Learn to 3D Print at Duke with a New Online Mini-Course

3d printing course still
Chip Bobbert demonstrates basic 3D printer maintenance in the online mini-course, “3D Printing at Duke.”

Duke students, faculty and staff can now learn how to use free 3D printers at the university by taking a short online course, 3D Printing at Duke. They can take the free course at any time, and then use the printers to create three-dimensional objects from digital files.

Duke’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) has made 3D printers available to the Duke community for free for over three years. In September OIT opened a new makerspace and technology center on West Campus featuring an expanded collection of 50+ 3D printers and other innovative fabrication tools the Duke community can use 24/7.

Getting More People Printing, Faster

Chip Bobbert, a digital media and emerging technologies engineer at OIT, teaches the course. The course takes 1-2 hours to complete and consists primarily of videos in which Bobbert explains the basics of 3D printing technology, the different kinds of printers available, what they can make and how to use them. After passing a short quiz at the end of the course, individuals receive a certificate that grants them access to the printers.

Bobbert used to offer an in-person workshop once a semester to orient potential users to the 3D printers. However, increased demand and schedule conflicts meant many people missed out on the training and had an inconveniently long wait to get access to the printers. Now, students and staff can take the course whenever they want and then immediately start printing.

“Innovation doesn’t sleep,” said Bobbert. “The nature of our lab is asynchronous. One should be able to design and build any time or place and interact with the machines across the internet.”

A New Way to Provide Online Courses

The 3D printing course is itself an innovative experiment: it is offered on Duke Extend, an open online course platform currently being piloted by Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology (CIT). Duke Extend is based on Open edX, an open source platform created by MIT and Harvard that powers edX’s massive open online courses.

Heather Valli is an online course builder with CIT who worked with Bobbert and a video editor to create the course. She said it was an ideal test case for Duke Extend because it is relatively short compared to the academic courses the platform was designed to accomodate.

The type of information, too, leant itself to a self-paced online format. “Because the course is very much a ‘Here is how you do it’ course, a course that is video-centric works well, and Duke Extend is a platform that works very well for video-centric courses,” said Valli.

Bobbert’s experiences with in-person training showed there was a clear need for for a flexible learning option. “In a lab that’s going 24/7 people need to learn on the go.  That’s where this course and Duke Extend come in,” he said.

Duke students, staff and faculty can take the course at any time at the Duke Extend website.