The Eyes Have It: 3D and Vision Health

By Len Scrogan, Digital Learning Architect

Clearly, one of the challenges we face in increasing the footprint of 3D is educating the public. For example, did you know:

• 53% of parents surveyed* believe 3D viewing is harmful to a child’s vision or eyes?
• Nintendo warns in their health and safety information that children below the age of six should not use 3D technology?
• Neither of the above concerns have a foundation in fact, based on past and current research?

* Based on the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) 2011 American Eye-Q ® survey

Recent report by the American Optometric Association (AOA) discusses 3D and eye health / Source: AOA

Recently the American Optometric Association (AOA) released a significant public health report entitled “3D in the Classroom: See Well, Learn Well.” The report affords nine core themes: 1) the benefits of viewing 3D in the classroom; 2) the statement of fact that there is no medical evidence suggesting that 3D viewing is harmful; 3) a quirky time line of 3D in history; 4) how our own depth perception works; 5) how we can tell if we are unable to see 3D correctly; 6) how 3D display actually works; 7) research-vetted strategies for effectively managing the 3D classroom in the K-20 setting; 8) the challenges of the 3D viewing experience and what we can do when things don’t seem right; and 9) the promising future of 3D.

Students actively participate in a lesson with an image projected in 3D / Source: AOA

As the educational advisor to this prominent team of medical experts, I participated from the ground floor as a member of the See Well, Learn Well writing committee. During my year-and-a-half journey with the American Optometric Association’s finest folks—all very kind, keenly professional, and passionately dedicated to the children of our nation—I learned so very much. From the perspective of a participating insider, here are some key understandings you MUST know about this timely report:

• It describes an unanticipated benefit. It turns out that if a child cannot see a 3D display at home, at the movies, or in a classroom, it is a useful indicator of underlying vision problems. This was simply not anticipated by the medical community.
• It’s about learning, not just 3D. If children have inadequate or poorly performing vision, lacking the ability to see 3D in the natural world, it really matters. It becomes much more difficult for primary children to read; for middle school students to learn; for high school students to see from the back of a classroom; to compete in athletics; to see science experiments; to drive a car safely; to enjoy a rich quality of life. It’s just that 3D happens to play a beneficial, although unanticipated, role in vision health.
• It dispels stubborn myths. The report dispels two myths about 3D that affect your ability to market this technology: 1) that 3D is somehow harmful to your vision—it’s not; and 2) that young children should not be exposed 3D media—it’s fine, and in fact 3D viewing can help unmask unseen and hurtful vision problems.
• It’s extensible. The recommendations for managing 3D instruction apply as much to sales displays, exhibit hall booths, customer presentations, museums, or boardrooms as they do to classrooms.
• It’s concrete. It suggests concrete and practical ways to improve the student, trainee, or customer 3D viewing experience.
• It’s educational. Go to 3D Eye Health for great videos and supporting information. Especially interesting are the sections on 3D benefits, the 3D’s of 3D Vision, and how you know when it’s time to see an eye doctor. This site offers a growing FAQ section with treatment of such topics as disinfecting glasses and how long a child should watch 3D.
• It’s important. The report has profound implications for our nation’s vision health: it suggests a pathway that can lead to early diagnosis of eye diseases and disorders, and even the remarkable potential for virtually eliminating entire generations of eye disorders, such as amblyopia (lazy eye), through early detection.
• It’s unbiased. Are you worried that this report was unduly influenced by industry power brokers or funding sponsors? Not so. Endorsements and sponsorship came later in the development process, well after the core content was already being drafted. I was continually reassured to see the medical research experts hold the line against any industry suggestions, standing the contents of the report up on medically sound research, not at all on the backs of inappropriate influence.
• It’s not enough. The report is sufficient for chasing away those stubborn gremlins related to health concerns, but is not enough to substantiate 3D purchases by itself; the value proposition of 3D in education or training must continue to come from research, case studies, and your own ability to communicate well.

With 3D, students learn about the anatomy of a screech owl as the various pieces project seemingly in front of their eyes / Source: Cyber-Anatomy

Concluding thoughts

This report carries both consequence and a very hopeful message. It carries consequence in conveying the message that vision matters—in learning and in life. It is hopeful in that the underlying vision problems identified with the help of a 3D experience can in most cases be successfully addressed through vision therapy or corrective lenses. And this is especially true when children are diagnosed early enough to intervene.

Now it’s up to us in terms of how to use this insight. On a personal level, I go out of my way to help parents, moviegoers, or 3D complainers find their way to a comfortable 3D experience or to a long overdue visit to their optometrist. On a professional level, I use this information to help educators as well as sales, technology, and engineering professionals to overcome unwelcome hurdles, dispel stubborn myths, and create learning solutions that make a difference for learning.

I also imagine that there is a way to not to use this information. We shouldn’t admonish adults “you need your eyes checked, dummy!” “Something’s wrong with you, don’t you know the research?” Instead, we may find it wiser to slip them the study, or subtly mention the hopeful and affirmative message of the AOA’s research. Similarly, we don’t embarrass students in front of the class with the notion that something is wrong. Rather, we carefully apply the 3D viewing guidelines, and if problems persist, a teacher quietly persuades students to talk with their parents about visiting their optometrist.

With children, however, the stakes are higher. Nothing less than long-term success or failure in learning is at stake. For that reason, don’t let the message of this report wither over time. Vision is important and 3D vision really matters.

Previously a teacher and principal, Len also served as the Director of Instructional Technology and Library Media for the Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, CO. He now works as a Digital Learning Architect engaging in innovative projects in the area of 3D, visual teaching and learning, online and blended learning, and technology leadership. Len serves as an active adjunct professor for the University of Colorado-Denver and Lesley University (Cambridge), teaching in their Masters’ degree programs. Most recently, Len has been speaking about 3D in education at national conferences, and is the author of the Future-Talk 3D blog and numerous technology books.

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