Educating in the Third Dimension

By Graham Quince

Firstly a bit of a confession, I’m not a fan of 3D. I honestly don’t think it adds anything to the movie experience. Plot makes a movie worth watching, not 50ft robots smashing debris into the audience. I’m not in the minority either, ticket sales keep proving most people aren’t interested in sitting for 2 hours to watch a theme park attraction. I first saw modern 3D in the Terminator 2 show at Universal Studios. It blew me away. It was amazing. It was 10 minutes long and things kept jumping out from the screen. And that’s my point, 3D is a gimmick. It’s very cool, but like a rollercoaster, it works best in short doses.

Graham Quince

3D when used correctly is impressive, dramatic, spectacular adding a “wow” factor to any event. And in school that “wow” factor can be (and is), used to inspire students whenever it has been applied. I have used 3D to launch topics in Maths, Humanities and Media. We’ve inspired students and teachers alike and it has become a staple of our school musicals. In analogy, we’ve used 3D like a smart bomb, targeting it to the points in the curriculum where its impact will be most effective.

Our journey began in 2008, as a new section of our school was being built. Funding from the Project Faraday (a body set up to encourage innovative uses of ICT in teaching) enabled us to look at 3D systems. We approached Inition and they recommended and supplied a Passive Stereoscopic system. The benefit of the passive system is the very low running costs, as the glasses used are of the cheap, plastic variety. Perfect for idle hands. At the time, active shutter systems were exorbitantly expensive, but they do have one benefit over passive; the system is portable and the lighting conditions do not have to be optimal. That said, if I was buying a school system today, I would still buy the passive system. We can have 300 students watching 3D with our current system and it’s very low maintenance.

Cramlington Learning Village 3D screenLearning in the 3rd Dimension at Cramlington Learning Village

We make almost all of our own content. I used Maxon’s Cinema4D to create computer graphics. C4D is a relatively cheap 3D product (£250 education licence) and it has quite an easy learning curve. In addition, we’ve bought a Panasonic T750 camcorder which comes with a 3D lens attachment. The video shot by this camcorder is side-by-side and can be edited directly in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5. The footage from it is very impressive and gives a real sense of depth. We hope to use this more and more, especially for things like debriefs on field trips. Unfortunately, we’ve struggled to play 3D Blu-ray films using the passive stereoscopic system. The Blu-ray Standard does not allow for two projectors, instead only providing interlaced (read more expensive) playback. There are various software “hacks” that can be used but they are time-consuming. The final part of the arsenal is my NVIDIA 3D Vision monitor I use to test the footage I make. This comes in very handy for preparing footage and saves me walking to and from our presentation space when correcting errors.

In terms of Teaching and Learning, the students love it. I have really seen them so engaged en masse as at the start of one module in Mathematics. The launch of term-long topic entitled “how can Maths save the planet” could have been delivered by PowerPoint easily enough, but I doubt it would have excited them in quite the same way. I made a planet Earth (with some really beautiful textures from NASA’s free galleries) and we placed a series of questions in order around it. The audience then flew from question to question while Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire” played – cheesy, but cheesy works with 11-year-olds. To launch a week-long off-timetable investigation about modern cities, we filmed a local architect against greenscreen, then placed him in a futuristic, Matrix-like city. He spoke for 12-minutes, broken up into chunks as the camera flew through the streets. He was accompanied by a small droid which would hold up relevant images and come out of the screen to greet the audience.

It is in our drama performances where I think we’ve had the most fun with 3D. For the last few years, our musicals have been accompanied by 3D visuals. In Return to Forbidden Planet, we had the monsters lumber up and reach out to the audience, before joining in the choreography of Monster Mash. In Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Joseph’s dreams leapt out at the audience and for this year’s We Will Rock You we’re planning to up the game. The nice element of this is that it provides an enthusiasm boost for the performers, as the visuals are not seen until the dress rehearsals. After weeks of rehearsals, it brings a novelty and freshness for them. Of course, it also entertains the younger siblings during the performance too.

In future, I’d like to use the Panasonic camera more, to film close-ups of experiments for Science, to provide virtual field trips and to generally open students’ eyes to what is possible. Thinking about it I suppose I should retract my original confession, it turns out I am a fan of 3D after all.

Graham Quince is the VLE Coordinator and one of three web designers at Cramlington Learning Village (Academy). He works primarily with the Science, Mathematics, ICT and drama departments at the school. A large part of Graham’s role is R&D and he has helped develop the use of video recording, greenscreen filming, 3D production and interactive surfaces within the school. Before Cramlington, Graham worked for the BBC in London. He started in the streaming video department of BBC News Online, before moving to CBBC’s Newsround. Graham runs an e-learning blog  full of tips and advice on software. He has also contributed several articles and tutorials to online publications.

Cramlington Learning Village

Cramlington Learning Village is a Comprehensive School in the North East of England. We have been graded 'outstanding' in the last three OFSTED inspections.

We have a commitment to personalising learning which means putting the learner and learning at the heart of everything we do.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free  e-newsletter for those with a professional interest in educational ICT.