3-D learning channels the senses in Brandeis classrooms

Brandeis professors are using 3-D printing technology to help their students learn in new and engaging ways

To the naked eye, Michelangelo’s David, DNA’s double helix structure and the Roman Pantheon’s curved dome are each perfect in their own way. But examine these wonders with the wondrous technology of 3-D printing, and a whole new dimension emerges.
For example, professor Daniel Pomeranz Krummel prints out high quality, multi-colored DNA and protein molecules for students to handle and examine in his advanced biochemistry class. He sees a notable difference in the way the students retain information about these molecules’ functions when they learn from 3-D printed structures, rather than a printout or a slideshow.
Pomeranz Krummel is just one of many professors across all disciplines embracing 3-D technology to better engage and teach students.
“It’s really important we use technologies and crafts that have been around for years and years, but it’s also important to embrace new media,” said associate professor of sculpture Tory Fair, whose course “Sculpture: Body as Source” uses 3-D printers to help create a human head.
“It’s interesting to see the difference between a head that’s sculpted by our hands and one that’s made with a 3-D printer,” said Fair. “The 3-D printer makes a head over a short period of time from information collected from reading the surface of a head, versus the longer term, in which the students sculpt the head out of clay, working from the inside out.”

3-D printing got underway at Brandeis as a student club in the MakerLab. Packed with more than a dozen printers, multi-colored plastic filament and bushels of 3-D printed objects — everything from skulls and model cars to a Louis Brandeis action figure — the MakerLab in the Farber Library draws dozens of students every day who want to let their creative juices flow, complement their classroom learning, or just have fun. It’s where technology meets learning and learning meets play.

“Making the MakerLab was a complicated recipe,” said Debra Sarlin, digital teaching and learning designer, who teaches out of the lab and works with faculty and their classes to integrate 3-D technology. “Without any of these ingredients—administrative understanding and support, faculty interest, staff expertise and overwhelming student enthusiasm and ownership—we simply would not have been able to create this learning hub in the library.”
Pomeranz Krummel said 3-D models allow for tactile learning. “From a very young age we see and understand best when there’s a connection between our sense of touch and sight,” said Pomeranz Krummel. “I personally am very visual and my research is structure based. I want students to fully grasp the idea that structure and function are interconnected. Textbooks have beautiful images, but you don’t get the same effect from reading information off a page or seeing a two-dimensional image.”
The sciences aren’t the only division at Brandeis to embrace the possibilities of 3-D technology. Like Fair, Classical Studies professor Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow has started to make regular visits to the MakerLab. Koloski-Ostrow has encouraged her students to scale down the architectural masterpieces of Rome, Pompeii and Athens using 3-D printing. With the help of student interns Mary Pons MA ’16, Benjamin Poser ’16, Jacob Abrams ’17 and Mozelle Shamash Rosenthal ’17, Koloski-Ostrow has started using the technology to catalogue the university’s entire collection of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts.
“It’s exciting to talk to modern scientists and learn from them so that we can intensify our understanding of the past, which then enhances our knowledge of how we got to where we are today,” said Koloski-Ostrow, who also oversees a two-credit, Classical Studies artifact research collection internship that incorporates 3-D printing technology. “You need to be engaged with the object — climb into it. Hold the object if you can, feel the presence of ancient world.”
One of Koloski-Ostrow’s students took this challenge to a new level when he created a full-scale tour of an ancient Roman house using the 3-D software Oculus Rift. With a special pair of goggles, the viewer sees the home’s fully furnished interior as if he were walking through it with the eyes of an ancient Roman.
“The house is two-scale, as it was in Rome,” said Priyam Shah, a junior from Los Angeles triple majoring in biology, chemistry and neuroscience. “You can walk around and meet virtual people — shopkeepers, even people playing chess on the steps of the Roman Basilica. It’s really quite amazing and fascinating, the technology we have today.”
Ian Roy of the MakerLab has always believed in 3-D technology as an innovative tool for learning and improving the world. But Roy, who wears glasses with 3-D printed rims, said he is awed by the number of students and faculty from various disciplines incorporating the new, cutting edge tool into their learning.
“3-D printing has taken industrial-level prototyping and democratized it for all individuals,” said Roy, Assistant Director for Research Technology and Innovation. "The projects are now much more cross-disciplinary because the tools are simpler. It’s changing the world.”

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