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Innovative Teaching in Horticulture: 3D Printing in the Maker Space

November 27, 2023

3D printed chain to demonstrate the blade's operation, the proper angle for sharpening the blades, and cleaning techniques without the noise and pressure of a real chainsaw.Teaching the finer details of chainsaw chains to arboriculture students can pose a challenge in a conventional classroom environment. Determined to solve this problem, Olds College of Agriculture & Technology instructor, and experienced arborist, Phil Renaud tapped into the 3D printing technology services of the Maker Space in the Teaching & Learning Center of Innovation at the College to create a 3D replica chain. This allowed him to demonstrate the blade's operation, the proper angle for sharpening the blades, and cleaning techniques without the noise and pressure of a real chainsaw.

The solution developed by Renaud proved to be a success among his students, resulting in numerous "aha" moments as they effortlessly took apart and put back together the replica chain.

"The chainsaw chain is so small, and it can be challenging to demonstrate the specific pieces of the chain such as the leading cutting edge," comments Renaud. "But showing it on a larger scale to students on the replica size is so much more informative than on a small usable chain."

With the success of the replica chain, Renaud hopes to design additional models to further enhance his students' understanding of tree biology and cutting techniques. This includes creating a model of various cross-sections of wood which would allow students to observe and examine the different types of tissues found inside a tree. He also hopes to develop a model that will simulate a felling notch in a tree stump, providing students with an opportunity to learn how to make one without the use of a chainsaw.

"Real wood dries up and breaks, so it's not ideal to teach students with a real chainsaw," comments Renaud. "But with these models, students can learn first-hand how to cut."

The use of technology has modernized the way arboriculture students learn and practice their skills. Thanks to the innovative thinking of Renaud and the resources available at the Teaching & Learning Center of Innovation's Maker Space, arboriculture students now have the opportunity to develop their skills in a safe and informative environment. 

Renaud aims to collaborate with the Maker Space on two future projects. The first project involves the creation of a 3D model showcasing the intricate woodlayers that support branch attachment to the tree trunk. The second project focuses on studying the diverse tissue components of a tree trunk through the creation of a cross section.

However, Renaud is not the only horticulture tapping into 3D printing technology. Another instructor, Robert Spencer, has partnered with the Maker Space as part of the Horticulture Technologist Diploma program. Recognizing the value of 3D models for visual learners, Spencer is embracing their potential to enhance teaching methods. Instead of relying solely on static PowerPoint slides or images, Spencer attaches 3D tree models to Lego structures. This approach allows students to actively participate and interact with horticultural concepts, promoting a deeper understanding.

Spencer's use of 3D models goes beyond traditional teaching practices. "I use the models to teach a shelter-built design, examining how different tree densities, sizes, and shapes impact wind speed and snow capture," comments Spencer. "I also use the models to demonstrate nursery crop orientation and planting density variations, which affect the number of trees per area." 

The collaboration between instructors Renaud and Spencer with the Maker Space highlights the versatility of 3D printing technology in education. By exploring and adopting innovative approaches to enhance the learning experience, students at Olds College are benefiting from an engaging educational environment that combines technology, hands-on learning, and practical applications in horticulture.

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