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4 Tips for Using 3D in the Classroom

Three-D technology is becoming an increasing attractive technology for educators to employ in their classrooms. Particularly useful in subject areas like medicine, art, and architecture, where visual demonstrations make up a large portion of the learning experience, 3D’s ability to project width, height, and depth/length is helping the technology gain ground in higher education.

“We’ve been using 3D to depict diseases, surgical procedures, and physiologic processes for years,” said Marc Triola, associate dean for educational informatics at New York University’s School of Medicine. "3D has revolutionized our ability to convey complex, visual material--like the relationship of different body parts within the human anatomy--and has empowered both our faculty and our students."

Getting to the level where students and teachers alike are empowered by 3D technology requires professional development, creating the right environment, and strategies for managing the equipment and content. Here are four tips to use when integrating 3D into your school and classroom:

  1. Provide upfront and ongoing faculty training. One of the biggest challenges for educators using 3D is the fact that they weren’t exposed to it when they were students and therefore never learned how to integrate it into their lessons. To overcome this obstacle Triola said IT departments should conduct teacher orientations and training sessions on the equipment and system before it is installed and ready to use. In fact, Triola said that level of professional development is downright critical to the future of 3D in the college setting. "Our students are familiar with gaming and 3D technology, but these are new modalities for the faculty," said Triola. "Training and development will be necessary in order to develop some fluency with the technology and to address the educational issues that arise when conveying 3D information digitally."

  2. Create a 3D-friendly environment. If you plan to use 3D on an ongoing basis you’ll want to set up a classroom environment that’s conducive to the technology, according to Marcella Wilson, an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Baltimore. Wilson recommends using low, ambient lighting during the screenings (versus complete darkness); seating students directly in front of the screen whenever possible (to avoid distortion); and using a ratio of three times the screen height (i.e., 10 feet away for a 40-inch screen) as an optimal viewing distance. Make adjustments based on student feedback, said Wilson. "If they can’t see or if their equipment isn’t working, they’ll let you know."

  3. Keep Track of the Equipment. Just how much oversight you’ll need for the equipment should be directly proportional to the amount of money and time invested in it. Furnishing a university classroom from the ground up with 3D projection equipment, monitors, and viewing glasses can cost upwards of $10,000. The glasses, which run $45-$250 per pair, are proprietary and may not work across different equipment brands (which means you’ll need different glasses for different equipment]. Keeping track of these costly, portable, viewing apparatuses is essential to keeping budgets in check and classrooms equipped with the necessary tools. At NYU, for example, Triola said students sign out the glasses for every class period and are responsible for the items’ care and return. Unfortunately, such restrictions mean that students can’t use 3D while away from class. "That’s really a result of the glasses being locked up outside of lab time," said Triola.

  4. Take the time to manage your 3D content. Deliver the 3D in short, 10-15 minute segments, preview the content before showing it to the class, and test the 3D glasses to make sure they are operating before handing them out to the students. These three steps, Wilson explains, will help ensure that the 3D enhances the classroom instruction rather than distracting from it. Wilson, who helps professors set up technology in their classrooms, said the idea is not to fill classroom time with 3D content, but to augment lessons (like a heart dissection in biology or a motherboard assembly in computer technology) with "very short spurts of 3D that give students a more visually-stimulating experience."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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