With always-developing, always-expanding technology, it’s difficult for institutes of higher learning to stay afloat with instant-advancements, but Hendrix College is doing its best with its embracement of 3D printing.
Hendrix leaders are confident the technology will provide its students with a better learning experience.
On any given day, Hendrix College chief information officer David Hinson said a variety of smart phones, tablets and video game systems, in addition to laptops and high-tech calculators, can be seen on a college campus, including Hendrix. So much technology — that is always evolving — at the fingertips of so many puts schools in the constant position of finding a way to bring the same technology onto the campus and into the classroom.
"The state of the liberal arts today, the state of higher education today, you really have to be affluent in technology and you have to have great infrastructure, in order to support what these kids are bringing [to the classrooms]," Hinson said.
Recently, Hendrix has focused on "beefing up" its bandwidth and delivery of services on campus, in an effort to stay ahead of, or with, the times.
"The challenge is not necessarily just to be adequate, but to deliver a superior experience on campus," he said. "We strive really hard to try to stay abreast to technology, to try and service these kids and give them what they need, in order to have a very supportive learning environment."
Across the county, colleges not only have to stay informed on technology that can be beneficial, but also technology that can be disruptive, Hinson said.
"Apple disrupted the music industry, now you don’t see record stores anywhere. You can look around this town, you don’t have many chain bookstores anymore, because that industry has been disrupted by Amazon," he said. "Higher education is also threatened of being disrupted through massively-online, open courses, and online education."
3D printing first came to Hendrix in the spring of 2013 through a grant for its Theatre and Arts department. Over the winter break, Hinson said an additional 3D printer was added in the technology center to give all students access.
Our new @Makerbot 3D Printer resting up, for a busy semester ahead at @hendrixcollege! pic.twitter.com/Z2By6DGShw— David J. Hinson (@davidjhinson) January 12, 2014
Hinson described 3D printing as an additive manufacturing process.
"Rather than most manufacturing processes where you start off with a big block of raw material, and you start chopping away until you have something," he said. "With additive manufacturing, you’re adding pieces of material a little bit at a time."
Like any advancement seen as possibly being revolutionary, 3D printing has its share of supporters and foes. Nonetheless, Hinson said the technology’s influence and visibility in the real world will grow in the coming years.
"Five to ten years ago, these printers were anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000," he said. "They’re now $300 in a kit. These technologies are literally changing the way we live. If you think the last ten years have been transformative, the next five to ten years are going to be every bit as much so, but in the real world with things you can put your hands to."
The technology has seeped into the medical field and even made its way into space, but Hinson said 3D printing will also impact — on an increasing level — the way normal people live from day-to-day. One area Hinson expected to see 3D printing impact greatly was how people received replacement parts for various appliances and household items. It’s a realization Hendrix College noticed soon after its first printer arrived.
"Our printer came with three rubber feet [instead of four], and so we scratched our heads, looking for this other foot and we said, ‘Why don’t we just print a foot ourselves?’" Hinson said. "It was one of the first things we did with [the printer]."
It’s difficult to stay ahead in a world, and nation, driven by ever-advancing technology, but Hendrix College has placed itself at the forefront with forward-thinking.
"It’s a changing landscape, and our challenge is to deliver a superior liberal arts education in this ever-changing digital world," Hinson said.
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan.)