With the help of library “makerspaces” and 3D printers, college students could soon see their role on campus shifting from consumers to creators, a new report said.

The New Media Consortium Horizon Report, an annual at look possible future trends in educational technology, listed the transition as one of six technological changes that will soon take place on college campuses.

college-online-learningThe change is expected to happen over the next three to five years.

“A shift is taking place in the focus of pedagogical practice on university campuses all over the world as students across a wide variety of disciplines are learning by making and creating rather than form the simple consumption of content,” the authors of the report wrote. “Creativity, as illustrated by the growth of user-generated videos, maker communities, and crowd-funded projects in the past couple years, is increasingly the means for active, hands-on learning.”

In addition to video software and online crowd-funding, the report pointed to the emergence of “makerspaces” on college campuses as a signal of the trend.

Makerspaces – which began appearing around the county in the middle of the past decade, but primarily stayed off-campus until a couple of years ago – are locations in which members of a community can access a variety of creative tools, from woodworking to plastic to digital.

Campus libraries are increasingly adding makerspaces to their buildings, the report said, as well as utilizing 3D printers.

Also known as rapid prototyping, 3D printing appeared in New Media Consortium’s first-ever Horizon Report in 2004.

In that study, the organization predicted that 3D printing would find mainstream adoption on college campuses by 2009. The technology was then absent from the list for eight years, before at last reappearing in 2013.

This year’s report listed several examples where 3D printing is finally gaining traction in higher education.

A team at Harvard University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently printed lithium-ion batteries that can provide power to tiny devices like medical implants. Each battery is the size of a grain of sand.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are printing cages to hold bacteria, and scientists at the University of Liverpool are in the process of creating 3D-printable synthetic skin.

Libraries at North Carolina State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Victoria all have spaces devoted to 3D printers and scanners for student use.

“As 3D printing gains traction in higher education, universities are beginning to create dedicated spaces to nurture creativity and stimulate intellectual inquiry around this emerging technology,” the authors wrote.

This year’s predictions were based on the views of a panel composed of 53 technology experts from 13 countries.

Other trends the panel chose to highlight included the growing ubiquity of social media; an integration of online, hybrid and collaborative learning; a rise of data-driven learning, and assessment; an evolution in online learning; and a more agile approach to changing technology.

“Institutional leaders are increasingly seeing their students as creators, rather than consumers,” the report said.

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.


Add your opinion to the discussion.