This post is co-authored by Chava Spivak-Birndorf and Vickie Karasic

Mélanie Péron is no stranger to experimenting with technology. As a Senior Lecturer in Foreign Language in French and Francophone Studies, Mélanie has worked with our librarians at the Weigle Information Commons for the past 10 years in using technology to connect her students with the material they are studying. From innovative uses of Blackboard, to video projects, websites, and interactive digital maps, Mélanie has been willing to try it all in the name of students’ deep engagement with course material.

This is why it was no surprise that when the topic of 3D printing at the Education Commons arose during a casual conversation with her right before Thanksgiving, Mélanie immediately said, “We have to do it!” And from there, the wheels were put into motion for an amazing experience connecting students in her French 225 course, “History, Memory, Culture,” to a hands-on exploration of 3D modeling and printing.

In the span of about a week (with Thanksgiving break in between!), Mélanie worked with Emerging Technologies Librarian, Chava Spivak-Birndorf, to create an assignment where students would make a 2D physical or digital representation of the terms “guilt,” “void,” or “silence.” In class, they would then turn this graphic into a 3D model, and eventually, a 3D print that the students could keep as a learning object and memento of their experience in French 225.

We are always excited about finding interesting ways to incorporate 3D printing and other emerging technology into instruction, particularly for students who may be exploring the tech for the first time.  The EC has provided tech workshops for other courses in the past, including a theater design class that worked with us last year to 3D print miniature models of the sets they designed.  This French Studies project was a new experience for all of us, but Mélanie and her students were amazingly comfortable going with the flow.

The thirteen students in French 225 had no prior experience with 3D modeling and printing, and with such an open prompt, we didn’t know what to expect from the students’ designs.  On top of that, this was our first time hosting a class session in the EC’s new makerspace, the TinkerLab, so we knew there might be some kinks to work out.  Despite the uncertainties and short timeline, all of the students dove into the assignment and came to class open to learning and ready to try it out!

We wanted to make the conversion process from 2D to 3D as simple as possible to avoid frustration and demonstrate how accessible emerging technology can be, even for brand new users.  After a brief overview of 3D printing and the project at hand, we used one of the hand-drawn images to walk through the steps students would need to take.

Instructor helping a student convert her 2D design into a 3D fileWe focused on free, user-friendly, web-based tools, which allowed the students to use their own computers and continue to use the tools at home.  Once the students had a JPEG of their designs, they used the threshold tool in Pixlr, a web-based alternative to Photoshop.  In Pixlr, the students were also able to clean up any stray lines, close holes that would cause issues with the print, and invert colors to change which pieces would print and which would come out as negative space.  After exporting their new images as PNG files, the students used free file conversion tools (Convertio and Autotracer) to quickly create SVG files.

Finally, it was time to create the 3D model that would become their final print!  For this step, we introduced the students to TinkerCad, one of our favorite 3D modeling tools for beginners.  Students could import their SVG files directly into TinkerCad, which automatically added volume to make the designs 3D.  Students then had the option to adjust the dimensions and/or add backings to models that were not entirely connected.

The wide range of student designs was fascinating and challenging.  Some students brought text, handwritten in cursive font.  Others brought hand-drawn sketches, digitally designed images, or printouts of downloaded pictures.  We were thrilled to see how engaged the students became while working on their assignment.  They tried each step on their own, readily asked for help when needed, and even helped each other when something seemed particularly tricky.

By the end of the class, nearly all of the students had created their 3D models and sent them to be printed through the Education Commons’ free 3D printing service.  The students who hadn’t quite finished left with the tools and information they needed to finish up on their own.

A week later, all of the students’ 3D prints were finished, and Mélanie placed each one into an envelope to surprise the students with their prints.  She later noted that the students seemed to become immediately attached to their creations.  Turning their original two-dimensional illustrations and text into three-dimensional, physical objects added a new element to their designs and offered an intriguing new perspective on the students’ interpretations of the assignment.


Want to create a similar project or explore other ways that 3D printing and emerging technologies can enhance your instruction?  We would love to help!  Send us an email at!

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