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Exploring the dimensions of classroom teaching

news | Published in TES magazine on 6 January, 2012 | By: Helen Ward

Can 3D technology in schools enhance the learning experience?

So you think your interactive whiteboard is clever? Think again. The newest technology in the classroom is urging teachers to think of using images that fly off the board - in 3D.

The use of 3D technology in the classroom can inspire pupils and teachers, new research has claimed. Science lessons in particular benefit from pupils being able to see things they are learning about - such as plant structures - right in front of them, rather than trying to imagine them from drawings.

And the advantage of a virtual model over a real one is that hundreds can be called up and manipulated. It is not just the microscopic world that can be visualised; the technology could help pupils learn about astronomy or earth sciences.

Professor Anne Bamford of the University of the Arts, London, who carried out research into 3D learning, will be talking about her findings at the BETT education technology show in London's Olympia next week.

She led the study, funded by educational manufacturer Texas Instruments, which looked into the effectiveness of including 3D content in lessons in 15 schools across seven countries.

Her paper found that the main factor was an increase in attentiveness, not just during the 3D part of the lesson but also afterwards. One teacher in the study, entitled The 3D in Education White Paper, said: "In class with 3D you have the 'wow' effect. This helps with behaviour. The pupils are too interested to be disruptive. They get involved and forget to be naughty."

The study was carried out by having one class in each school learning science in the usual way and another class with the same instruction but with 3D resources being used.

Professor Bamford, an expert on creative education, compared pupils aged 10-13 and found that 3D education can help children remember and learn new concepts. After four weeks, the pupils in the 3D classes had remembered more than those in the 2D classes.

Children are used to 3D with the rise of computer games that use the technology - 90 per cent of those in the study had seen a 3D film. The study also found that teachers could use the 3D animations without specific training.

But Danny Nicholson, of the Association of Science Education, says the technology would not be practical to use in schools and could be too expensive. "While I think the idea of 3D technology is very interesting - and I'm speaking as a very keen fan of interactive whiteboards and projectors as a technology in the classroom - I worry that 3D is a bit of an expensive gimmick," he said.

"There are a few cases where a true 3D image might help, but a lot of the time good 2D models which can be moved and rotated would be just as effective. But I am ready to stand corrected."

It may seem somewhat futuristic for children to see images of the solar system floating around their desks rather than as a model or on screen, but in Colorado, USA, one school district is already in the process of having 1,000 3D projectors installed in classrooms.

It may not be long before pupils will be opening their books, facing the front and putting on their 3D glasses for lessons.

See ICT Guide, pages 4-6

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The University of California, which carries out scientific research into the Lake Tahoe Basin, has used 3D presentations with grade 6 pupils.

Research at its visitor centre reported that its 3D lab, which allows students to watch animations about earthquakes and geological formations, was effective in engaging pupils.

Those who watched the 3D presentations were more engaged and reported a general increase in their interest in science compared with students who watched the 2D version.


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