3D in the Classroom

Is the in-your-face technology the right fit for education?

GUEST COLUMN | by Cindy Jusko

CREDIT AVRover3D, as we all know, has been a buzzword of choice in recent years. From the movie theatre to the living room, there are a host of devices available to bring 3D into our lives, including TVs, projectors, monitors, computers…the list goes on. But is 3D technology the right fit for education? Studies point to Yes. When deployed strategically, 3D has been shown to not only increase test scores, but also foster an increased understanding of abstract, more difficult to grasp concepts. 3D technology also has been shown to command student’s attention, while enabling them to explore and experience key concepts on a more detailed, personal level.

Why 3D for education?
There are neurons in our brains, a specific type of mirror neuron, which encode information according to the viewer’s perceived distance from an object. When objects are perceived to be within our “haptic envelope” that is, the immediate space around us where we feel we can reach out and touch any given object, these neurons are activated, thus engaging more of our neural pathways and resulting in a stronger memory. What does this mean for education? Well, if an object can be brought closer to a student their retention will increase. But this isn’t always possible with a teacher up at the front of the classroom and students at their desks, right? And expensive touch-sensitive haptic technology devices are probably not affordable for most schools. Well, enter 3D technology. 3D images bring projected objects within each viewer’s haptic envelope, resulting in each viewer having the same experience at the same time.

Have you ever noticed when watching a 3D movie that no matter where you sit in the theatre the images on the screen always appear to be coming right at you? This means that an illusion of touch, thereby activating your spatially selective mirror neurons is giving you a richer experience. We can all probably recall an experience where a particular scent or touch triggered a specific memory. The more of our senses engaged in a particular activity, the more neural activity, the more we remember and retain. It makes sense then why study after study show increased understanding and retention with 3D technology.

The 3D Educational Effect

One such study, completed back in 2000 by the National Research Council of Canada, did a comparison of a standard 2D classroom experience vs. a 3D virtual training session for students engaged in wood harvesting. The findings were amazing. The students involved in 3D virtual training increased the volume of wood harvested by 23% while reducing mistakes as well vehicle repair and maintenance costs by 26%. Another study tested NASA employees in object recognition. The 3D virtual training participants had a decrease in errors by 40% and 12% faster recognition than their 2D training counterparts.

On an industry note, Texas Instrument DLP Division conducted a series of 3D Case studies to demonstrate the advantages 3D poses for education “The overall average gain between a pre-test and post-test was 32 percent… In addition, the data was segmented into various subgroups such as socioeconomic status, IEP, ethnicity, male/female, and math ISAT scores. All groups showed gains from 29-35 percent. The largest difference was in the male/female group, where the males’ average scores increased by 29 percent, while females’ scores increased 35 percent… The improvements were significant and frankly, amazing, compared to traditional textbook methods.” (DLP Texas Instruments-Classroom 3D Case Study)

Another report by Dr. Anne Bamford of the International Research Agency, showed similar results when a control groups’ test scores were compared to a group of students taught with 3D technology. “86% of pupils improved from the pre-test to the post-test in the 3D classes, compared to only 52% who improved in the 2D classes. Within the individuals who improved, the rate of improvement was also much greater in the classes with the 3D. Individuals improved test scores by an average of 17% in the 3D classes, compared to only an 8% improvement in the 2D classes between pre-test and post-test.

AOA Endorsement

The American Optometric Association encourages the use of 3D for education, recognizing not only the educational benefits, but the potential health benefits as well. In their study they’ve found that “as many as 1 in 4 US students may be unable to partake in 3D learning activities due to under performance of various aspects of the vision system that have gone undetected and untreated…if an individual experiences any of the 3 D’s of 3D- discomfort, dizziness and lack of depth perception—these signals can serve as an early indicator of some measure of vision impairment. The good news is that, once identified, these conditions generally respond well to treatment.” Especially in the case of younger students, the American Optometric Association of America actually recommends using 3D in the classroom as a way of better detecting vision problems. It’s been found that pre-existing conditions that might have remained unseen are better diagnosed with 3D technology.

The results are clear. 3D has a powerful effect on students understanding, awareness and retention. One reason could be that we are engaging mirror neurons by bringing objects and videos within our haptic envelope. Research has shown that students are more attentive and perform better academically when taught with 3D technology and the American Optometric Association has even endorsed educational 3D as both an instructional aid and a diagnostic tool. As we endeavor to make the educational environment richer and more engaging for everyone involved, 3D technology is an easy way to make learning more personal and more productive than ever before.

Having been at the forefront of portable 3D implementations at AVRover for the past 4 years, Cindy Jusko is passionate about bringing the proven benefits of 3D Technology to classrooms. Being on the frontline in dealing with AVRover’s education customers, Cindy has seen the increase in student achievement and the excitement that student show when 3D instruction is incorporated into their lessons. Write to: cindyj@avrover.com

  • Martin Rayala


    Thanks for the thoughtful article on 3D imaging (creating the illusion of depth in film and television) in classrooms. Much of the attention on 3D lately has been on 3D printing (printing objects) and 3D animation (digital animation that isn’t the flat cel painting technique of early Disney). All of these versions of “3D” should become part of classroom instruction even prior to the availability of the technology. Since it will be some time before most schools have access to the appropriate technologies, it is nonetheless important for teachers to introduce the concepts and principles of these formats so that students know about them and are prepared for the near future. “We can’t afford … (fill in the blank)”, shouldn’t be an excuse for not introducing students to important modes of communication. Students need to learn about skyscrapers without building them, 3D movies without making them, space travel without having a rocket in their classroom, etc. Hands-on, experiential learning is best but should not be used as an excuse for not learning about things that can’t be personally experienced. School “realities” should include natural, built, augmented, mediated, simulated and virtual realities whenever possible.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: