Chapter 3: From Consumers to Prosumers: How 3D Printing is Putting Us in the Driver’s Seat for Creation and the Ethical Considerations that Accompany this Shift.
How 3D Printing is Putting Us in the Driver’s Seat for Creation and the Ethical Considerations that Accompany this Shift
Nicole Jean Neutzling
Correspondence concerning this chapter should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Shifting Gears: From Consumer to Creator/Prosumer with 3D Printing
The exponential advancement of technology has altered and continues to change the human experience. More specifically, technological advancements — such as 3D printing and other means of self-fabrication — have directly impacted “the way people perceive and consume most of the everyday objects” (Filippi & Troxler, 2015, p. 58). Many see additive manufacturing as a disruptor to the current systems (Bechtold, 2016). It breaks the chain of events that would typically be expected in the manufacturing process. Weinberg (2013) suggests, “just as computers have allowed us to become makers of movies, writers of articles, and creators of music, 3D printers allow everyone to become creators of things” (p. 1). 3D printing is also breaking away from the norm through its roots in the open movement. Based on the idea that openly sharing ideas and intellectual property leads to increased innovation, 3D printing has capitalized on open source plans and designs to push equipment and creation into the mainstream (Neely, 2016). The Open Design and Open Hardware movements have allowed consumers to become “prosumers” with the ability to create and make the same products they would otherwise just consume (Filippi & Troxler, 2015, p. 58). This shift towards creation and away from consumption has also worked its way into the educational setting where, more frequently, engineering and design thinking are incorporated into curricula. A video from the California Management Review (2017) highlights how 3D printing is revolutionizing industries, the economy, and society.
The Shift Expands into Educational Settings
The Maker Movement was born out of the constructivist approach originally derived by Piaget (1967) and later built upon by Papert (1980) and his ideas surrounding constructionism (Kostakis et al., 2015). Both constructivism and constructionism put a focus on the student as creator, as one who builds knowledge through problem-solving and design (Papert, 1980). This type of education allows students to learn based on their abilities and interests through multiple thinking processes (Blikstein et al., 2017). Again, we see a shift away from simply consuming to creating, in this case from the consumption of information towards students constructing their own understanding. 3D printing, alongside this disruption in education through the maker movement, has provided a platform in which students are able to problem-solve through design, build tangible models or prototypes, and test their innovations firsthand. As Blikstein et al. (2017) point out, students who use 3D printing are problem-solvers, understand and apply the design and scientific process, and integrate and develop specific technology knowledge. Often included as part of a design thinking cycle or STEAM engineering challenge, 3D printing has provided a means through which students can express their thinking and contribute their knowledge to the world.
The following video provides more information on how the maker movement connects students to engineering and technology.
Figure 3.1 Edutopia highlights a student’s experience learning STEM skills through hands-on lessons.
Putting on the Brakes: Ethical Considerations
No longer are students tasked just with absorbing information and regurgitating it on standardized tests. Educational movements have led us down a path where innovating and creating have become the new buzz and focus. Alongside this change, our understanding of 3D printing and our ability to utilize it as a tool for creation continues to grow. As access to this tool increases, ethical issues surrounding the use of 3D printing will also continue to emerge. 3D printing has opened up the ability for students to design, remix designs, and develop tangible objects (Connelley & Connelley, 2019). Moving students away from just consuming content and into a realm of creating it and sharing it with the world also brings with it layers of questions as to the most ethical way of doing so. Issues that were once concerns for manufacturers or textbook companies, that produced a great deal of what was consumed in schools, have now also shifted into the hands of teachers and their students (Neely, 2016).
As we move toward increased student agency, increased choice, and an increased ability to design and physically produce to meet these needs, we also face increased challenges in how to best navigate the ‘prosumer’ culture within education. With Open Design Hardwares and Platforms pushing the 3D movement forward, safety concerns and intellectual property rights (Neely, 2016) come to mind quickly as we begin to integrate these tools within educational settings. Open access designs provide our students and teachers with the ability to print just about anything; they now have the opportunity to build items that could improve lives or negatively impact them. The balance between encouraging and monitoring designs and fostering collaboration to promote innovation can make embedding 3D printing into curriculum a complex endeavour.
