July 29, 2013

3D in Tech Ed (1)

Riddle me this: “What’s the difference between Educational Technology and Technology Education?” The difference is significant in educational circles. Here are reasons why these are very different creatures and why that even matters:
  • Educational Technology generally describes a broad swathe of K-12 educators interested in integrating technology into various subject areas: language arts, math, science, and more. It’s a big tent.  Education Technology is represented by a number of well-known educational conferences: ISTE, FETC, TCEA, TIES, and Macul, to name a few.
  • Technology Education describes a smaller camp of educators—although an important and influential group. This category includes educators who teach courses in technology education,  applied technology, design, design engineering, career and technical education, STEM (applied science, technology, engineering, and math), CTE (career and technical education), and engineering education. Technology Education is represented by a large conference (ITEEA) and is linked with numerous state affiliate conferences and organizations. ITEEA has been around for a long time: they just celebrated their 75th anniversary conference. Interestingly, these educators are close marryin’ cousins with a recent culturematic: the Maker movement. (See Maker Faires and Maker Conferences.)

And now, the heart of our story: in March, I attended the 75th Anniversary ITEEA national conference in Columbus, Ohio. This was not new to me. Over the last dozen years I have led teams of teachers more than four times to this conference, searching for best practices. I have even been to this conference recruiting teachers for the Technology Education program I supervised in our school district. At this year’s conference, however, I found an opportunity for the first time to present on the topic of stereoscopic 3D. I had never seen a presentation on stereo 3D in my four previous visits to the conference, so I surveyed the crowd. No one had seen a presentation about stereoscopic 3D during their collective years of attendance either. Clearly, this was the first time stereoscopic 3D had come to the ITEEA technology education conference.
The participants liked what they saw and were eager to see more. Here are some of the memorable reactions I experienced:
  • Participants were in awe with the stereoscopic 3D resources demonstrated .
  • “I am amazed that Hollywood 3D isn’t as good is this educational 3D,” some responded. 
  • They walked up front, reached out to touch the images, whispered to each other, lingered long afterwards, and offered a continual stream of excited questions.
  • Teachers wanted to know how to get busy doing this—“What are the building blocks of getting started with 3D?”
  • Some attendees were rapidly and virally texting their administrators and colleagues about what they were seeing in this session.
  • Some students were wondering why they didn't do design work in stereo 3D .
  • One student wanted advice on how to convince his administrator how to jump into a new technology like this when his administrator had the tendency to be afraid of new things.

In out next post, we’ll take a closer look at technology education and why it matters to the world of 3D.

July 22, 2013

3D Symbiosis

I believe stereo 3D technology stands on its own merits within educational settings. I don’t believe, however, that its growth trajectory will accelerate to the degree desired without help from other, complementary technologies.  Only by joining together with other enabling technologies will 3D be hoisted into commercial and educational prominence.

Really, I’m talking about about the familiar saga of symbiosis. The German mycologist Heinrich Anton de Bary explained it most simply as "the living together of unlike organisms.”  In order to achieve its potential, stereo 3D will not stand on its own. Rather, 3D will require a type of stereo symbiosis to thrive. Here are my nominations for the most receptive symbiont combinations:

  • 3D + Gesture Recognition. “The eyes and hands have it.” Envision combining stereo 3D with the ability to control objects, navigation, or actions via natural hand gestures.
  • 3D + the Cloud. “The cloud has left the building.” Imagine being able to deliver stereo 3D via the Internet, enabling 3D companies to dispense with the complexity, copy protection, installation, and reinstallation schemes that so agitate customers. Putting 3D in the cloud will simplify the storage, delivery, and frequent refresh of 3D learning objects and simulations. 
  • 3D + volumetrics. “Dispensing with the fourth wall.” Imagine 3D combined with volumetrics, dissolving the barrier of the fourth wall and presenting  a new type of “circle 3D” or near-holography.  
  • 3D + 4K. “Okay—it sounds like a math equation—I get it.” Nonetheless, will the combination of stereo 3D and the stark realism of a 4K frame-rate produce the crowds and clamor many hope for?
  • 3D + Other. “3D done your way.” Perhaps there is another technology that makes sense as a symbiont with stereo 3D. What would you suggest?

Please vote on these nominations for the most receptive symbiont combination for accelerating 3D in the educational marketplace, or add your own (Check back to see how the vote is proceeding):

July 15, 2013

VREP Showcase

In closing this series of posts, I wanted to provide an example of the kind of work students produce in the VREP program, as seen in Alec Dalton’s  (a sophomore from Central City, Iowa) YouTube demonstration.

