Saturday, 17 January 2009

The future's bright and it's in 3D!

Every year, amidst the cacophonous hard sell and slick presentations, the BETT Show at Olympia offers a tantalising glimpse of the future. This year it came in the form of Texas Instruments' DLP 3D data projectors, a new technology that I am sure that we are going to see finding its way into our homes, if not our classrooms in the coming years. It's all based on a very slick interface between optical and digital technology.

The Thunderbirds Specs are still a requirement, but what will strike the viewer is the extraordinary picture definition and colour clarity - there is none of that red-green fuzziness that one usually associates with 3D. The demonstration video of a group sky diving has such depth [both out of the screen towards the view as well as into the screen] that you want to reach out and touch them.

This is clearly going to transform our cinema and home television experience in the near future. Indeed 3D TV is already available in the US.

According the Texas Instruments, the American online video company,, is planning to stream 3D video in the near future. Click here for more on how 3D TV works.

I'm not yet sure when this technology will find its way into the classroom, but I'm sure that it will in time. Like previous technical innovations, the hardware will be well ahead of the educational content. Entertainment [both at home and in the cinema] is a more lucrative market and profits will drive resources in that direction in the first instance. According to the guys on the Texas stand, a number of educational suppliers at BETT expressed an interest to supply 3D materials for the classroom.

There is considerable scope for raising the bar even higher here on the quality of teaching and learning resources for pupils pupils. 3D in combination with the high quality graphics software, with which we we are familiar from gaming and film animation, provides a quality of experience that is difficult to match. The demo video of a 3D heart that was showing on the stand at BETT has the potential to take Biology teaching into an even more stimulating area. This technology is capable of wowing the next generation of students, when the resources eventually become available. Not to mention that there is great potential here for the physics department to come up with some stunning lessons explaining how it all works!

In the meantime, the projectors are said to be approximately the same cost as the ones we are purchasing already. They will be dual use [normal projection and 3D], are produce better image quality and require less maintenance - so there are good reasons for schools to move to DLP technology projectors anyway. [For more see the DLP website], so it might be worth purchasing "3D ready" projectors when they are launched. The expensive piece of kit will be the glasses which are likely to come in at £50 per pair, so we won't be rushing at this one!


  1. I went to BETT yesterday and throughout my visit a recurring thought kept nagging away at me. How useful is the technology and wizardry on show, and to what degree will it benefit schools in a measurable way?

    The potential for 3D is there, as you say, but at a cost of £1000 for 20 pairs of glasses, is it a good investment? The history of 3D in cinema is both long and unremarkable. As I wandered round the various stalls, handled kit, watched demonstrations, and listened to experts in seminars, I found that whenever I asked the question, 'What tangible benefit does product X make to learning outcomes?' I was greeted by either walls of silence or obfuscation.

    For me, the stars of the show were:

    Intel Classmate: the small netbook cum tablet PC. At £300 it's not a huge investment, but with the ability to be linked to other laptops or PCs already in classrooms, and a projector, there seems to be the potential to carry out real collaborative learning. At any rate, it enables teachers to hand a portable screen to anyone in the class, and have their input projected to everyone else. That's something that could be used in all subjects. Having the option to choose between handwriting on the screen, or using a keyboard, was a real boon.

    Dartfish: the company that provides all those wonderful instant replay facilities during sports TV shows has now released its software to the education market. I saw it being used to analyse movement in a variety of sports, overlaying students against professionals, or against themselves, so that their physical actions can be compared and measured (angles, speed etc) and projected in real time onto the screen, using tracking lines that arc across the moving image. These can be annotated, and then turned into PDF worksheets, as evidence of progress. I also saw it used for Physics experiments. This offered something unique and seemed to add value to the teaching and learning of subjects where movement and spatial relationships are important.

    The Reading Pen: this is an idea that's so simple you wonder why no-one has done it before. It's a portable pen shaped scanner. Run it over a word you don't know and it will say it for you, break the word down into individual letters, and then give you its definition; since the pen holds the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in its memory. The pen is designed specifically for dyslexic students, but could be used by any student who wants to find out the meaning of unfamiliar words.

    2Simple, 2Do It Yourself: An inexpensive but great piece of software, that enables students and teachers to make interactive learning resources (such as Flash cards), or annotated images. At the click of a button the game or learning activity is published as a Flash file. It's very easy to use (based on the demo I saw) and has potentially powerful cross-curricular appeal. I picked up a trial copy and will attempt to have an interactive week. Hopefully, we'll be able to get some samples up and running on the web!

    Newsmaker: I couldn't go to BETT without finding something for Media Studies and this is it. Due to be launched by the Guardian in April, it allows students to collaboratively produce a newspaper, using a range of drag and drop templates (from tabloid, to Berliner and traditional broadsheet). Students are assigned roles, from editor, to picture researcher, to journalist, and must work together to produce an edition. Students get access to real copy and images from the Guardian, and can then upload their finished work to the Guardian's site, or print out their work as a PDF. This could see us making a daily headline of school news, an edition focusing on particular themes (the environment, community etc), and ending up with some very smart looking print based design. Again, this is something that can be used as a learning activity across numerous subject areas. I've signed us up to be a trial school when the system goes live in April.

    All in all, I had a great day at BETT, and you're right, it's possible to glimpse how technology from other sectors can be brought into the classroom. The challenge will be to differentiate between those offerings which make a positive impact, and those which are a pleasant additional luxury.

  2. I have always been critical of BETT as I think that it fundamentally lacks an educational vision. However, if one accepts it for what it is [suppliers selling their wares] then a teacher who has a vision can find inspiration for how they can use a new technology to reach a new generation of students. I always come away with the impression that the hardware is way ahead of the educational material - in fact it is at the fringes of the show that the truly educational content is to be found. Sadly there seems to be more profit in gadgetry than things that will enhance education. One example of the sort of thing that I have in mind is Autograph []. It is an outstanding program that enables Maths teachers to produce graphs in the classroom easily. It has been shortlisted for a BETT award and is a great piece of software. It was created by Douglas Butler, the former Head of Mathematics at Oundle. It has not made him a millionaire, but it has made a significant contribution to maths teaching. We need to see more of these sorts of products that will actually improve the quality of education that we have to offer, as opposed to those which will "wow" the next generation.

  3. This is certainly an interesting technological advance but shouldn’t it be confined to the Higher Education world? Like all technology people want the best that is available which is then superseded by something else and further investment needs to take place. It is clear that research laboratories require the latest technology but can schools really make full use of it? I am just about old enough to remember a school which had no computers in classrooms and not even enough for one class in a designated room. Computers for schools campaigns were run by leading supermarkets and slowly but surely they began to pervade the learning environment. There is no doubt that they have improved access to information and allow students to gain valuable ICT skills which are now essential in the business world but is there a point at which too much technology hampers the learning experience, at least if the advance is significantly ahead of teacher’s training and the programmes that it needs to run effectively? I would argue that this has happened in the case of the 'Smart Board'. There is no doubt that their uses could enhance the learning experience but many teachers find them slower to use and the software does not seem advanced enough to allow them to fulfil their potential. All advances in projector and board technology have had advantages but were they really that much better than what came before? Did they justify the expense? Possibly, but (particularly at a time like this) schools should think hard before investing money heavily in any other than fantastic staff.