Appendix A is adapted from Farrow’s (2016) “Uncompleted Framework” (p. 103) which provides an ethical lens through which to view educational research. It also provides a summary of the normative ethics discussed in this chapter.
Generally speaking, the process of 3D printing can be divided into three stages — design, materials, and printing (Neely, 2016). Each stage has a range of ethical considerations that go along with successfully integrating the overall educational technology into the classroom. As an educator, one should begin to question each stage of the process before diving into 3D printing as a whole.
The design stage is of particular importance as this stage involves using online computer-aided design (CAD) programs and information clouds for students to develop and share designs (Neely, 2016). As soon as a technology tool requires the use of an online platform, student privacy and protection should be considered. How are CAD programs using student information and data? What policies have been put into place and how do educators know that students’ creations are being kept private? What privacy issues are involved when students become prosumers?
Tinted Windows: 3D Printing and Privacy
According to Regan and Jesse (2019), there are six main privacy concerns: information privacy, anonymity, surveillance, autonomy, non-discrimination, and ownership of information. When looking more closely at 3D printing in an educational setting, information privacy, anonymity, and ownership of information stand out when examining online platforms or CAD sites utilized to create and share designs.
Information Privacy in 3D printing (CAD software)
When collecting information about an individual, they should be fully informed as to what specific information is being collected (Regan & Jesse, 2019). The amount of information collected should also be limited to what is required. Data collection would typically happen within the first stage of the creation of a 3D design and could also possibly occur when the design is shared in an online database. The majority of online CAD creation tools require creating a login. Looking at Tinkercad as an example, if a student is under the age of 13, then parental consent is required (through email) or the student must enter as part of a teacher’s online classroom. The company reduces the amount of sensitive information collected from children under the age 13 and requires teacher or parent authorization in order to further reduce the amount of personal information held within the system (Autodesk, 2020). Tinkercad does collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from children, such as their birthdays in order to verify age, and this is likely linked permanently to their accounts. According to Bourgeois (2019), “the likelihood of harm caused by a breach involving PII is greatly reduced if an organization minimizes the amount of PII it uses, collects, and stores” (Obtaining Patent Protection section [New Tab]). Perhaps, negative impacts or harms could be minimized if educators use CAD companies that limit collection of student PII.
Anonymity in 3D Printing (CAD Softwares)
According to Regan and Jesse (2019), “individuals should be able to remain anonymous or obscure if they so choose” (p.171). With the use of software such as Tinkercad, it could be difficult for a student to remain completely anonymous. The site requires a user to complete a sign up and login setup. Students could feasibly use falsified information in order to remain anonymous but the company does have specific policies in place to prevent this. Even if a student managed to keep the majority of their private information away from the account that they created, their creations and designs could still be tracked, and this information could be linked to their account and online identity within the program. It is also possible for an IP address or location tag to connect a specific computer to their login, and it is hard to determine the amount of information that could be connected to the student in this way.
Ownership of Data in 3D Printing (CAD Softwares)
Ownership of an individual’s data and creations can also be questioned when looking more closely at CAD software used in creating 3D printing designs. Regan and Jesse (2019) explain that “one of the most problematic issues involved is whether educational technology companies should be able to use data generated by students’ use of their software programs to improve those programs, raising questions about whether the companies are using students as test subjects for development and marketing of future Edtech products” (p. 172). CAD companies are able to collect student-created designs, and the data involved in these creations — even if it is not shared publicly in the companies’ open libraries — still remains within their databases. With 3D printing, it is very easy to replicate designs, and, in many ways, replicating and modifying is encouraged. CAD companies could have access to student designs and could potentially use these to analyze and develop future software, use these base designs in other ways that could bring profit to the company, neglect to inform the user, or fail to consider the intellectual property rights of the student.