The VREP program smartly likes to create traction by showcasing the work of students through an annual public event. This year, the VREP Showcase was held on April 9th at the Meadows Center in Des Moines. Ten students from each participating school showcase their virtual reality and 3D work. This year’s showcase featured over 500 VREP students and educators from over 40 schools throughout Iowa and several other states. Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s Lt. Governor, and Mary Vermeer Andringa, President and CEO of Vermeer Corporation, were featured speakers.

This event also featured strong post-high school connections for students. Past graduates were invited to speak about their career choices. Jacob Meade, currently a Sophomore at UNI and former VREP Student, discussed his career choice and how he continues to use his VREP skills in his chosen profession as a future movie director/producer. Various colleges also attended the showcase, helping inform students about what they have to offer them to continue their work in STEM related fields. Technology companies like Grasshorse Studio also attend the Showcase, observing and providing feedback to students, as well as providing connections to their respective industries. Companies that would be interested in being VREP sponsors for future showcases are encouraged to contact the initiative director, Rex Kozak.

July 8, 2013

Another 3D Jedi

Get ready to meet another 3D Jedi master! “What is a 3D Jedi?” I consider 3D Jedi to be those rare educators who lead the way in student-created 3D content. (Here is a link to some of my past Future-Talk 3D postings about 3D Jedi in the U.S.: The 3D Jedi and the Return of the 3D Jedi .)

In last week’s post, we identified the great work underway in the Virtual Reality Educational Pathfinders program or VREPThe program’s success with students appears pronounced. According to Terry Collins, board president of the East Marshall Community Schools, "people really don't know what we have what we been able to do for students outside the typical educational realm.” He clarifies: "It [VREP] brings out introverted students. It's done great things for our students."

Rex Kozak, a 3D Jedi
Rex Kozak, principal of East Marshall High School and director of the overall VREP initiative suggests that the program has really nurtured student confidence, providing students with practical relevance for learning. He explains it this way: “Kids say ‘now I know why I'm taking this course.’" According to Kozak, "VREP knows no social or economic barriers." He tells the story of a struggling high school student with a 1.0 grade point average going on to community college and finding true academic success as a result of his participation in the very successful VREP program.

Program Reach
The program appears to possess a broad reach. At East Marshall High School, where the program originated, more than 200 students a year are typically engaged in 3D design experiences.  And if you count the students that they reach through classroom follow-up projects, plus others joining the program across Iowa and the nation, VREP has easily touched more than 5000+ students to date. 

Program Funding and Support
Interestingly, this project is funded and supported through local business partnerships. And it’s not the typical drive-by partnership we see so often in education. "This is true partnership," explains Kozak. "In my 30 years of education, this is the truest merger of education and industry to really promote the education of students that I have ever seen.” Elementary teacher Owen Credits his superintendent for securing donations and small grants to make his project happen. He adds: “John Deere has also donated technical expertise, along with a CAVE that VREP can access.”
Of course, the VREP project is in continuing need of support from interested business partners, both local and national.  Some of their needs include financial and equipment support, as well as connections to the industry to show how 3D is used in the real world. If you are interested in providing support or collaboration efforts, feel free to contact the VREP director, Rex Kozak.

July 1, 2013

Kids Make the Coolest Things

It’s funny how the 3D educational world works: good things are in fact happening, but often no one knows about them. That’s because educators rarely toot their own horn; it’s also because the education industry is highly isolated and successful programs are often geographically pigeonholed. Rarely do successes get the broad recognition they deserve.  One such success story takes place in Iowa. It involves the Virtual Reality Educational Pathfinders program or VREP.  Check out their VREP website.

In previous columns, I've mentioned that we see seven types of 3D content at play in education settings:
It is the last category—the constructivist notion of student-created content—that is exampled in this article. 

How It Works
The VREP program, underway for six years, enables students to take control of their own learning by designing  3D landscapes, objects, games, or simulations. (Examples include models of cells, DNA, ships, and etc.)

The VREP initiative is flexible. The VREP experience can be embedded in its own class; in other cases, it is offered as an after school activity. Students will often extend their new 3D expertise to other classrooms, collaborating with students and teachers to create an educational project that can be used directly in social studies, science or world language classes.  Similarly, students are able to use these student-designed 3D projects in fulfillment of their own course requirements in the same core content areas. Students are provided with opportunities to share their work with engineers and design experts in the work force, many of whom offer constructive feedback to the students. 

It should be noted that students begin their work in rendered 3D using the Blender freeware product, but often present their results in stereoscopic 3D. Stay tuned for part two of this three part series coming next week...