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Construct3D: The 3D Printing and Digital Fabrication Conference for Students & Educators
August 1-3, 2023, NYU TANDON, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Construct3D is the leading 3D Printing and Digital Fabrication Conference for Students & Educators being held this year at NYU Tandon in Brooklyn August 1-3 2023.
Can you start by telling us about the mission and vision of the Construct3D conference?
Construct3D is a US national academic 3D printing and digital fabrication conference and expo that focuses on sharing best practices, academic explorations, and professional development opportunities for faculty, staff, and students in informal, K-12, and higher education.
Before we (Matt Griffin, Chip Bobbert, and Lizabeth Arum) founded Construct3D, the conferences we attended focused only on the practical aspects of 3D printing, feeds, speeds, and how-to’s, and which machines to buy.
But we were interested in the why. Why use 3D printing in education, and how could the technology support learning and research? What we discovered was that we were not alone in wanting this and that there were innovative educators out there already tapping into digifab to support educational objectives.
At the same time, mathematicians like Laura Taalman, Christopher Hanusa, Henry Segerman, Bathsheba Grossman, and George Hart were using 3D printing to explore higher math or to use 3D printing to introduce students to difficult-to-understand mathematical concepts. We also met educators involved with E-NABLE and the team at the Open Style Lab, and dynamic accessibility advocates like Professor Amy Hurst at NYU’s The Ability Project, who introduced students to digital fabrication for assistive devices. (This year we have Amy, OpenStyle and Makers Making Change, which will be a great chance to see the new roles for inclusivity in accessibility and how digital fabrication supports that!)
And so we set out to bring together this community of educators around these topics, and hoped to raise the level of discourse on these technologies beyond just plugging them into existing approaches.
Instead of 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNCs just functioning the way described by their vendors, we wanted educators to engage in rethinking these technologies in terms of the learning opportunities and activities they could inspire, the roles they can play in not just the classroom but as a critical back-pocket skill for students in their future careers.
We wanted to help more educators like us make use of these technologies as an aspect of their creative problem solving, and then pass on that possibility to their students. And with these impulses in mind, our conference was born and became a passionate crucible of knowledge, idea, and project exchange.
And what thrilled us was that the industry sponsors who made this conference possible financially, were also advocates of the same mission. We are able to curate those we invited to limit the list to the vendors and sponsors who our educator attendees found most exciting, and this industry community was as eager to showcase ways to do more with their materials, machines, software, and other tools as the educators participating in their workshops and talks. In fact, several sponsors pointed out how refreshing it was to interface with educators who did not confine their products to the narrow purposes some of their customers assigned to them. Construct3D Conference has become a favorite conference for industry to get a chance to think as educators and educators to gain insights into how the developers of the technology they use daily solved problems in both educational and professional spheres.
Our tent gets wider and wider, and our interests as a community continues to grow. In 2020 Sam Dancis presented on Making for Social Change, our keynote speaker Brian McLean showed how Laika uses 3D printing for entertainment, Tim Pula from the Smithsonian talked about how the museum uses 3D printing, Melodie Yashar spoke on 3D printing on Mars, and Volumetric/3D System’s Jordan Miller shared his research on 3D bioprinting hydrogels and perfusing multivascular networks.
Over the years, we have brought together educators from different disciplines and different contexts so that they can learn from one another, inspire one another, and support one another. We’ve built a strong community and have raised the level of discourse around 3D printing and digital fabrication so that we’re not just making key chains, we’re seeing how the technology can change minds and lives.
What level of experience or understanding of 3D printing is required to attend Construct3D?
We encourage everyone to attend Construct3D, to observe and interact with educators at the cutting edge of applying digital fabrication in education. This goes not just for those who formally or informally identify as educators. Those are certainly our core attendees, but so are those industry sponsors who join us each year who are seeking other valued ways to collaborate with educators. And there are those who wish to explore other ways to think about and communicate to others about the possibilities of 3D printing and digital fabrication as a creative, problem-solving toolset in their professional lives, in other creative fields like architecture, experience design, product design, and footwear.
The event has a mix of offerings including workshops, demonstrations, talks, and other resources. We welcome those who are just curious all the way to veteran practitioners. We provide sessions from Tinkercad to Grasshopper and from desktop printing to advanced full-color printing.
Can you share some of the most popular applications or examples of 3D printing and digital fabrication that were showcased in the past Construct3D conferences?
Nervous Systems Puzzle Cell Complex: a sculpture for Construct3D was another collaborative conference piece that drew from different fabrication modalities and suggested different assembly concepts.