In the Fast Lane: Avoiding Harm and Minimizing Risk
Avoiding Harm and Minimizing Risk Through Access to Designs
Much of the 3D and additive manufacturing momentum revolves around open access and the sharing of designs (Neely, 2016). As much as this can fuel innovation and creativity — two areas important to the shift towards students as creators — this open access also has the potential to put those students at risk. Websites such as Thingiverse [New Tab] have hundreds of thousands of designs ready to be printed. The initial stage of the 3D printing process, and its use of CAD software and open libraries, requires educators to be cognizant of the ethical issues that could arise in the realm of avoiding harm and minimizing risk. Some of the designs openly available to students could be dangerous to the individual printing them or those in contact with them. For example, there are open and accessible designs for printing guns and other weaponry. The images in Figure 3.2 and 3.3 were found with a quick search on Thingiverse [New Tab].
The dark side of the open movement has been made very visible by companies such as Defense Distributor, which have aimed to become ‘the wiki for guns,’ (Zhou, 2018). This company distributes downloadable plans that can be used to create 3D printed plastic guns (Zhou, 2018). This side of open source has caused legal arguments in the United States between those who believe strongly in the right to own a firearm and those who deem this access a threat to society (Zhou, 2018). An issue with plastic guns is their minimal use of metal (nothing more than a steel nail), which makes them virtually impossible to detect with metal detectors. These ‘ghost guns’ also do not require a background check to obtain nor do they have a serial number for tracking purposes (Zhou, 2018). This ability to maneuver around the loopholes in traditional laws put in place to minimize harm is one aspect that could make the open movement very dangerous. As this movement grows, and more controversial plans are released, governments are forced to reexamine old laws and quickly pass new ones to minimize the risk to society. This becomes a wide spread issue in that these controls are not always international. Neely (2016) explains that “since the internet is transnational, it is difficult to regulate its content. In the absence of international treaties, we are probably limited to attempting to regulate content on sites hosted within our country’s borders. Since users can simply go to other sites, this is unlikely to be effective” (p. 1289). When 3D printing is brought into an educational setting, and these open designs become more accessible to students, close attention will be needed to manage open design platforms in this context. Minimizing students’ ability to access open designs may not be easily controlled by educators. The initial design phase of 3D printing and the underpinnings of this prosumer movement has, in many ways, been fuelled by open access to designs.
Even when focusing on the good and working towards disrupting the assumed failures of a traditional manufacturing chain, 3D printing could still lead to more harm than good. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many 3D printing hobbyists and communities joined forces in an attempt to make up for the lack of medical equipment required as more and more patients flooded the hospitals. But many individuals are not stopping to consider the risks involved and the limitations of basic individual-owned 3D printers. Gallagher (2020) interviewed MIT’s Martin Culpepper [New Tab], who highlights the issues with using 3D printing to reduce the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed in hospitals during the pandemic. One major issue is the “material compatibility with the sterilization techniques hospitals currently use and the use of certain materials in a setting where it is uncertain how they interact with other chemicals, devices, and contact with patients and care providers” (Gallagher, 2020, para. 5). Another issue is the “false sense of hope” (Gallagher, 2020, para. 7) provided by relying on 3D printing. It is also important to note that 3D printing is a time consuming process; if MIT — an organization with some of the top quality equipment in the world — is not prepared to print personal protective equipment, then why do hobbyists feel they are in the position to do this (Gallagher, 2020)? Many schools have jumped on board with this quest to reduce shortages and would say that inspiring students to act in a way that positively contributes to society is an authentic and worthwhile learning activity, and may not have considered the negative issues associated with producing PPE.
Educators are placed in a powerful position to highlight the importance of using 3D printing to connect and collaborate in order to develop new designs and prototype them. As Culpepper mentions, “3D printing technologies are set up to build proof-of-concept designs, not to manufacture medical products at scale,” (Gallagher, 2020, para. 5). Teachers focusing on innovation and designing new products to meet needs during this time, and then helping students to connect with manufacturing companies equipped to make their creations happen on a large scale, may be a more effective way for teachers and students to contribute during this crisis. A prime example of the case of Quinn Callander [New Tab], a young boy who responded to a Canadian medical facility that needed solutions to the discomfort that medical masks can cause when worn for prolonged periods (Uptas, 2020). Quinn designed a plastic clip that removes the pressure of masks on ears, started 3D printing his design for the medical facility, and then provided his plans on an open platform to allow others to access, print, and donate (Uptas, 2020). This contrasts the idea of emergency printing PPE in that this student came up with a new design solution to a current issue and then demonstrated how sharing his design in an open platform can benefit society. Not only medical staff are faced with wearing masks for hours on end; other essential workers such as grocery clerks face the same challenges. When 3D printing is used as a medium for innovation, creation, and prototyping, it can become a powerful tool for learning in today’s educational environments.
