Editor’s note: Matt Griffin is Director of Community at Ultimaker North America. WRAL TechWire asked the organizers of the Construct3D conference for a recap of the event as well as photographs, which accompany this report.

DURHAM – The inaugural Construct3D conference, held at Duke University recently, brought together educators and innovators from a variety of backgrounds with the goal of accelerating adoption and exploration of 3D printing in the classroom.

The event united passionate, curious educators from all three academic contexts—K-12, Higher Ed, and Informal—through panels, nearly 120 talks and workshops, a vendor area offering demonstrations and resources, and social gatherings that encouraged discussion.

Outside of the meeting rooms and exhibitor booths, attendees got a glimpse at Duke University’s own contributions to innovative uses of 3D printing and the development of the academic makerspace.

Attendees had the opportunity to tour the Duke University Innovation CoLab Studio, which was once an underutilized computer lab that has been transformed into a digital fabrication makerspace, highly-regarded as a leading example for how to leverage 21st century technologies to stimulate invention, exploration, and expression in an academic ecosystem.

The lab houses nearly fifty Ultimaker 3D printers that serve students, faculty, and alumni from across the many programs and areas of study on campus.

A few highlights from the keynotes and sessions:

  • Dale Dougherty, CEO of Maker Media, kicked off the event with the “Informal Education” keynote to share about his role in founding the Maker Movement and opportunities he sees for the future of education. He shared strategies that educators can use to deeply engage and transform the experience of students–like having activities in school that challenge and excite students and implementing on project-based learning.
  • Skylar Tibbits, founder and co-director of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, delivered the “Higher Ed” keynote. He wowed the audience with the progress of his research lab and promise of a future in which medical devices, furniture, buildings, and manufacturing facilities might be produced as emergent structures coded into smart materials.
  • Sallye Coyle of ShopBot and Duke’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute delivered the closing keynote, focusing on K-12 education. She explored the notion of the 21st century reinvention of “shop class,” and the importance of encouraging students and teachers alike to work with tools that deepen engagement and enhance creativity. Coyle’s extensive experience in STEAM education and her role in outfitting and constructing in-school and community makerspaces provided attendees with a valuable look at the ingenuity that comes from experimentation and discovery made possible by access to digital fabrication tools.
  • Matthew Borgatti, Lead Scientist at Super-Releaser Robotics, talked about tackling challenging engineering problems using digital fabrication, and various approaches to research, testing, and rapid iteration that accelerate the production of successful products and solutions.
  • Charles Mire, CEO and co-founder of Structur3D, explored how his background as a chemist and academic materials researcher led him to experimenting with paste extruders and compatible materials—and ultimately to band together with colleagues to offer the Discov3ry paste extruder system, offered for Ultimaker hardware and a range of desktop 3D printers.
  • Insun Kwon, Clemson professor, displayed his intricate designs at the Ultimaker booth, and introduced attendees to techniques for fabricating his challenging, high-resolution digitally sculpted models using affordable desktop 3D printing technologies.

Industry-leading exhibitors, including Autodesk, ShopBot, Essentium, Adobe, Apress, Proto-Pasta, Trotec, Fusion3, Shapeways, Formlabs, Aleph Objects, 3DPrinterOS, and MakeShaper, engaged with attendees throughout the event, sharing their expertise to enhance the overall experience.

The event also included a screening of critically-acclaimed documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” (2015), a film Education Week called “among the best edu-documentaries ever produced.” This touchstone film for educators provided attendees a stark glance into our antiquated educational system, and offers hope that new approaches to hands-on, project-based learning can improve student engagement and education outcomes.

Bookending the conference were in-depth workshops led by core trainers from Autodesk, Rhino, and ShopBot. These sold-out sessions offered educators new skills to take home to their schools and provided opportunities to speak directly with the staff central to the development of these platforms. Attendees were among the first to hear about upcoming developments in packages—such as Tinkercad, Fusion 360, Rhino, and Grasshopper—that will strongly impact the curriculum planning for the upcoming fall semester.

As the first national academic conference centered around 3D printing and education, Construct3D sold out quickly and it did not disappoint. We were all reminded of the many ways digital fabrication opens doors for creativity and self-expression in the classroom, while also teaching invaluable technical skills. For students, there’s nothing quite like designing something and then holding a tangible result in their hands. We hope attendees walked away feeling as inspired to encourage the next generation to learn and create as we did!