HMIe national seminar

16th August 2005

Bringing the Wow factor into the Classroom
Explore Discover Inspire Motivate

Over the last twelve years that I have been involved with multimedia and visualisation for education and science communication there has been a dramatic change in the technology available to, and embraced by, school age students. Mobile phones are probably the most obvious, and the rapid rise of texting and instant messaging has been predominately driven by this group. Digital still and movie cameras with easy to use editing software, digital music creation and most recently pod casting, have blurred the boundaries between being a consumer of digital media and a creator of it. The Digital Learning Foundation was founded to help educators and students take advantage of the opportunities offered by these digital tools and our FilmSchool project is an example of this.

However, over this period, there have been equally dramatic changes in the more esoteric world of large scale, realtime interactive stereoscopic computer visualisation. Once the preserve of a few programmers world wide, this technology is about to explode onto the market place for entertainment, business and research....and again, it is gaming and the availability of low cost auto-stereoscopic displays that will drive this. Therefore, in four or five years stereoscopic displays are likely to be common in the home and once you have experienced a good stereoscopic display.... well, it only needs to be seen to be believed.

So what is Stereoscopic Visualisation? It is the way your brain expects to see things, with a left eye view and a right eye view, and from the minor differences that around 60mm of eye separation creates in these two views, the brain is able to calculate depth and therefore able to construct and understand the real world we experience every day. It is the difference between looking at a flat photograph or illustration of an object and feeling that you can reach out and touch the object itself.

Realtime Interactive Stereoscopic Visualisation combines modern stereoscopic display technologies with a powerful computer that can handle huge amounts of data and allow it to be manipulated interactively in realtime. Until very recently the prohibitive costs and complexity of large scale, real time, interactive stereoscopic visualisation limited its use to multi-national companies like BP, Shell, BMW, Mercedes, Nokia or to some very fortunate University Computing Science or Research labs.... But times have now changed, an Apple G5 based system can not only compete, but blow away, those big systems of only last year. And with a complete system costing only a little more than a whiteboard installation it is now possible for schools to gain the very real benefits that stereo visualisation brings.

“Space, the solar system and beyond” is the first traveling school show that takes realtime interactive stereoscopic visualisation into the school. A half hour program that promotes understanding of complex and abstract concepts, motivates research and self learning, and was voted the best thing they did in the whole year by the children that have taken part..... and this is just the beginning. Our aim is to show how this technology really makes a difference, it is not just wow, and can promote learning and understanding across a wide range of potential subjects including Environmental Science, History, Geography, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Art and Design. And, it is not just for shows, the technology is inherently interactive and this is how it should be used as a tool that enables exploration and discovery in an immersive environment. The first stage of this is our Discovery Workshops where the students, research and discover in the 3D environment and then create their own stereoscopic presentation. The Western Australia Cornish Miners Heritage Project and The Space Workshop are examples of this. We are also seeking funding for the development of the "Immersive Learning Environment"...but more of this later...

Enjoy the show!

Phil Lavery
Chief Executive
Digital Learning Foundation