Similar to many technologies, 3D printing is not neutral. Teachers need to be aware that helping students develop the skills necessary to create CAD designs and effectively 3D print, that they are enabling them to create and build objects that can be helpful or harmful. Creating projects in which the 3D printer is used to solve problems in a positive way may influence students to think of the 3D printer as more of a tool of positive solutions versus one in which harmful objects can be built. Ultimately, educators are left to decide if teaching students the skills needed to design, 3D print, and become prosumers cause more benefit than harm.
As a school or individual educator working towards effectively implementing 3D printing, it is worth looking deeper into the user agreements set up to allow students to actually print. At the printing stage of the process, we may gain back some of the control to minimize harm that may be lost during the design stage. An acceptable use policy (AUP [New Tab]) provides directions to users regarding behaviour and use of technology approved by the community as a whole (Kostadinov, 2020). A school starting to implement 3D printing could work to create an AUP before allowing educators and students to access the printer and CAD software. An AUP for a 3D printer may include screening designs and administrator review or even approval before printing; this could help prevent inappropriate designs from becoming tangible objects through the use of school equipment. AUPs may also address intellectual property concerns by preventing the printing and distribution of any kind of illegal content (Kostadinov, 2020)
Avoiding Harm and Minimizing Health Risks
Policies surrounding the physical location of the 3D printer and access to it also need to be considered when working towards minimizing harm and risk. Physical harm can occur during the actual printing process through student exposure to the plastic chemicals used in filaments (Zhang et al., 2018). Studies have found that 3D printers release ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during the printing process (Sharma, 2018; Zhang et al., 2018). Exposure to these particles can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular issues. These potentially harmful chemicals remain in the vicinity of the printer even after the process has been completed (Zhang et al., 2018). These same studies indicate that filaments manufactured by the same companies as the 3D printers tend to produce less emissions than the lower cost budget options (Zhang et al., 2018). This becomes an ethical issue for schools wishing to capitalize on the benefits of 3D printing while keeping costs low. PLA filament is FDA approved [New Tab] and tends to be the preferred material in terms of health standards. Due to budget constraints, schools also tend to opt for PLC, which according to a study at Georgia Tech may be safer for school settings, though these types of filaments still produce UFPs and VOCs when heated (Zhang et al., 2018). Schools and educators looking to reduce costs could unknowingly gravitate towards filaments that may be more harmful, health-wise, to their students. The video below provides further details on the study.
Figure 3.4 Georgia Tech researchers reinforce the importance of standardizing the measurement of non-engineered nanoparticle emissions from 3D printers
When selecting 3D printing as a means of creation, it is important for educators to know the possible health ramifications of plastics and how to reduce health-related issues due to fume exposure. Georgia Tech recommends that:
- 3D printers only be operated in well-ventilated areas.
- Nozzle temperature be set at the lower end of the suggested temperature range of a given material.
- People stand away from machines under operation.
- People use systems and materials that have been tested and verified to have low emissions (Molitch-Hou, 2018).
Educators should ensure these suggestions are followed, and design an acceptable use policy for the equipment, to help them glean all the benefits of creation that 3D printing has to offer while minimizing potential harm and risk to their students.
Avoiding Harm and Minimizing Risk Environmentally
As students can create real, tangible objects using a 3D printer, environmental impact should also be examined when aiming to minimize harm and risk. The material and printing stage of the 3D process can lead to excess plastic waste due to printing multiple prototypes. Mistakes can also occur while printing due to incorrect temperatures or setups, leading to more waste. Excess plastic build up has become a global concern. By integrating 3D printing into our educational settings, are we just contributing more to this global issue? Many schools have the money to invest in the basic equipment, printer, and filament, but do not invest in what is necessary to minimize waste and recycle the excess plastic.
