The Utilization of 3D Printers by Elementary-Aged Learners: A Scoping Review

Emmanuel Fokides, Georgia Lagopati
Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice  •  Volume 23  •  2024  •  pp. 006

This review’s main objective was to examine the existing literature on the use of 3D printers in primary education, covering students aged six to twelve across general, special, and inclusive educational environments.

A review of the literature indicated a significant oversight – prior reviews insufficiently distinguish the application of 3D printing in primary education from its utilization at higher educational tiers or focused on particular subject areas and learning domains. Considering the distinct nature and critical role of primary education in developing young students’ cognitive abilities and skills, it is essential to concentrate on this specific educational stage.

The scoping review was selected as the preferred research method. The methodological robustness was augmented through the utilization of the backward snowballing technique. Consequently, a total of 50 papers were identified and subjected to thorough analysis.

This review has methodically compiled and analyzed the literature on 3D printing use among elementary students, offering a substantial addition to academic conversations. It consolidated and organized research on 3D printers’ educational uses, applying robust and credible criteria.

Many studies featured small sample sizes and limited research on inclusive and special education. The analysis revealed 82 distinct research goals and 13 educational fields, with STEM being the predominant focus. Scholars showed considerable interest in how 3D printers influence skills like creativity and problem-solving, as well as emotions such as engagement and motivation. The majority of studies indicated positive outcomes, enhancing academic achievement, engagement, collaboration, creativity, interest, and motivation. Nonetheless, challenges were noted, highlighting the necessity for teacher training, the expense of equipment, technical difficulties, and the complexities of blending new methods with traditional curricula.

To capitalize on the benefits that 3D printers bring, curriculum planners are urged to weave them into their programs, ensuring alignment with educational standards and skill development. The critical role educators play in the effective implementation of this technology necessitates targeted professional development programs to equip them with the expertise for successful integration. Moreover, 3D printing presents a unique opportunity to advance inclusive education for students with disabilities, offering tailored learning experiences and aiding in creating assistive technologies. In recognizing the disparities in access to 3D printing, educational leaders must address the financial and logistical barriers highlighted in the literature. Strategic initiatives are essential to democratize 3D printing access, ensuring all students benefit from this educational tool.

Comparative studies are critical to elucidate the specific advantages and limitations of 3D printing technology due to the scarcity of research contrasting it with other tools. The variability in reporting durations of interventions and research environments underscores the necessity for uniform methodologies and benchmarks. Because research has predominantly focused on STEM/STEAM education, expanding into different educational areas could provide a comprehensive understanding of 3D printing’s capabilities. The existence of neutral and negative findings signals an opportunity for further investigation. Exploring the factors that impede the successful integration of 3D printing will inform the creation of superior pedagogical approaches and technological refinements.

As the review confirmed the significant promise of 3D printing technology in enriching education, especially in the context of primary education, the imperative for continued research to refine its application in primary education settings is highlighted.

3D printers, additive manufacturing, educational technology, primary education, scoping review
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