A pilot project in the Rock Island, Ill., school district last year showed dramatic improvements in students’ understanding of earth science. To see how well 3D content worked as a teaching tool, the district set up an experiment in which a high school teacher taught a ninth-grade lesson in earth science to four sixth-grade classes. Two of the classes were demographically representative of the district, and the other two consisted of low-income students. For each type of group, one class was taught using JTM’s 3D earth-science content, and the other served as a control group.

“In the first school, the control group test scores increased 9.7 percent [between pre- and post-lesson assessments]. But the group that received its lesson in 3D saw a 35 percent increase,” said JTM Director Tracey Masamoto. “And in the second school with low-income students, the score improvements were 9.7 percent for the control group and 23 percent for students who received the 3D lesson.”

“This was a dramatic difference—for both our teachers and students,” said Rock Island Superintendent Rick Loy. “The improvements were significant and frankly, amazing, compared [with] traditional textbook methods.”

Boulder Valley’s Scrogan said five of his schools are evaluating the use of 3D content in science and math classes. Teachers have noticed an increase in student engagement, he said—but “we don’t care as much about engagement. We care about learning results.” He added: “Our initial pre-post test performance appears promising, and we start a university study on effectiveness this fall.”

The first challenge in implementing 3D for education was, “Where is the content?” Scrogan said. “That’s coming in a very big way.”

The next challenge, he said, is: “What kind of content makes the most sense: movie segments, learning objects, micro-simulations, complex simulations, or content creation?” Those are decisions that individual schools will have to make.

A further challenge will be “establishing technical standards,” Scrogan said. “Most of the vendors have their own proprietary drivers, players, and protocols. This just won’t work. Schools won’t want to deal with this.” Another key challenge “involves design standards that minimize motion sickness; we are working on classroom guidelines in this area.”

Other emerging challenges in teaching and learning with 3D content include “greater simplicity and ease of use for teachers, overly-restrictive content protection schemes, and realistic licensing costs,” Scrogan concluded.