Others (Huang et al., 2013; Nowak, 2013) argue that 3D printing “may have a positive effect on our environmental impact, since it allows us to cut down the supply chain effect by printing objects as they are needed,” (Kietzemann et al., 2015, p. 212). Kietzemann et al. (2015) also mention that there is a “positive impact of printing objects closer to their point of consumption, thereby reducing road and air miles” (p. 212), subsequently reducing pollution problems. Ethical, fair trade filament [New Tab] companies have surfaced in response to the constant need for plastic filament in the 3D printing process, one of which is Protoprint, a company out of Pune, India (Pelley, 2014). Protoprint has been licensed to sell fair trade 3D printer filament (Pelley, 2014). Protoprint sets up filament labs next to landfills and garbage dump sites. They collaborate with waste picker cooperatives in training the pickers to clean, shred, and extrude the filament (Pelley, 2014). The choice to utilize recycled plastic for 3D printing filament is then placed in the hands of the educational facilities that provide student access to the printers. Educators have the ability to minimize environmental harm that may be caused by 3D projects by making environmentally sound choices in the materials provided to students.
Educators need to consider whether the 3D projects are intended to create plastic objects that will be used for a purpose, such as constructionist learning through design and making, or solving a problem, or innovating, or whether the 3D projects will be used merely for novelty purposes.
Intellectual Property and 3D Printing
According to Bourgeois (2019), “intellectual property is defined as ‘property (as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect.” This could include creations such as song lyrics, a computer program, a new type of toaster, or even a sculpture” (Intellectual Property section). As Bechtold (2016) mentions, there is an “intricate relationship between intellectual property and innovation,” (p.535); therefore, as we begin to see students as innovators and creators, this intricate connection begins to intertwine within the educational setting. With students innovating and designing their own products, care needs to be taken when sharing their ideas with the world. Combine this shift in education toward constructing knowledge with a tool such as the 3D printer and the associated online platforms that go with it, and this calls for an exploration of creation rights.
Interestingly, the fact that 3D printing is a tool now accessible to schools could stem from the expiration of a range of key patents (Bechtold, 2016; Hornick, 2015). This — along with an overall movement towards open source version control systems, software repositories, and online marketplaces — have all set the stage for the collaborative and innovative community that has pushed 3D printing into the mainstream (Hornick, 2015). A large majority of personal 3D printers have been made available due to the RepRap project (Bechtold, 2016). Bechtold (2016) explains that “the goal was to create a 3D printer which could replicate itself. All of the designs of the project have been released under the GNU General Public License (GPL)” (p. 524). This means that anyone can copy and improve the project as long as they share alike their modifications (Lunpa, 2012). The very beginnings of 3D printing have gone against the need to individually own ideas and innovations and instead have encouraged innovation to be shared freely to further inspire and grow ideas. Bechtold (2016) shares that “this has also facilitated the creation of specialized 3D printing software programs, which are either licensed under open source licenses or under proprietary copyright licenses, but are provided for free” (p. 523).
This leaves educators wishing to capitalize on the collaborative nature of 3D printing as a medium, with the need to develop an understanding as to what protection is available for student’s intellectual property. How should these ideas behind the openness in remixing and sharing be effectively communicated? Students should be made aware of what exactly could happen to their designs and should be provided with options regarding how much they want to share and how they want to be acknowledged.
It is easy to get swept into the romanticism of openly sharing one’s creations, but as Parks (2016) highlights, “creators want to be credited for their designs because it feels good to be recognized, plus as a creator you want to know if and how your work is being used” (para. 1). Many open platforms like Thingiverse and Sketchfab are establishing ways for creators easily to upload and mark their designs with a Creative Commons license in hopes of more accurately providing attribution (Parks, 2016). Oftentimes these libraries of designs contain markers for tracking derivative work, families of designs can be pulled out, and the ancestor or the original design is openly acknowledged (Lunpa, 2012). But not everything is open and not everything is protected. This grey area causes questions of concern for educators: are students copying and printing copyrighted materials? How does one know if a design is open to anyone or closed to all? This requires educators to look more deeply into the copyright and patent laws that could impact 3D printing.
