Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Want interactive learning? Forget the Smartboard. Consider 3D!

Gaia 3D - Finally! An ed product that doesn’t kill
creativity, imagination, or critical thinking!
In school I learned to HATE many subjects. For example I hated history because strangers, strange lands, and strange facts seemed to have no place on the strange timeline I was told to memorize but for which I had no learning context. At the same time, one of my favorite (though admittedly, not safest) pastimes was to sneak into abandon homes and learn about the past through artifacts, newspapers, letters, magazines, and really anything I could find.  I could sit in a house for hours reading through and looking at everything. I was fascinated with looking at what prices were in the past, the sort of businesses that people were in and the language in the letters that people wrote.  I also learned to HATE science. Memories of a boring lecture followed by read chapter 6 and answer the questions at the end, still haunt me. At the same time, I was fascinated with the ocean and sea life. I loved snorkeling and later SCUBA diving and wanted to know all about the creatures of the sea.

School should not be a place that kills our love for that which fascinates us in the real world. Unfortunately, for many, textbooks, tests, and teacher lectures strip away the excitement and discovery of learning. 

Fortunately, things can be different for children today, with the introduction of Gaia 3D.  This innovative technology literally transports learners back in time to meander through ancient streets on an exploration of the past. Learning is brought to life as children can take a class trip to places like ancient Rome, through WWI barracks, or through 17th century London during the bubonic plague.  What is even cooler is that learners are not just exploring and discovering. As they develop interests in various areas they can do further research and then add their findings to the 3D content. For example, a student interested in the bubonic plague, could create a video about how the rats spread the plague and when clicking on a rat, the video could be programmed to play.  Perhaps a student interested in the ancient Rome practice of selling children into slavery or marriage wanted to create an audio script or poem of what a young girl felt. This audio could be added to the content. The options to add original content are endless. 

Not only can teachers and students create content within the existing library, they can also create original content.  The folks at Gaia have also found that many students who are not traditionally academically gifted have taken off when it comes to creating 3D animation using the AutoDesk 3D design software and for those interested in that there is free AutoDesk 3D design software for students, competitions, and even design certifications. 

Unlike expensive Smartboard technology, which claims to be interactive, but actually promotes poor pedagogy, Gaia 3D provides true interactivity and engagement. It can be used in virtually any content area with libraries in Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Physics, Mathematics, Physical Education, English and more. What’s more, labels, signs, identifiers, artifacts, and audio can be added in any language desired.  The interactivity comes from the ability of the user to literally choose their own discovery and adventure, add and create their own content. One of the newest innovations is that it is partnering with Xbox Kinect so students’ can actually see their effect on the environment or objects. For those who can't leave the board behind, Gaia 3D can be integrated with that as well.

Teachers using the technology report students are on task, excited, and engaged. They report that it makes difficult concepts much easier to understand and they can do so in much less time. The results of the research indicate a marked positive effect of the use of 3D animations on learning, recall and performance in tests. Under experimental conditions, 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.

The students who have used the technology felt strongly (84% agreed or strongly agreed) that 3D had improved their learning and there were high levels of satisfaction with 3D learning. Teachers and learners alike agreed that learning this way was much more fun. Additionally, like my earlier personal anecdote, students using 3D were indeed more likely to recall detail and sequence of processes and stated that 3D made learning more “real.” Teachers explained that these concrete, “real” examples aided understanding and improved results when measuring understanding. If your school or district wants to invest in classrooms of the future, this innovative educator says forget that money you were going to allocate to the interactive whiteboard and instead invest this truly interactive technology and provide teachers with a 3D presentation station*.
*To set up a 3D presentation station you will want the following hardware:
  • A DLP 3D-enabled projector: The majority of new projectors purchased for schools already have this capability, and future purchases of DLP projectors are generally no more expensive than those that are not 3D-capable.
  • A laptop or PC with good graphic capability: Most standard PCs and laptops can be fitted with the necessary upgraded graphics card for only a small cost. More recent laptops tend to have adequate graphics cards.
    • Personal Devices: Small groups or individuals can work with 3D environments and images on laptops, desktop PCs and plasma screens.  
  • 3D content: There are a number of 3D software content providers and currently more than 3,000 pieces of free 3D content available online.
  • 3D active glasses: There are a number of companies making ‘active’ glasses. They vary considerably in quality and price. Ideally the pupils should have a pair of active glasses each so that the fit and comfort is suitable for the individual child. Class sets of glasses are also available.


  1. I wonder why you bury the lede in this piece. From what I see, this is a very useful tool, but I stopped reading and started skimming about halfway through the second paragraph because of your diatribe against your personal experience in school. I'm sure that if you wanted to talk about this product, you could have done it without the editorial.

    1. @Anonymous,
      This blog is not a product review blog. It's a blog that often uses personal narrative to explore learning solutions. If you want a dry product review, this is the wrong place. If you want to discover how innovative ideas help solve problems explained through real-world narratives, feel free to come back.

    2. Fair enough, but why do the first couple of paragraphs sound like every bad PD speaker I've had to sit through my entire career? I mean, I don't expect school to be the way it was when I was a student 20-30 years ago, so why harp on it? If you want to use the personal angle, why not begin with something recent and relevant to today's students, parents, and teachers?

    3. I work with students and teachers today, and in most cases, this is still the way things are. I DO NOT blame teachers for this. In many cases, their hands are tied and they have to take what they can get and do as they're told.

      Many adults and young people feel it was their fault that they didn't learn/weren't good at various subjects in school. I think it is a good way to set the stage to provide an answer to a problem many of us can relate to.

  2. "I work with students and teachers today, and in most cases, this is still the way things are. I DO NOT blame teachers for this. In many cases, their hands are tied and they have to take what they can get and do as they're told. "

    So they're not just following orders?

    1. When your hands are tied and you are forced to do as you're told, you are indeed just following orders. Some are speaking but not without fearing that the safety of the jobs are compromised.

  3. 3D in the classroom is growing significantly since much of the hardware is already in place in the classroom to support 3D. There are lots of interesting development going on. There now is even a PowerPoint 3D for taking existing 2D presentations and making them 3D very quickly. It is free and available for download form

  4. Lisa, I am curious whether you do work with Children in the classroom with 3D. I really believe content is finally catching up with the needs for educators. This has been the one thing holding back 3D was content and now I think Educators are having a lot more choices now. While smartboards are cool for interacting now we are starting to see interactive boards that are supporting 3D so they combine the best of both worlds.