How to use 3D in the classroom effectively

The AOA says there is no evidence that viewing or attempting to view 3D images will harm a child’s eyes.

Although some people report headaches or other problems from viewing 3D images, that’s not a reason for educators to shy away from using 3D in the classroom, optometrists say. In fact, the use of 3D images in school can help diagnose vision problems among students at an earlier age and can enhance teaching and learning.

That’s the conclusion of a new report on 3D use in K-12 schools, which says headaches that occur while or just after watching 3D video are one of the most common reasons why people opt not to experience 3D. This problem could indicate vision failure, optometrists say—something that 3D use in schools could help identify in children.

The report, titled “3D in the Classroom: See Well, Learn Well Public Health Report,” published by the American Optometric Association (AOA), describes a series of recommendations that can help schools use 3D technology in a way that enables students to “thrive and learn more efficiently in [many] subjects; better preparing them for life and advancing career challenges ahead.”

“3D approaches to learning can serve as a fulcrum for enhanced teaching and improved assurance of school readiness,” says AOA President Dori Carlson.

Carlson says using 3D video or images in the classroom can help in two ways: First, children often learn faster and retain more information in a 3D environment; and second, the ability to perceive depth in a 3D presentation turns out to be a highly sensitive assessment tool, able to assess a range of vision health indicators with much higher sensitivity than the standard eye chart that has been in use for the last 150 years.

“The good news is that for the estimated one in four children who have underlying issues with overall vision, 3D viewing can unmask previously undiagnosed deficiencies and help identify and even treat these problems,” says Carlson. “This is because 3D viewing requires that both eyes function in a coordinated manner as they converge, focus, and track the 3D image.”

According to the report, one of the most common indicators of underlying vision problems is an adverse reaction to watching 3D, such as headaches, eyestrain, dizziness, or nausea. Excessive fidgeting, playing with 3D glasses, or covering one eye also can indicate problems in the 3D presentation environment, the report notes.

While viewing 3D images can alert experts to children’s eye problems, the AOA says there is no evidence that viewing or attempting to view 3D images will harm a child’s eyes.

Watch: Highlights from the 3D Vision and Eye Health Symposium, sponsored by the AOA and 3D@Home Consortium

Children with vision problems “typically do not know that their vision is impaired, nor do they think that they see differently from anyone else,” says the report. But in “nearly all cases, after a comprehensive eye exam, and appropriate treatment, normal levels of ‘stereopsis’ (the ability to see in 3D) can be achieved.”

The AOA says there are a few common causes of 3D viewing challenges, such as refractive problems (nearsightedness, farsightedness), lack of binocular vision, lazy eye, eye coordination difficulties, eye focusing difficulties, or dizziness and nausea caused by the balance system. More information can be found in the report.

Why 3D is important

“These 3D videos help me learn easier,” said one middle school student from Colorado who is quoted in the report, “because I’m a visual learner. Seeing what is going on is much more helpful than just talking about it. Because it’s in 3D, it’s literally in front of you.”

Quotes like these, scattered throughout the report, paint a picture of students’ preferences for visual learning—a type of learning that many 21st-century digital natives have come to appreciate.

But students aren’t the only fans: 3D “is an engaging and attractive introduction to new material,” said one teacher, and 3D “is a way to help students understand how complex systems work,” said another.

The report describes ways to manage the classroom environment for optimizing 3D use in the classroom, as well as how best to manage the 3D glasses, 3D content, and viewing difficulties.

Some examples include:

  • Always preview the 3D materials. This requires the teacher to have appropriate vision health as well.
  • Identify general student health issues in advance.
  • Ensure that students keep the glasses off until the 3D content is ready to view.
  • Keep the transitions within and between the 3D images smooth and slow.
  • If students are feeling dizzy or nauseous, take the glasses off immediately and have them close their eyes for 10 seconds or look at a distant object.
  • The teacher should avoid repeatedly looking from screen to class and back again. This can provoke uncomfortable effects for the teacher.

Many more tips are given in the report.

“There will come a time when being ‘stereo-capable’ will be an important component of a student’s eligibility for [his or her] chosen career path,” said Len Scrogan, director of instructional technology for Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District. “It will be our duty to ensure—as far as we can—that our students are stereo-capable.”

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Meris Stansbury

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