3D technologies are ready for the “prime time” of the higher education classroom and laboratory because they have evolved such that lecturers now have the capacity to leverage them creatively and effectively, according to D Christopher Brooks, the Director of Research at EDUCAUSE.

Brooks was commenting on the findings of the EDUCAUSE/HP Campus of the Future project, entitled Learning in Three Dimensions, which conducted a large-scale, educational technology evaluation of 3D technologies across 11 US universities – including Harvard, Yale, Syracuse, MIT and San Diego.

The project sought to identify “interesting and novel uses” of 3D technology and to identify types of uses of 3D technologies – including VR, AR, 3D scanning, and 3D printing – that “hold the greatest potential for learning and research outcomes”.

It describes a range of pedagogical uses of 3D tech in higher education, from “augmenting experiences in the physical world” to creating “simulations of things that are inaccessible in the physical world”, and from “designing virtual things that may be made into physical things” to “repeating experiences virtually that cannot be repeated in the physical world”.

It also discusses “hurdles” in implementing 3D technology and the possible future of 3D technology in higher education.


‘3D technologies enable active and experiential learning’

Two findings are that 3D technologies enable active and experiential learning, and promote shared experiences and collaboration. Further, 3D technologies “support a wide range of learning goals across a wide range of disciplines”.

The report notes that innovation is not confined only to technology development – “innovations in pedagogy are equally if not more important to institutions of higher education”.

Brooks reports that one key discovery was that 3D technologies “really lend themselves to experiential or active learning approaches to instruction, creating opportunities for instructors from a range of disciplines to do things that would otherwise be difficult or impossible”.


Examples of projects enabled by 3D include:

  • Re-creating historical spaces that are difficult or impossible to visit
  • Building models of contemporary environments that can be easily manipulated
  • Looking beneath the veneer of a structure to understand its construction
  • Developing anatomy simulations to understand the spatial and functional relationships of organs
  • Using overlays of existing processes to reveal or illustrate things that we simply cannot observe
  • Touring the inside of a cell to identify and understand the functions of its components


‘3D technologies give users virtual superpowers’


The key findings of the project, as outlined by the report’s author Jeffrey Pomerantz, were:

3D technologies give users virtual superpowers.“In a virtual reality (VR) simulation, a user can fly like Iron Man, have superstrength like Wonder Woman, and walk through walls like Kitty Pryde. VR and augmented reality (AR) give users X-ray vision like Superman’s. VR and 3D printing give users the ability to manipulate very small objects, like Ant-Man and the Wasp; to manipulate energy, like Magneto; and to create objects from empty space, like Doctor Manhattan and Elsa of Arendelle.”

VR is like being there.“A well-constructed simulation is visceral: One’s intellectual and physiological reactions to objects and events in VR are similar -and sometimes identical – to one’s reactions in the physical world.”

VR and AR are multisensory experiences.“Much VR and AR development focuses on the visual functionality of those technologies, but they are capable of more. The auditory functionality of VR and the haptic functionality of both VR and AR are critical for creating a realistic simulation.”

3D technologies enable active and experiential learning.“Virtual reality simulations enable users to interact in a space or around an object in ways beyond what is possible in the real world. Augmented reality enables users to interact with an object while possessing ‘superpowers,’ such as the ability to see through surfaces or to see data overlying objects. With 3D printing, users can quickly create physical objects that might otherwise exist only in simulations.”

Simulations enable individual practice and skill-building.“In the medical professions, for example, VR enables students to repeat hands-on experiences that might not otherwise be possible and to experience events that they might not otherwise be able to (eg, diagnosing a rare condition, testing specific types of emergency medicine).”

Simulations enable high-touch, high-cost learning experiences to be scaled up.“While developing a simulated lab may be expensive, it is far less expensive than building and maintaining a physical lab. Furthermore, a simulated lab can be made available to individuals who are not co-located. VR and 3D printing therefore make it possible to provide lab experiences to a far greater number of users, perhaps even simultaneously.”

3D technologies foster and sometimes require collaboration between campus units.“The deployment of new technologies often fosters new collaborations across campus. Supporting users of 3D technology on campus requires a range of expertise, which encourages collaboration between campus IT units and instructional designers … 3D technology has also fostered collaborations involving students and faculty across academic disciplines.”

Training is critical.“Some early adopters on campus will teach themselves to use 3D technology, but many campus users will need support to learn to use this technology. The development of training sessions and workshops on 3D technology–related topics is critical for these technologies to gain traction on campus beyond the rarefied circles of early adopters.”

It takes time for the benefits of 3D technology to be realised on campus.“While 3D technology is getting easier to use, it must still be set up and configured; software must be installed and possibly updated … users need time to learn to use the technology, and instructors need time to figure out how to use the technology in their teaching …”


Read more

Jeffrey Pomerantz: Learning in Three Dimensions: Report on the EDUCAUSE/HP Campus of the Future Project

Jeffrey Pomerantz – Learning in Three Dimensions. Executive Summary

D Christopher Brooks – The Campus of the Future


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education