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Educators sound off on 3D in the classroom

"It all depends upon the learning objectives identified first, and of course the budget available," said one reader.

As educators grapple with school reform, many agree that schools must update their practices and technology to better engage students and prepare them for 21st-century careers. Some educators believe 3D technology could hold a key: After all, if it works for the movies, it can work for schools, too. But others aren’t so sure.

To gauge educators’ opinions on 3D technology in the classroom, we recently asked readers: “Has your classroom/school/district begun thinking of 3D? Have you implemented any 3D technology or checked out some 3D curriculum content? What do you think of the 3D movement?”

While some readers say successful implementation of 3D technology in science and math classes can make a remarkable difference in student comprehension and engagement, many worry the cost doesn’t yet justify the return on investment.

(Comments edited for brevity.)

It has proven results

“There’s this new evolving 3D education technology that is dramatically increasing test scores. The test scores were just released with 3D Education at Dixon High School, Honors biology class, which had 100 percent proficiency and 60 percent level 4s. The general biology course students were above 80 percent proficiency, and 75 percent proficiency in the high level 3s for EC students with IEPs. We recently had Channel 9 News in Greenville do a feature on all of the benefits 3D education has provided this biology teacher and his students that are using our content and hardware. Our company has a wide range of content, including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Health, and Math. The results of 3D education are extremely positive in every level of schooling from elementary to high school, including special-needs students. The dynamics of 3D instruction is improving, and will continue to improve, students’ test scores.” —Andy Canady, President, Skylink Family & School Network, Sneads Ferry, N.C.

Learning should come first

“First and foremost, no school will ever future-proof itself. …The digital world of only five years from now is unknown for the most part today. I’m not full-time in K-12, but my suggestion for any technology upgrade is to start with what you want the students to be able to do (learning objectives). Sort these learning objectives into three groups: (1) ones being done now, in a different manner or elsewhere in the same or different manner; (2) ones that might be characterized as the next evolution, maybe or maybe not doable with current technology but possibly doable; and (3) the ideal, far out, ‘that’ll never happen in my lifetime’ type of learning objectives.

“The ones in category (1) ought to be a line item in annual budgets for the most part—recognizing the evolving nature of technology and applications; the ones in category (2) are ones to have the ‘technology committee’ be following in the literature and maybe even be prototyping with the student technology club; and the ones in category (3) are the ones the technology committee and student technology club ought to be defining as much as possible and raising in appropriate audiences (chat rooms, blogs, etc.) in order to get feedback on usefulness and feasibility and to plant seeds in the real innovative entrepreneurs’/intrepreneurs’ minds as something sought.

“So where is 3D technology today in this categorization? For sure, it’s got to be in (1) or (2), right? The technology does exist now. It all depends upon the learning objectives identified first, and of course the budget available. The worst scenario to me is having the first decision be ‘we have to have that’ and then seek options to use it.” —John Bennett, Emeritus Professor/Associate Dean, University of Connecticut, Coventry, Conn.

Proceed cautiously

“Our experience (and I’m sure that the experience of many other schools is very similar to ours) has been that we have mistakenly chased the latest fads, only to find that they are not ready fits into the curriculum. We have tried to move to a position of looking at how the technology will impact learning and how it will be applied in an academic context before we do a large-scale migration or implementation. The danger of moving rapidly into a 3D environment is that the amount of resources available in that format may be very limited, and the technology is still emerging and more expensive than it will be in a year or two. So, trying to do a widespread adoption of 3D now will most likely result in the purchase of equipment that is not yet proven or fully developed and which will have only limited use. A better approach will be to do a very limited adoption in places where it will have the most immediate impact (perhaps in special-education classes) and then, as software and hardware improve, and after you have become more knowledgeable in the new technology, begin to migrate over to the newer format in video presentations.” —James Gregory, Federal Programs Coordinator, Lincoln Consolidated School District

“The problem here is that many of us find trying to look at 3D videos … is not something that is done well and/or clearly. If you wear glasses, it is usually a frustrating experience. … I do not think that this technology is a practical concern yet—give it another five years. We have had such a rush to other technologies that have resulted in much money spent, and not nearly a good enough payback for it. Too many teachers have digital resources that are underutilized. I dare say that, as usual, advertising hype has outpaced real utility for many products.” —George F. Bischoff, III MS science teacher, Nash-Rocky Mount Early College High School, Rocky Mount, N.C.

Do you really need it?

“Again, we are running after technology as if it solves all our problems. Technology is a tool, not a silver bullet (unless you are a vendor, and have a lot at stake). I wish educators would understand they are treated like medical doctors: courted by representatives of an industry which exists to improve their bottom line—not education’s. Educators’ time, like medical doctors’ time, is wasted by a never-ending flood of new products. One has barely been unwrapped and there is the next better ‘thingemabob.’ In the mean time, our children barely know how to read, write, and do basic math. But we sure have created an awesome set of button-pushers!” —Rudy Schellekens, Muscatine, Iowa

If students like it, then why not?

“When thinking about how to incorporate technology into the classroom, an effective teacher must begin with one question: What piece of technology is engaging the student outside of the classroom? Anyone that has been to the movie theater in the recent months has seen 3D movies becoming more and more commonplace. With this in mind, I have begun using Adaptive Curriculum’s 3D models in my science classrooms. One particular model allows students and teachers an in-depth look into the human body. Using an easy-to-use interface, students take a model cadaver and can easily maneuver around 360 degrees to see exactly how each layer of the human body is constructed. By removing each piece or body system one at a time on the 3D model, students are able to see how body systems work together to maintain homeostasis. The 3D technology in this program has allowed me as a teacher to introduce my students into deeper analysis of the human body that might otherwise be cheesy or moderately amusing at best.” —Chris Brown, science teacher and dean of students, Shoal River Middle School,
Crestview, Fla.

See also:

3D technology helps autistic kids learn to read

Research: 3D content can help improve learning

How to use 3D in the classroom effectively

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