http://www.gaia-tech.com) was formed in 1992 has become one of the leading providers of ICT solutions to UK schools. From their headquarters in Bangor North Wales, and with operational bases in Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and London, they currently look after a large number of education customers.
Over the last three years or so the Gaia 3D Team (http://www.gaia3d.co.uk) have been developing an affordable stereoscopic 3D projection system together with a bank of curriculum focused learning resources. Using a 3D-ready projector, 3D glasses and the Viewer software, virtual 3D objects can be projected and manipulated with an impressive sense of proximity in the foreground and depth in the background. Using the viewer software, the presenter (teacher or learner) can rotate or slide an object and zoom in/out. Extra controls (setup by the developers for each object) provide further functionality such as show/hide labels, make areas transparent, animate, assemble etc.
In the software version to be released in the next few months, users will be able to customise objects for their own use by editing the labels and information panels, adding PowerPoint Files and web links and embedding external videos and images into the object's control panel. Assets can also be added to the content library directly from sites such as Google Warehouse by downloading the Collada Zip format. DIY resources can also be incorporated from many 3D authoring packages by exporting as a .ive object.
The learning content also includes a number of 'immersive 3D environments' where the user can explore an area and gather information about that time and place (eg World War 1 Trenches, London Plague, ancient Rome, Giza etc).
The team are constantly creating more objects and environments and developing the pedagogic content by working closely with teachers around the UK. Existing objects are also being improved as teachers see further opportunities from having used the resources in class.
At present, the resources are focused on the secondary school curriculum but as more FE colleges take up licences and work with the development team a wider range of curriculum topics will be available. The Gaia team are also working on new functionality and interactivity options so what you can do with the content will also develop with time.
Personal experience shows that short bursts of 3D presentation integrated with classroom activity provides the most effective mix of engagement and further study. My college has opted to trial a PC classroom based system that doesn't have the full wow factor of a large screen viewing room but does have easy transition from presentation to study I guess the ideal would be to have a room large enough to have a viewing area at one end and a set of PCs at the other - I can dream!).
Case Studies & a White Paper can be seen at http://www.gaia3d.co.uk/category/case-studies
The Gaia system is based on the 'active shutter' approach where left and right images are flashed on screen at 120Hz and the glasses have lenses that are alternately clear then black at the same flicker rate and are synchronised to the projected image. The brain is then fooled into seeing a solid object that protrudes out of or sinks in to the screen. It is only the PC connected to the projector, usually the staff machine, that needs a Gaia 3D licence. Student machines use similar software with the same functionality but the object is not seen stereoscopically (ie it is in 2D).
You can download a viewer and sample content from http://www.gaia3d.co.uk/downloads
There are many factors to consider when making judgements about whether this is the 'next big thing' in teaching and learning. Many staff who have seen demonstrations and played with the software are highly impressed by the experience and see great potential. The whole notion of '3D Learning' could make teachers re-evaluate their materials and methods, always a good thing, and could lead to new approaches.
It is possible that 3D might become the 'stereoscopic elephant in the room' but it is the development of resources, teaching experiences and learner feedback that will ultimately decide.
I'm sure there will be many more posts on this topic in the months to come - stay tuned.
However, I'm flickering off now because TGIF.