The impact of 3D tech

Thierry Collet looks at how 3D technology in education is changing perceptions, cognition and the very business of teaching

Our company’s 3D technology is used by five million students in over 35,000 locations around the world at primary, secondary, college and university levels. Some of them are learning to use our 3DEXPERIENCE for Academia solutions itself, while others use it as a facilitator to study across a wide range of curriculum subjects.

At Harvard University, Egyptian archaeology is taught using our 3D simulation software. The same 3D modelling software that is used to design develop and make consumer products, aeroplanes and cars has been deployed to reconstruct artefacts and locations from ancient Egypt. These can be viewed in realistic immersive virtual reality allowing the students to examine them and further their knowledge and understanding. Virtual objects can be looked at in great detail and locations accurately simulated to create the context in which the artefacts were used or found. Now a huge archive of photographs, objects and notes collected by the university and museums can be viewed at any time, by any number of students, without fear of damage or the need to travel to the highly restricted Giza Plateau itself.

The project has allowed my students and colleagues to visualise the data and update and integrate them in a way that was not possible in the past

Dr. Peter Der Manuelian, director of the Giza Archive Project at Harvard said: “The virtual environment provides a new means for learning about Egyptian civilisation. The project has allowed my students and colleagues to visualise the data and update and integrate them in a way that was not possible in the past.” 

John Shaw, chair of Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences added: “Students transition from an environment where the instructor essentially drives the learning process to one where the students are immersed in the environment and drive the dialogue and discussion themselves.’

Bringing books to life

In a recent collaboration with academic publisher Hachette, traditional books for technical secondary education are linked with interactive online 3D digital models. These are used across the curriculum in sciences and engineering to enhance understanding through a more immersive experience. The project, that illustrates concepts from normal 2D books in a compelling 3D way, requires no technical skills from teachers or students and effectively brings the book’s contents to life. This is done with 3D digital models that students can work with online in many educational and curricular contexts.

STEM cells

A serious problem currently facing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education is that students learn each subject in isolation. In a world of work where cross-disciplinary and cross-organisational team skills are valued this is an obvious disadvantage to job seekers and employers.

Dassault Systèmes is working with several universities developing solutions to overcome this problem. This involves international teams of STEM students bringing their different disciplines together in real time on the same projects. This is supported by the use of data-rich ‘intelligent’ 3D digital cloud hosted models as a shared and unifying resource to collaborate around. Working in cross-disciplinary teams means communicating, sharing and combining experiences and skills. Learning this way makes the students more employable because their educational experience more closely matches their eventual work environment. 

International student uprising

In the 10-18 age group, 11,000 French children from 400 schools enter ‘Course en Cours’ every year. They have to invent, design and build a remote controlled racing car powered by an electric motor. This taught them a range of skills including, mathematics, physics, research, engineering and design as well as marketing, logistics, and communications. They even designed team logos, booths and race kit as well as promoting their team and raising funds for the challenge. Much of the project involved using Dassault Systèmes software, the same technology that is used by the challenge’s co-supporters Renault to develop and produce its cars. 

We hope to inspire career choices, to encourage students to undertake scientific and technical studies, maybe even in the automotive industry at a later stage

Jean Agulhon, Human Resources Director, France with the Renault group and former President of “Course en Cours” said: “This fun project demands team spirit, creativity and excellence. In this way, we hope to inspire career choices, to encourage students to undertake scientific and technical studies, maybe even in the automotive industry at a later stage.’

Out of Africa 

Ministries in African countries that we work with are rapidly innovating education systems because schools cannot be built and staffed fast enough for their growing populations. In many African countries 50% of the population is under the age of 15. These factors have lead to a new paradigm being developed. This results in students going to the school campus less often and making good use of the internet. The idea is to transform MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) from a static one-way medium into immersive, interactive virtual environments where models with full logic will illustrate what is being taught. 

In an extension to this, it is feasible to have remotely located ‘farms’ of connected physical devices supporting the work of interdisciplinary and international teams using 3D digital technology. Arduino (open source electronics hardware) cards, robot arms and 3D printing can be introduced to complement the Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE Platform for Academia. This merging of virtual 3D digital and physical worlds means students can learn together off campus often leapfrogging some of their contemporaries in other countries. 

Business opportunities 

New education and certification services based on the use of interactive 3D technology are emerging around the world. In the next 5 years 50% of engineers in the US, France, Germany and the UK will retire. With a shortage of engineering skills in every country employers are attracting students into new STEM education formats and creating business opportunities as a result. If students can leave education and go straight into a job, equipped with skills that employers need, they are in a win-win situation.

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Thierry Collet is Vice President Global Academia and Education at The 3DEXPERIENCE Company, Dassault Systèmes.

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