How 3D Designs and Objects are Protected
3D printing is a new medium that continues to disrupt systems, including how educators look at intellectual property rights — particularly in regards to digital technology use in schools. Works that in the past have been digitally created (e.g. music, photos, movies) are generally all creative works and therefore fall more easily into the established copyright laws (Weinberg, 2013). Useful objects would generally be protected by a patent. 3D printing and this newfound ability to create tangible objects that may be artistic but also useful begins to blur the lines between copyright and patent. As Weinberg (2013) states, “most (but by no means all) physical objects are not protected by any type of intellectual property right. That means that anyone is free to copy, improve, distribute, or incorporate those objects as they see fit” (p. 1). Page 2 of Weinberg’s (2013) report What’s the Deal with Copyright and 3D printing? [New Tab] includes a table outlining what type of intellectual property is protected by copyrights versus patents.
In many ways, 3D printed creations combine creativity with functionality and thereby make the process of protection complex. Weinberg (2013) explains, “if you have a useful article you cannot protect it with a copyright. Conversely, you will not be issued a patent on an artistic work. That means that if something is eligible for patent protection — even if it does not have patent protection — it cannot be protected by copyright” (p. 4). U.S. laws focus on severability when examining copyright in regards to objects that are both creative and useful (Weinberg, 2013). Severability is used to find the artistic element of the object that could stand alone; this part of the object could be limited to copyright (Weinberg, 2013). Laws continue to develop in these areas as technologies such as 3D printing continue to evolve. In many ways it is up to educators to seek out clarity and remain up to date during these constantly changing times.
Currently, in the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [New Tab] is used to protect creators’ designs online. Figure 5 provides a better understanding of how this is put into action. Due to the financial and time constraints of policing the internet, responsibility is placed on host sites to remove potential infringements (Weinberg, 2013). Technically, if a student creates a design that is copyrightable, and then later sees that it has been copied without credit and uploaded to a host site, they can contact the site to file a complaint, and item will be removed. If the individual who uploaded the student’s original design challenges this request to remove the file, the host site will post it again. This eventually could progress to the student (or legal guardians) taking further legal action against the uploader. Generally speaking, this system has worked, and not many cases have gone beyond the steps of removing content, but no system is perfect (Weinberg, 2013). Bechtold (2016) explains that, “in general, from a practical perspective, right owners of 3D design files face similar problems to owners of patents on 3D printer production or processes: it is hard to identify consumer infringers, costly to enforce intellectual property rights against them, and it may not be the optimal business strategy to sue your own customers” (p. 530).
Knowing which designs online are open and available to remix and what is protected by copyright is important for students and educators to understand, particularly so they can avoid ending up in a DMCA complaint. According to Weinberg (2013), “as 3D printing and modelling grow in popularity, it is likely that we will see more companies and individuals assuming they have a copyright for a design or object and demanding removal of unauthorized versions,” (p. 21). The chart in Figure 6 outlines generally what is copyrightable in regards to 3D files and objects, and what can legally be copied and printed by individuals.
Should Students be Licensing Their Work ?
Given the difficulty of placing a copyright on a 3D printed object, many would argue that licensing that object is therefore pointless. As Weinberg (2013) states, “if there is no copyright, there is no need for permission, and no way to enforce the terms. A license without an underlying right is legally meaningless” (p. 21). On the other hand, despite the fact that adding a Creative Commons License would in theory carry no legal ramifications, it may make a cultural impact that could influence the direction of the 3D collective community (Weinberg, 2013). Connecting a Creative Commons license is a “signal that the creator wants to include her work in the ever-expanding and evolving network of creativity” (Weinberg, 2013, p. 21). This signal also provides confidence in those who wish to remix and use the object as a base (Weinberg, 2013).