Art practice professor and digital sculptor Insun Kwon has dazzled our audiences with his zBrush sculptures that achieve remarkable levels of detail and finish from more affordable fabrication technologies.
What are some of the ways in which presentations from previous conferences have influenced or changed practices in education?
Construct3D brought together educators interested in pushing boundaries and this has led to collaborations and remixes.
Educators and their students have moved beyond using 3D design software and tools to make trinkets and are exploring how these technologies can be used to illustrate data, design surgical aids, produce personal protection equipment and medical devices, address supply–demand imbalances caused by socio-economic trends and disruptions in supply chains, create artwork, and make materials and parts that are lighter, less expensive, and stronger than those fabricated by more traditional means.
Educators Greg Kent (Technology Coordinator at Kailua Elementary School, Kailua, HI), Alex Larson (Applied Technology Teacher Palatine High School, Palatine, IL), and Kristen Schreck (Associate Professor of Mathematics at Saint Xavier University, Chicago, IL) met at Construct3D 2017 and collaborated over the year. They then presented 3D Printing Collaboration Experiences in the Arts & Sciences at Construct3D 2018.
Chip Bobbert and Sandra Bermond presented From Mold Making to Soap Making in 2020 which inspired Taekyeom Lee and Anika Norden to collaborate for their virtual workshop Casting at Home during the pandemic. This workshop was broken into sections where in addition to the casting activity, Taekyeom demonstrated how he used Grasshopper to generate his textures, and nTop's Annika Norden showed how to create reusable workflows with nTop to change surface textures easily.
Digital fabrication has become more than something delegated to the mechanical engineer. It has moved across disciplines like Math, Science, Art, and Design, and has developed into one more tool to be leveraged to solve challenges and problems.
What are some of the challenges in integrating 3D printing and digital fabrication into education, and how is Construct3D is addressing these issues?
Well, it might be worth pointing out that when we started in the digital fabrication industry over a dozen years ago (as individuals) before we co-founded Construct3D in 2017, the prospect of integrating this technology into education felt a lot more daunting than it does today.
Educators who weren’t that familiar with the full technology stack needed to really incorporate this into their work, and the technology at that time could be pretty unforgiving without experience.
Things are very different today – frankly, manufacturers have made tremendous gains towards making the tools easier to use right away, lowering barriers to entry by improving user interfaces, and integrating with more familiar design tools. At the same time there have been new output formats for more durable workflows so that less of the focus is now on repairing digital object topology to even start the process of printing.
The challenges have moved on to endusers craving faster and easier fabrication processes, and more performative materials for parts. And this is a healthy evolution as far as we are concerned.
While difficulties remain, the use of digital fabrication technology is becoming so popular in education that certain categories of employers (such as in engineering, architecture, or science fields) expect that anyone arriving to the workforce has already encountered these types of technology before as a student. This is already happening with graduate school and university education – the average student is expected to arrive on campus with pre-existing experience so that the focus of their time can be on the harder work – such as the engineering problems to solve. While it is a shame to see 3D printing and other popular digital fabrication technologies like CNC and laser cutting dropping into the background rather than be the focus of a student’s activities, that was the real goal the entire time: to spread the tools and means of using these tools so that all of us can solve engineering design challenges more efficiently and effectively.
This wide adoption of digital fabrication tools has produced surprising challenges for some educators. We’ve heard from those teaching high school or middle school that students are already so familiar with 3D printing that it doesn’t capture their interest in the same way it did before the pandemic. “Yeah, I did 3D printing in grade school, what else do you have?”
Many educators are attending Construct3D 2023 not for how to integrate 3D printing into their classrooms, but for NEW ways to engage students around digital fabrication, including exploring other fabrication methods and hybrid means.
Sponsors such as Mayku, a 3D forming tool, are offering workshops on how to use pressure forming as a novel route to leverage 3D printing technology as well as how to use their technology on its own. We feel this will be an excellent jumping-off point for those looking to renew their student’s engagement in this area.
What kind of collaboration and networking opportunities does the conference provide to educators and students?
Not only does Construct3D provide a platform for educators, students, and academic institutions to share their latest research and in-the-field experiences, but the event also strongly encourages action, hands-on experiences, and collaboration. Attendees come together providing leadership and evangelizing the adoption of the rapid expansion of digital fabrication research and development. Just check out our schedule for this year’s event.
Following this year’s Kickoff Keynote talks by Anouk Wipperecht and Matthew Shomper, we are inviting attendees to join us at 370 Jay Street for the opening of the Construct3D 2023 art exhibition, juried by Darlene Farris-LaBar, Taekyeom Lee, and Jonathan Hils. This conference edition's pop-up show will be on view in the Clive Davis Gallery from Aug. 1 - 3, 20223. Attendees will experience items of art, design, experimentation, and practicality from across all creative disciplines and then head upstairs to the 12th floor, where the celebration continues with Kickoff Reception on into the night.
