclined. As we grow up, we tend to put aside the childish things, and lose so much in the transition. It is a normal part of growing up, but as I found out with my own children, convention does not always have to be the only way.
This may sound like a bit of a divergence here, but one of the reasons for our loss of inventiveness has to do with access to tools. The tools of creativity for children, legos and such, are often seen as exclusive to children instead of helpful access points for the creative spirit. Adults need new ‘toys’, and 3D printers look like a possibility to fill that void. I applaud the advent of this new way to empower the maker in us all, but here’s why it won’t be the revolution everyone seems to think it will.
First of all, everyone thinks it will be the next revolution, which is almost surely enough to make it not so.
Second, with the advent of 3D printers comes the growing library of freely available 3D printer files so anyone can ‘print’ anything they want, from a copy of their own head, to a gun. Now some of these files will be really useful instead of just novel or inherently disruptive, but the existence of the files means that there will be a few people creating their own files and the vast majority of us downloading (consuming) these files to print out our own really useful new mousetrap.
Third, the revolution will not be 3D printed, because of the cost. Admittedly, home manufacturing is coming down in price, as linked below, but the investment in time to do anything substantial with them is still way too high for most of us, which is why we’ll just download files and print those instead of actually.
Fourth, it’s the wrong revolution. This ‘print it out at home’ is a revolution in manufacturing, not in making. The difference here is not one of creating, but of the entire distribution process of moving goods from producers to consumers. Once 3D printers can use any material as ink, we’ll be printing batteries, bicycles, and even functioning body parts. The 3D printing revolution, while wildly creative, will no more make makers than the computer has, or the camera did before that, or paper and pencil before that. It will have profound effects on everything we do, and we stand now on a threshold of a post-industrial world in a way that actually replaces the industrial world instead of just shifting workers from a manufacturing sector (now done by machines) to an information sector (also being done by machines.)
It will be a while before the replicator of Star Trek invades every home, but its distant ancestor is already available for a reasonable monetary cost. I just don’t see it as the revolution in the classroom we might be hoping for. Building a community of makers has always been available, isn’t contingent on specific tools or programs, and involves that incredibly scary first step of inviting your students up on stage and taking their place in the audience.
MakerBot CEO: Replicator Mini ‘like when people saw first iPhone’ | Cutting Edge – CNET News