Activity 5 – 3D Printing in Education – In Relation to the Great Media Debate

By Ash Senini & Eric Yu

featured image: courtesy of

Of recent memory, there is one technology that supports the idea of technological determinism, none better than the advent of 3D printers. We could start at the beginning of the printer, with woodblock printing in China in 220 AD and then the Gutenberg press in the 15th century. However, we would suggest that 3D printing’s roots begin with the invention of a basic Dot Matrix printer from the 1920s (American Printing History, n.d.). 3D printing technology has become more pronounced in recent years since its early inception in the world in 1986. Advances in other technologies, such as the materials used, the methods and design tools (CAD) have led us to where 3D printers are today; being used in industry and the classroom. 

 We will look at this perspective from both sides of the Great Media Debate, that both Clark and Kozma discussed, and we hypothesize, based off their perspectives, how they would comment on the use of this technology with regards to education, using two articles on the subject of 3D printing in education. Is 3D printing the technology in Ed Tech that can leverage the debate and finally show a new pedagogy and ultimately show a difference in how students learn?

 According to an EdTech article from 2019, author Erika Gimbel presents an overwhelming number of arguments and current research into 3D printing uses in the classroom, mainly focusing on the K-12 sector. The article presents how this technology has enabled students to learn advanced concepts and technical skills; it has also built students’ core or “softer” competencies regarding collaboration and public speaking (Gimbel, 2019).

Students are actively creating and designing new tools to assist various subjects, not just related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focused curriculum, but in other areas of a student’s education. History students now can print ancient artifacts to examine; a geography class can recreate topographical maps, and students in biochemistry can print cellular tissues to examine diseases and create a media for laboratory study (Makerbot, 2019). The technology has become more accessible to educators; it has allowed students to use an “Active-learning technology” and move from just absorbing the information to making a connection with thinking on a deeper level (Bitten as cited in Gimbal 2019). The 3D technology revolution in the classroom is not a one-way street when it comes to learning. Educators are learning to embrace the technology in their training and learning to create more accessible pathways for themselves in teaching STEM-related courses, as seen in a recent article in the Journal of Science Education and Technology (Novak and Wisdom, 2018). The study suggests that there is a limited knowledge base on how we are preparing educators to use this new technology in the classroom, and much is to be learned, especially after seeing students grasp the concepts behind the media(3D printing) in the classroom (Novak and Wisdom, 2018). As Kozma stated, and we would agree, traditional instructional design models do not address the complex interrelationships among media, method, and situation (1994). Novak and Wisdom’s research clearly showed how non-traditional the teaching of 3D printing was for students and instructors and that perhaps in this new area of teaching, a new pedagogy can be created. Students using the technology saw a significant change in the learning outcomes, as did the educators. Would it be hard for Clark to genuinely call 3D printing just another delivery method, similar to previous manufacturing or printing technologies? Alternatively, would he finally be able to see this technology as the one to build that relationship between learning and media?

 In a recent media release, Makerbot claimed the benefits of 3D printing on promoting students’ learning efficacy, divided into five benefits (e.g. creating excitement, promotes problem-solving skills). From Clark’s perspective, 3D printing is nothing more than an alternative medium to deliver knowledge, like other nascent technologies such as computers and artificial intelligence. What changes the effects of learning is not the 3D printing; instead, whether and how the knowledge is passed on to learners does not solely hinge on the medium (it is just a sufficient condition that contributes to the conclusion more efficiently). It still depends on the methods of interpretation and communication incorporated in any media, which is the necessary condition that makes education. For example, for the mentioned benefit of creating excitement, students can feel a concept’s physical model in books (Markerbot, 2019). They may comprehend a ruined historical relic when seeing the physical replicas. However, the model per say does not tell the historical information – it is only a supporting tool for teachers’ instruction and improves the educational process by offering an alternative way of offering the material but does not change the educators’ role.

  However, Kozma would argue Clark by reframing his question to explore the environment where the media impacts learning. The process of knowledge acquisition is more than a simple delivery of existing information; instead, it is a procedure of information recreation based on the repository interaction between media, educators, makerspace and students, or other determining factors. It is impossible to disentangle the media from the condition. Backing to the benefit of creating excitement, students’ interests might not be stimulated if teachers use pictures to illustrate a ruined historical building; thus, teachers’ instruction may end up in vain.         


 The technological landscape present when Clark and Kozma first argued each side of the Great Media debate has drastically changed since 1994. 3D printing technology is just another technology now being used by educators to educate and train the next generation of students. It is fair to say that the use of technology media on its own will provide no learning benefits to students (Clark, 1994). However, with Kozma, the current technology we find ourselves with, is ripe for educators, curriculum developers to restructure our schools and improve the education and training they provide (Kozma, 1994). With 3D printing as an educational tech tool, we believe that we can see significant changes in how we can instruct future learners, which could also lead to a new pedagogical paradigm for education.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29.

Gimbel, E. (2019). The Resurgence of 3D Printers in Modern Learning Environments [Blog]. Technology Solutions That Drive Education.

History of Printing Timeline. (n.d.). American Printing History Association. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from

Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning: Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19.

5 Benefits of 3D Printing in Education. (2019). MakerBot.

Novak, E., & Wisdom, S. (2018). Effects of 3D printing project-based learning on preservice elementary teachers’ science attitudes, science content knowledge, and anxiety about teaching science. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 27(5), 412-432.  

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