As the community of 3D printers expands and the open source movement continues to influence it, more consideration to intellectual property rights will need to be taken in order to create norms that work for this specific medium. The challenges faced by the 3D printing community are also challenges for educators and students as 3D printing becomes more commonplace in educational settings. As Parks (2016) asks, “how do you view the source of a copyrighted 3D printed object so that you can give credit, print your own version, or iterate on the original design? How do you comply with the attribution requirements of the CC license, if in fact it is legally required?” (para. 8). Flath et al. (2017) highlight that the freedom to create and express is dependent on the freedom to remix. Remixing is dependent on open access to others’ designs and ideas to spur innovation, and should be viewed as a way of connecting and collaborating, not as infringement (Flath et al., 2017). Finding a balance between protecting intellectual property and openly sharing to encourage innovation will be important as more and more individuals and schools adopt 3D printing as a tool for innovation and creation.
Respect for Participant Autonomy and Independence
When 3D printing is chosen as a medium for creation in an educational setting, it is typically incorporated into a design cycle, STEAM project, inquiry project, or similar process (Wisdom & Novack, 2019). Educators that place importance on engineering design alongside scientific inquiry are likely to gravitate to this technological affordance (Wisdom & Novack, 2019). As Wisdom and Novack (2019) state, “it creates opportunities for inquiry learning where students solve real-world problems that cut across multiple disciplines. Students work on the open-ended design of personally meaningful objects that they research, design, prototype, 3D print, and evaluate,” (p. 6). The personalization of these projects creates room for student choice and voice. Choices to create a design from scratch, remix what is already there, and share with others to encourage growth are all crucial components of the further development of 3D printing in and outside of the classroom. Alongside this independence and choice comes responsibility and the need to understand the complete process of additive manufacturing and the impact it can have on already ingrained systems. Guidance and encouragement are needed to ensure that students are making the best choices for themselves and society as a whole, as they move down this path towards prosumerism.
Undoubtedly, 3D printing has already started to make its mark on the world; however, the extent to which it will disrupt and alter systems has yet to be seen. The impacts that it has already had on humanity have been significant. Flath et al. (2017) suggest that “the growing materialization of 3D printing, and the platforms like Thingiverse that facilitate the technology, have empowered users to be more than just consumers — but producers as well” (p. 38). The world has seen the medical field impacted by the use of 3D printing and the open design movement. The recent problem of lack of medical supplies due to the rampant COVID-19 pandemic has been taken on, to a certain extent, by 3D printing enthusiasts who have been making up for failures in the supply chain by printing everything from protective shields to spare parts for ventilators. As Bechtold (2016) mentions, “it is hard to predict the impact of 3D printing on end-consumer markets, as this will depend on the future ease of use, the adaptation of the technology,” (p. 22).
The mark that this technological tool will have on education is equally hard to predict, but also will depend largely on how educators and educational systems adapt it to suit the creation needs of their students. 3D printing has the ability to assist in the disruption of education and has become part of this shift away from the consumption of knowledge and towards contributing to it. As with all disruptors and new ways of approaching situations, ethical questions arise. Educators wishing to make use of 3D printing will put themselves and students in a grey zone ethically, where not all of their questions have clear answers, and not all of their actions have clear consequences. As the 3D printing movement shifts and grows, educators will likely find themselves examining the purpose behind their projects and how they can work to instil a mindset of creating to solve problems. As more CAD design apps are made available for student use, privacy and data protection will need to be further examined, and educators will need to ask questions as to how much information is being collected on students and what is being done with this data (Regan & Jesse, 2019). Aware and informed educators will be needed to set up strong AUPs and to build standards aimed at minimizing the harm that could come from open access to designs, dangerous materials, and the potential negative impact to the environment. Intellectual property rights and issues will need to continually adapt to work with this tool that combines creative and useful works (Weinberg, 2013). Educators will ask themselves: Are my students copying and printing copyrighted materials? How can students properly protect and share their designs? What licensing has become available to address the difficulty in protecting this type of intellectual property?
How we approach 3D printing and the ethical dilemmas that it creates will determine how impactful 3D printing can be in the process of students becoming powerful innovators and creators. Will 3D printing push students into the driver’s seat of their learning, or will ethical considerations force them to remain safe and sound as passengers in the educational experience?
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