And the chances to network and get to know each other doesn’t end on Day 1. On Day 2, after the first full day of talks and workshops, we are inviting attendees to what we fondly call “Drinkering and Tinkering,” an evening of lighting talks, demonstrations, and networking. And finally on Day 3, after the close of Thursday’s poster session, the entire conference has been generously invited to an open house and post-event social hour hosted by MakeLab in their brand new space a little less han two blocks away!
Construct3D is where passionate and curious educators and innovators converge to exchange ideas, build networks, learn new skills, and accelerate the adoption and exploration of 3D printing in education.
How can educators (formal or informal) get involved with Construct3D, beyond just attending the conference?
Some of this we have saved for your last question, but the first and most important way to get involved is to attend one of our in-person conferences. (Our 2023 event at NYU will do just fine for this!) Attend and connect with other educators and industry allies there. Introduce yourself, share what you are looking to learn, to share, and your challenges. Historically, our conference has stimulated a lot of after-event collaborations and friendships, and you need to be there to spark off these other experiences for yourself! Here’s a link to register:
We know that when we host our events there are always many things happening at once. This is by design because our attendees also are looking for so many different things: we find this is the best way to serve both those wanting to share and wanting to learn. But when you pick your sessions, we ask you to consider your participation as part of a wider community learning together.
Don’t go to a session and just be a passive recipient! Actively engage, ask questions, challenge each other, strike up collaborations. And if you keep in mind that you are a part of a larger community, then a key part of this is your responsibility to share back with the wider community what you experienced! (Especially this year where there are so many parallel workshops on Day 2 and Day 3 – it is impossible to attend all of them!)
After your session, share what you take away that will inform your teaching or learning practice. You can do this online, in substacks, on social, and with each other. This way, the sessions and discussions continue to expand with time, and the core messages and ideas can then impact educators and students beyond those who physically were present in the session itself.
We will also do our part to continue to share session results that we receive, and after-session news from our speakers, workshop leaders, industry allies, and other collaborators on social media.
Lastly, what do you envision for the future of 3D printing and digital fabrication in education, and how does Construct3D plan to contribute to that vision?
We think examining where education will take 3D printing and digital fabrication is the fundamental question behind a lot of what we do.
Our educator and industry communities make progress every conference, virtual meeting, and after-event collaboration to chart these pathways. We are committed to follow their lead forward into new territory, and find ways to facilitate, but we also have our own opinions and hopes for how the role of these technologies will evolve in education.
When we (the co-founders) added the dynamic engineering design expert Professor Matthew Wettergreen officially to the Construct3D core conference team in 2019 ahead of the 2020 conference, we took steps to formalize our LLC to make it easier for us to do what we have done so far (the conferences we produce together with our university hosts). But we also opened up a conversation with the addition of Matthew about other activities the Construct3D Conference team should introduce, as well as how to evaluate which of our elements are the most effective.
For the first output of that internal exploration, we launched a virtual series for educators to share their best practices, lessons, and enthusiasm with each other back during the pandemic.
We offered an entire virtual summer series as early as that first summer in 2020 right on the heels of our last in-person conference before this one, because educators reached out to us and said that they needed the help and attention after that exhausting and unproductive spring semester. All of us were craving new ways to connect and collaborate, and we gave virtual a try.
In particular, our community was looking for ideas for addressing the particular challenge of dealing with physical fabrication in the middle of a pandemic. And lessons offered there gave educators a selection of grab-and-go components to bring into their work. Well, the introduction of virtual programming helped our team and community start to consider a role for Construct3D beyond the university-hosted physical conferences – in terms of physical vs. virtual, extending our activities beyond the annual conference, and providing a platform for paid workshops on specific and very time-specific topics. And while we prefer physical to virtual gatherings, we are looking forward to exploring what avenues our educator community encourages us to pursue after our August conference!
But here is another activity we are adding to the 2023 conference that is promising to us. In addition to presenting talks and providing a platform for hands-on workshops to build skills and foster ideas for the coming academic year, we are also presenting an AM Industry Skills Challenge the day after the conference.
This day-long event will expose participants to the various skills that industry demands, including laser scanning, dimensioning, post-processing, redesigning, build-prep, and thermoforming. This crash course in miniature is guided by the challenge, but also the educators and industry collaborators are bringing their questions and creativity into this, just as with our typical Construct3D conference programming.
We hope you’ll join us in August, and if you know an educator or student, please spread the word.