Is this the year for 3D?


As 3D becomes increasingly common, Mark Robinson argues how this popular technology could be used in the classroom to change the face of the learning experience.

Consumer technologies are increasingly entering learning environments and are having a major impact on the way that young people learn. Students are accustomed to using technology in their everyday lives away from the classroom and are tuned into new developments, including 3D through its regular use in movies and video games. 

By tapping into this natural understanding and interest, 3D usage in secondary education not only emulates experiences in the outside world, but also helps prepare pupils for the workplace and provides a more engaging learning experience. 

The challenge for schools is how they can adapt teaching practices and materials to move from paper and 2D to 3D teaching.

3D in the modern workplace

As well as the increasing use of 3D in cinema and media, it is also important to note its place in industry and business. Many sectors are highly reliant on 3D by the nature of the work that they do. 

For example, in the automotive industry, 3D models help to pinpoint complications or faults within the structure of a vehicle, allowing advanced testing and enhanced understanding of the systems to inform future innovations. 

In medicine, surgeons use 3D visuals of the human body to plan and prepare for operations. In addition, the wider manufacturing, oil and gas exploration and the engineering sectors are increasingly reliant on 3D in exploration, research, and design and testing. 

It is important that pupils take away skills from the classroom that are transferable to the workplace. In the classroom we should be preparing students for their role in a global 21st century society and equipping them to contribute to economic growth and innovation. 

Clearly, being able to understand and fluently use technology such as 3D is vital and it is important that we prepare pupils for this by using it effectively in the classroom. There are many projects that promote these benefits. The recent Big Bang Fair in Birmingham illustrated to students that 3D is prevalent in the workplace of the science, technology and innovation sectors. In addition, the Bloodhound project (a STEM education programme built around the bid to break the 1,000mph land speed record) uses 3D to stimulate pupils’ interest in science and engineering, bringing concepts to life and making them much more tangible.

Creating active learning environments

Traditional paper methods are being challenged both in schools and the outside world. 3D inspires and engages pupils and it also creates a much more interactive experience. 

It is a misconception that 3D is passive or simply something that you watch. On the contrary, in the secondary classroom it provides numerous opportunities for students to become active participants and to question, challenge and interact. 

This is most easy to see in the STEM subjects. For example, a whole cell can be dissected and analysed in much more detail than can be achieved through a 2D diagram and using a 3D version of the human body creates a stronger reality for students.

Other modern advances such as depth sensing cameras, like those found in devices such as the Microsoft Kinect, can sense full body movement in 3D space and are changing how we interact with digital content and 3D worlds.

Companies such as Small Lab Learning are harnessing these new interfaces to “embody” the learning – what better way to understand inertia or “g-forces” than by actually moving around?

Recent research, such as the 3D in Education White Paper written by Professor Dr Anne Bamford, director of the International Research Agency, is reinforcing the view that 3D helps individuals and classes to delve deeper into subjects and gain a more complete understanding of complex concepts or ideas that may seem intangible when presented as flat pictures on paper.

One example is by using 3D visual simulations of life in the trenches during the First World War, which immerse the students in the sights and sounds of the battlefield to help them gain a different perspective in history lessons. 

It also has the added benefit of appealing to users of varying abilities, making the class more inclusive and also offering an array of new ways to engage those with certain SEN.

How can schools incorporate 3D?

Despite arguments that demonstrate the impact of 3D and its effectiveness, many schools will question how, on limited budgets, they can afford to invest in 3D and maximise it to its full potential. 

Many schools will be unaware that they already have the infrastructure to support 3D. For example, a lot of hardware in existence in their classrooms, such as the projectors supplied with their interactive whiteboards may have DLP chips (digital light processing) or be marked “3D-Ready”, meaning they have been future-proofed and are already prepared for 3D usage. 

Users will then just need to ensure they have a PC with a suitable graphics card and acquire the 3D glasses to complete the solution.

Any provider of educational 3D content will be able to advise you on how to maximise the projectors and interactive whiteboards that you already have in your classroom.

3D resources that match curriculum needs are needed to keep content fresh and relevant. There is some content already available free of charge on platforms such as Promethean Planet and teachers can benefit from large online resources such as Google Sketchup and the Google 3D warehouse – when combined with a 3D projector and software this allows users to find or draw objects which are then translated into 3D.

It is also vital that teachers, and ideally students, share resources for 3D to harness its full potential within the classroom. 

Although these resources are readily available, the true challenge is for schools to commit to using the content and investing time to develop and tailor resources to fit in with the curriculum and lesson plans. For teachers already innovating with 3D, the benefits outweigh the initial workload and lessons are made far more compelling.

The year for 3D?

It is an exciting time for teachers, schools and students embracing 3D and I believe that this is the year to consider implementing it practically in secondary education. It is clear that young people are skilled in 3D already and that there is enthusiasm for it. It is increasingly becoming not just “nice to have”, but a necessity in industries, so using it in education has a practical objective to benefit students in the future. 

Furthermore, many schools already have the basic technological elements to be able to use 3D and all upgrades should now incorporate 3D capabilities. The foundations are laid for the future use of 3D, but in order to fully harness its power, content must now be generated to support its use in classrooms and discover new ways of building it into lesson plans to create a truly engaging learning experience.

  • Mark Robinson is group head of education product strategy at Promethean.

Further information
Download the 3D in Education White Paper.



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