Innovation Week sparks new idea for instruction

July 06, 2020
close up views of 3D printed scapulas (shoulder bone) and an adaptive spoon
Some of the items that Tambra Prantner-Marik's students 3D printed included models of the scapula and an adaptive spoon. Photos provided

Innovation Week at the Medical University of South Carolina isn’t just about showing off great ideas, though there are plenty of those. It’s also about sparking new ideas and new collaborations between groups that otherwise might not have met. 

That’s just what happened during Innovation Week 2019, and in 2020, the collaborators were back to talk about it.

Tambra Prantner-Marik is an assistant professor in the College of Health Professions who teaches occupational therapy students, and Erick Lemon is director of digital strategies and innovation at the James W. Colbert Education Center and Library.

During the 2019 Innovation Week, Lemon made a presentation about 3D printers at the library. At that point, he said, the library had only one 3D printer, but he was in the process of acquiring more through grants. Lemon, who has a background in instructional technology and 3D printing from his time at the dental school at the Medical College of Georgia, wanted to create an opportunity for instructors to integrate 3D printing into their curricula.

Prantner-Marik saw his presentation and was intrigued.

“I knew 3D was being done in our field, a little bit here and there, but it certainly isn’t mainstream yet,” she said.

Occupational therapy often involves the use of specialized tools to help people achieve basic tasks of daily living. Someone who has difficulty pinching or grasping, whether because of congenital issues or injury, could have problems using a key in a door or wielding a fork or spoon during a meal. In her own practice, Prantner-Marik works with people with orthopedic conditions. She often makes hand or wrist splints for patients, but traditional splints can cost more than $100 apiece.

“If your insurance doesn’t cover that, that’s a lot of money for a client,” she said.

Lemon and Prantner-Marik began to talk about how she could use 3D printing in her courses. She had found designs online for some of the basic things she wanted students to do, though Lemon noted that he has a graphic designer, Sherman Paggi, who can help develop designs.

“If somebody has an idea and they don’t know exactly how they can print what they’re thinking about, we can work with them,” he said.

Prantner-Marik came up with a plan to introduce students to the idea of 3D printing.

Lemon and Paggi pose in front of 3D printers 
Erick Lemon, left, and Sherman Paggi in the library makerspace.

In the first semester, first-year students were assigned in groups to create a 3D model of a bone as a means to get them familiar with 3D printing. Prantner-Marik admits many of the students weren’t entirely enthusiastic about the assignment, but by the second semester, when they were assigned to create a tool that could be used by clients, they began to appreciate the possibilities – especially when they realized that a custom-made tool would cost only a few dollars to create.

They then got to see those tools put to good use after they donated them to the student-run CARES Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy Clinic for people without health insurance.

Prantner-Marik's plans for the third semester were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She intended to have students use the 3D scanner in the library to scan each other’s arms and then custom make splints. She still hopes, eventually, to implement this part of the plan, but she was very happy with the results from what students were able to do.

“It was just a beautiful thing all around,” she said. “We got to work with Erick, and students learned about 3D, and then we were able to donate what they made for our clients who are underserved.”

Lemon is also happy with the outcome. The library makerspace, which opened in October and now has a half dozen 3D printers, is open to anyone in the enterprise, he said. They’ve already created prints for researchers and students with individual projects – not to mention about 400 face shields for care team members – and Prantner-Marik's course embedded the 3D printing into the curriculum in a new partnership for the library.

He and Paggi also noted they’re sponsoring a new 3D printing club for students. Lemon said that anyone at MUSC, whether in the hospital or university, can contact him or Paggi to get started with 3D printing.

About the Author

Leslie Cantu

Keywords: Education