First major study of 3D in the classroom? Nope.

Filed under: by: Aaron Price on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 @ 3:39 PM

Wired has an article about a large-scale study of the use of 3D in the classroom in Europe. Overall, I agree with pretty much everything the author says. But I want to expand on some of it.

First, this study was funded by Texas Instruments, a major player in the 3D field. They stand to gain lots of profit from increased adoption of 3D technology. Also, the study was not published in a peer reviewed journal. Instead, the results were published in the form of a white paper and YouTube video case studies. The white paper reads as a 6-page marketing brochure and gives almost no information on how the study was conducted. It certainly does not include enough information to judge its quality. That does not by itself mean the results are bad. But it means we can't truly evaluate them because the details are hidden. In other words, this is not a scientific study. So take it for what it's worth...

Secondly, the Wired commentator mentions the effect of novelty on the experiment. That is, students may learn more simply because they are paying closer attention due to the 3D effect. I am glad he mentioned this as it is often ignored in stereoscopy studies. I think it has a major, major impact and has to be controlled for. In our study, we intend to control for it by having all students wear 3D glasses in all experiments - regardless of whether they are seeing the visuals in 3D or 2D. So, at least in the beginning (and in my experience likely the entire time) the students will think they are seeing 3D whether they are or not.

Still, this Texas Instruments study is a useful one. Why? Because it is the first large scale experimental study of this type I've yet seen in the literature. So it at least offers some insight. Even though it isn't scientific and thus cannot be trusted on its face, it can be used as a sort of thought experiment to think about things differently. For example, the white paper says "The 3D pupils were more likely to use gestures or body language when describing concepts." (p. 3) I noticed this as well in my first study and that is why we are doing our assessments for this project using iPads. We are going to use the accelerometers to follow how students hold the device as they answer questions as a measurement of embodied cognition.

There is a funny statement in one of the videos:

"There is never any behavior problem [when using the glasses]..."

Hah. In my experience in an 8th grade classroom, the kids were indeed a little more subdued when wearing the glasses, but they were by no means perfect. There was plenty of joking around, picking on each other, etc. All the typical things that go one in a classroom were still going on. This was completely a marketing maneuver.

The TI web site says this is "pilot" data. So I wonder if it will ever be published. It presents the head researcher as the "Director of the International Research Agency". I have not heard of that before, and Google-fu turned up zilch. So I question the legitimacy of that organization. I did find the CV of the researcher, and it is impressive. But it's in the field of art education, not cognitive science. Again, this does not mean the research is bad. It just means that I put the chance at ultimate publication at less than 50%. Although I sincerely hope that I'm wrong. If published, it could be a nice contribution to the field.