Evaluating the Effectiveness of 3D in Education

By Professor Dr Anne Bamford, International Research Agency

Computer generated animation has been in development of some form or another since the 1960s. However it was not until the 1990s that 3D within the general entertainment industry became more widespread. More recently, the phenomenal success of movies like Avatar have propelled 3D technology into the limelight, forcing other industries to take notice of its potential.

3D Education Research Study Introduction.

The use of 3D in the classroom has emerged as a growing trend in the past 12 months, with the technology promising enormous potential as a tool in teaching and learning. Some, however, have already expressed doubt about the long term effectiveness of 3D as a teaching tool, viewing it as nothing more than a passing fad. It was with this in mind that Professor Anne Bamford, director of the International Research Agency, set out to discover just what effect 3D had on the classroom environment through her recent “Learning in Future Education” [LiFE] project, the results of which were published in September.

The LiFE project, which was supported by the technology provider Texas Instruments DLP, was a detailed research investigation of the impact of 3D on pupils’ learning. The goal was to determine the most effective type of 3D experiences in the classroom and to measure the value and impact of these experiences on learning and achievement. The research took place between October 2010 and May 2011 across seven countries in Europe and focused on pupils between the ages of 10-13 years.

From the start of the research project, it was evident that 3D was not a new technology for the pupils involved. In terms of general awareness levels, children and young people of today are already well accustomed to the 3D experience. As indicated by the research, 90% of pupils had seen at least one 3D movie, with three or more 3D movies being a more common result. The pupils were very knowledgeable about general innovations in 3D and generally held positive attitudes towards the technology. Most were keen to introduce more 3D into their life and learning and were excited by their involvement in the research.

The primary benefit of 3D in the classroom is thought to aid visual learning. It is common knowledge that children find it hard to understand what is not visible. Visual learning is known to improve their understanding of functionality with the idea being that by seeing the whole, children are able to understand the parts. Similarly, complex concepts become more easily digested when reduced to imagery.

The research results suggested that 3D animated models were able to represent information in the most economical manner to facilitate learning and comprehension, simplifying complex, abstract and impossibly large amounts of information into a coherent form.

As a result, the children were able to understand greater levels of complexity, as the animations allowed them to move around within structures to see how things worked. In particular, the 3D animations made it possible for pupils to move rapidly from the whole structure to various parts of the structure.

This ability to simplify complex information was apparent in the results of the research. These indicated 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% in the 2D classes. Within the individuals with better scores, the rate of improvement was also much greater in the classes with the 3D. Individuals enhanced test scores by an average of 17% in the 3D classes, compared to only 8% in the 2D classes between pre-test and post-test.

The marked improvement in test scores was also supported by qualitative data which showed that 100% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that 3D animations in the classroom made the children understand things better and 100% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the pupils discovered new things in 3D learning that they did not know before.

Other facts noted by the research included the following:

• The pupils in the 3D class were more likely to recall detail and sequence of processes in recall testing than the 2D group.
• The 3D pupils were more likely to perform better in open-ended and modeling tasks – being able to ‘think’ in 3D and often using hand gestures or mime to recreate the 3D experience
• After four weeks the pupils’ retention was tested and it was found that pupils in the 3D classes could remember more than the 2D classes

The use of 3D in the classroom also led to positive changes in pupils’ behaviour and communication patterns and overall improved classroom interaction.

The post-survey of teachers revealed that 100% of teachers felt that the pupils paid more attention in 3D lessons than other lessons. The main factor appeared to be that levels of attentiveness increased during and immediately after the 3D experience. On average, 46% of pupils were attentive at 5 minute interval tests during the non-3D part of teaching the lesson compared to 92% of pupils being attentive at 5 minute intervals during 3D part of the lesson. Interestingly, when the 3D part of the lesson was over, attentiveness continued to rise and would remain high for the rest of the lesson.

So what does the future hold for 3D in schools?

For effective adoption of 3D, schools would need to see the value of 3D within the whole school ICT strategic framework. This research provides an evidence-base for ICT planning that includes a commitment to a provision of advanced 3D resources for the classroom both with regards to physical and technical (hardware, software and knowledge) components and the promotion of “enabling technology”; in other words technology that is easy and empowering for both pupils and teachers to use. The LiFE research has clearly demonstrated that 3D can create an immersive learning environment that is a different way to learn and makes school subjects come alive.

Professor Anne Bamford is Director of the International Research Agency and Director of Education in southern England. Anne has been recognized nationally and internationally for her research in arts education, emerging literacies and visual communication. She is an expert in the international dimension of arts and cultural education and through her research, she has pursued issues of innovation, social impact and equity and diversity.

For more information and a copy of The 3D in Education White Paper visit:

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