There are many abstract concepts that students have to deal with that are difficult to understand by reading or hearing a verbal description. Some of these difficult concepts are visual-spatial in nature and lend themselves to 3D representations.
3D imagery is a way of representing certain dimensions of the sensory world that might be difficult to understand in any other way. 3D suggests three dimensions, so not only does a program represents information on the x and y axis but also represents objects on the z axis, providing an illusion of 3D.
For instance look at Figure 1, is s a model of a spider created in 3D modeling and rendering application.
Figure 1. 3D model of a spider
3D Modeling Software
3D modeling and rendering application. This software was chosen because of its availability. Most 3D modeling and rendering applications have similar kinds of features. There are many that are commercially available and in most instances the cost is prohibitive.
How can 3D modeling be used for educational purposes? That is really up to your imagination. Most teachers will look at a tool like this and think, what kinds of topics can I teach using this tool? I believe that is the wrong question. My particular bias is that this is a tool for students. Thus a better question is, can students use 3D tools as an option for representing their ideas? The value of the tool is that it provides students an avenue to express ideas in new, dynamic, and motivating ways. It is the building of models, planning, and thinking through the process that has potential for learning. Students that model their ideas are able to reflect on those portrayals and it provides a platform for discussion with peers while giving instructors a unique perspective on student thinking (Steed, 94). A sophisticated tool like this takes time to learn and time to use, so it only makes sense to integrate this with other curricular areas. Science, multimedia, and art are content areas that lend themselves to this tool. Here are illustrative themes that might lend themselves to constructing understanding with 3D modeling:
Figure 2. Simple Cell1
Describing how an object moves through space might be difficult to visualize. For instance, I can explain that a planet moves around the sun in an elliptical orbit. Assuming you understood the terms planet, space, ellipse and orbit, you might be able to conjure up a mental projection. If you haven't had physical or visual experience with these terms, it might be difficult. Even then, the words are problematic in that the mental image might be quite different from the referent (the object you are referring to) because the information is ambiguous. The listener has to assume the size and relative distance between the objects, the shape of an ellipse in relation to the location of the objects, the speed of the orbit, whether or not the planet is rotating on its axis, the color and shape of the planet and sun, and so forth. Yes, it is possible to painstakingly describe this in verbal terms but the problem with this is that it is sequential and by the time you get to the end of the explanation, the audience may have forgotten some aspect of the description or not understood an important element. Much of this ambiguity can be overcome when a 3D animation is viewed. A 3D animation comes through our visual sensory system simultaneously so it is there and activates knowledge immediately. Animation activates knowledge structures that might not be activated without the visual portrayal.
Figure 3. Simplified Orbital Animation1
WARNING: 3D applications can be very involved!
As mentioned previously 3D applications tend to be quite involved. It is possible to keep it simple using built in shapes and textures but don't expect to create the next Jurassic Park. If you intend to learn it thoroughly be prepared for a steep learning curve. At the same time it is possible to limit your expectations and learn just a subset of the commands. You probably do that even with your word processing application, you don't know all that it can do. If you do try to learn a 3D application, keep it very simple to begin with (use only the built-in objects and textures).
Obtaining 3D software and documentation:
Over the years I have used a number of applications. I started out with Strata 3D, probably one of the easier ones to start with.
Lightwave". Powerful but very involved and difficult to use.
More recently I have started using a program called Modo created by Luxology. A great program but still quite involved. An example would be the 3D spider in Figure 1. With this program you can even paint in 3D.
Another couple of more sophisticated 3D applications many New Media students learn:
All of the above are quite sophisticated and involved with steep learning curves. Given the time constraints of this course, I can't recommend any of these. However there is a free application that would be suitable. It is created by Google and called SketchUp.
Other 3D applications
3D Object Repositories
Figure 4. DNA Model1
Rasmol or Web lab are free programs available for download off the Internet that render 3D molecules. Molecules can be downloaded off the Web (in pdb, wrl, or vrml format) and then loaded into these programs for viewing. The molecules can be rotated in three dimensions and displayed in different representations (ball and stick, backbone, area fill, etc.).
Here are locations to download a variety of molecular viewing tools:
Viewing and Downloading Molecules off the Web
3D molecular models on the web are either in vrml or pdb formats. These formats can be imported into molecular modeling programs and then rendered and manipulated by the programs.Importing to Strata: Fiddle about with these changing the view until you get one you like and then export it as a VRML. Import this into Strata. You may need to scale the molecule.
There is a very large depository for all of those in VRML or .PDB file formats. Here are a few sources:
There is the opportunity now to take 3D visualization to the next level with the use of a 3D printer or online 3D printing service. You can either purchase a 3D printer (those have recently come down in price) or send your 3D model to a printing service.
To get a sense for what 3D printing may hold in the future, view these videos:
More on 3D printing (can you tell I am engaged by this?)
Am I expecting you to learn a 3D modeling application or buy a 3D printer for this course? No. However, you may decide to pursue this as part of an assignment or put it on the back burner until you can see a problem that would benefit from such an application. The purpose of this section is to raise your awareness of possible tools that can be applied to problem solving.
This is a commercial program (available for Windows and Mac) designed to allow students to learn geometric concepts by discovery. It is available on Faculty of Ed laptops computers (can be booked out - see the Faculty of Ed tech support folks).
You can download a demo from the following site (available for windows and Mac), also available on the course CD.