July 27, 2015

3D @ San Antonio College

Often, nascent 3D (or 4K for that matter) hardware and software manufacturers simply push their wares at the wrong conferences. Dedicated community college conferences make for more fertile ground for 3D or 4K sales in education. It makes sense. Here's something I learned from a recent community college conference:

Aaron Ellis, the Senior Multimedia Specialist at San Antonio College, provided an in-depth session on “3D visualization for STEM disciplines.” In this session, he explained the efforts at San Antonio College to use 3D technology from the entertainment industry (film, television, games) to capture and deliver educational STEM content to students. “For some concepts and skills, lecture isn't always enough. And textbooks can't always explain and illustrate everything students need to understand,” explained Ellis, a former classroom and online instructor.

Ellis works closely with his STEM faculty to identify concepts that students consistently misconceive in their science classes. His group then evaluates that content for potential alternative methods of delivery to students. “Sometimes a well-built animation or video clip can meet the need,” he explains. “But other times interactive 3D is the only thing that can help students finally ‘get it’". Ellis also believes that the virtualization of artifacts and concepts is sometimes “the only way for online students to experience anything close to hands-on learning. “ Most of what Ellis tackles is at the direct request of their faculty, designed to enhance a specific instructional topic. However, sometimes opportunities arise that Ellis senses are too important to miss out on. For example, when dinosaur tracks were uncovered in limestone layers at a nearby state park, Ellis took their 3D scanning equipment out on the site in 100+ temperatures and collected data from over 50 footprints.

San Antonio College uses a variety of technologies to capture or create the rendered and stereo 3D content that they deliver to their STEM students. “The primary capture process we use is called photogrammetry”, explains Ellis. “Photogrammetry allows us to make digital 3D replicas of real objects by stitching together multiple photographs of that object from a variety of angles using specialized software.” He adds: “Recently, we began using a scanning electron microscope to image micro- and nano-scale objects and turn them into 3D models.” For more information, and an overview of their many projects, take time to survey Ellis’ blog
at http://stemviz.wordpress.com.

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