Research Matters

Research Matters

3-D Geography

Stereoscopic 3-D imagery is finding its way into geography classrooms at KU and Haskell Indian Nations University.

Episode #91

2 minutes (3.7 MB) | Download mp3


Researchers assess the power of stereo 3-D technology to boost geography instruction. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

With movies like "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland," a new generation of Americans is enjoying stereoscopic three-dimensional images that seem to leap from the screen. Now some of that same visual pizzazz is finding its way into geography classrooms at KU and Haskell Indian Nations University. Terry Slocum, associate professor of geography at KU, leads the research.

Slocum: Our central question is whether stereo will lead to an improvement over a simple three-dimensional representation. The results would affect anyone who would want to use stereo either in a classroom or in research. So we would argue it could affect potentially thousands and maybe even millions of viewers.

Slocum's team is developing stereoscopic 3-D materials for geography classes at KU and Haskell. Those classes will be taught with and without stereoscopic 3-D visual cues. Then, the researchers will determine the impact of stereo 3-D geography instruction.

Slocum: Anything that you can show in three dimensions has the potential to be an improvement. For example, in cartography we could have data values for counties, which we call 'enumeration units.' We can raise those counties to a height proportional to the data, creating what are called 'prisms' above those counties, which will look three-dimensional, and then we can also show that in stereo. So the question would be does the stereo option enhance just the three-dimensional representation?

While on face value it may seem obvious that stereoscopic 3-D would enhance the classroom experience, the KU researcher said that the technology could have drawbacks as well.

Slocum: It's definitely more work at the front end for the instructor. For a lot of images, you've got to have special software or you've got to have a camera that can take 3-D. And there's a potential for misleading people, because in order to show, say, a three-dimensional structure of elevation, what you have to do is exaggerate the surface. So it's possible to actually mislead students.

For more about geography in stereoscopic 3-D, log on to Research Matters dot K-U dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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