3DBear — Augmented Reality and Digital Story Telling

What is it?

3DBear is a media creation tool that allows you to insert 3D objects into your “real world” space via Augmented Reality (AR) to record video or take photos. It includes a large library of objects ready for use that includes a wide variety of objects ranging from geometric shapes, the alphabet, and animals to dinosaurs, planets, and vegetables. Students can use 3DBear to design a space, tell a story, or explain a concept. 

Key features

In addition to its own library of objects, 3DBear connects to Thingiverse and Sketchfab to download 3D objects. If your students design 3D objects, it can also import objects created in the common .stl file format from tools like TinkerCAD  Students can also export the 3D objects that they’ve created as an .stl file to be printed on a 3D printer. One of it’s most ingenious features is the capacity for more than one student to collaborate and create in the same real world space at the same time. Each student uses their own device, and whether they are in the same real world space or not, they can share the AR objects and see each others’ additions and modifications, and they can each record media using the shared canvas of objects and real world space. The platform includes a teacher interface that allows teachers to create groups and view media created by students for sharing or assessment purposes.

 

3DBear runs on mobile devices running iOS and Android. It requires a compatible touch-based device, so you’ll want to make sure that you verify that your device is compatible. The teacher interface is web-based and easy to use.

3DBear through the lens of SAMR

My first exposure to Augmented Reality came years ago, and what I saw then was simply an AR viewer where you could point your phone’s camera at a visual marker like a QR code, and the software would replace that marker with a 3D object. People told me that I could put a marker on someone’s chest, then with my phone I could instead see a 3D model of a beating heart. I never understood the value of that. I still don’t get it. If you have a 3D model of a heart, just show it to me. I don’t need to point my camera at someone’s chest to find a QR Code to bring up the model. I know, it shows me the model in a relative position to the real heart (provided I put the QR code in the right place), but really, I know where the heart is, and if a student doesn’t know this, I’d rather just help that student find their own heart by placing their own hand on their own chest. For me, this was a classic example of “Substitution” gone wrong.

Fortunately, with 3DBear, AR has grown up. Many will call upon the value of creation in edtech, and not just consumption. By empowering students to create media, we give them the opportunity to practice working collaboratively, ask questions, come up with ideas, and test those ideas. It is the process and not the destination that is really important here. 3DBear is a great tool that empowers this creative process. 

It’s most obvious use is to create content and to use the functionality of AR to augment the creation process. For example, consider the project below. A student created a simple narrated movie about a T-Rex. He was able to use 3DBear’s AR functionality to insert both a T-Rex and an elephant into his movie to show scale. Seems simple, and if you take it only that far, a great augmentative use of technology.

However, let’s look a little deeper. Because the movie is using AR, the movie was made in a real space. It goes without saying that pretty much anywhere the student might use to create their video is a space that they are familiar with. The elephant and the T-Rex are scaled to each other as well as the building. Understanding scale and sizes of animals, especially ones that we’ll never actually see, against the backdrop of a real place that you know provides a much better context for understanding.

I’ve known for a long time that whale sharks are the largest sharks. I know that they can be 30 feet long or more. But until I was lucky enough to visit the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and see real live whale sharks in a gigantic tank, I didn’t really understand how big they were. Nothing can really replace that in-person experience, and I also know that most kids will not get that opportunity. But kids can go into their school playground, measure a 30 foot length, and then place a whale shark into the playground next to the swing set, and see what that looks like in a space that the students know and understand.

The capacity to arrange, model, place, and create objects in a real world space is powerful. One teacher described how she asked her students to recreate the attic space where Anne Frank lived using their school gym. They were able to gather information about the size of space and the furnishings. The students could recreate Anne Frank’s attic where she and her family hid through AR. Creating spaces, in real space, with AR modifies how we understand the space. It’s no longer a diagram, it’s a fully rendered 3D space that students can explore through 3DBear.

Not all content creation with 3DBear will be spatially focused. It is also a great tool for all sorts of digital storytelling. The ease of adding objects to a scene simplifies the creation process, and allows students to spend time on the content of the story — whether that’s an historical event, a scene from a work of fiction, or a scientific process. 3DBear’s AR functionality allows you to tell your stories in ways that otherwise would be difficult or require far more time than what is often available to students and teachers.

 

Use Case Example

First, anytime we consider asking students to create a media project, it is important to recognize that what may seem obvious to us as far as first steps and process may not be so obvious to our students. So, providing our students with an overarching process that can be used throughout their academic career and beyond is immensely valuable. I like to point at what is commonly referenced as a Design Thinking Process. You can look up definitions of the term, and you find a variety of different ways of describing a Design Thinking Process, but they all have in common a basic cyclical routine that starts with asking questions to gain understanding and define what it is that you are really trying to do or solve. With that in hand, the process leads to brainstorming solutions to planning your solution, building it, and testing it out. Testing then leads us back to the start to asking questions again to determine if the solution really worked, and if not, how can it be improved which leads right back into the cycle again. It is this iterative and structured approach to problem solving that can provide the backbone to most any classroom project-based learning activity and make these projects more meaningful, interesting, and providing a greater depth of knowledge.

It is by teaching kids to use a Design Thinking Process that we teach our students to empower the students for life-long learning, and we recognize that learning is a process, and not simply an outcome. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a “simple” digital storytelling activity. 

When my kids were in elementary school, they read The Boxcar Children  The final project asked them to construct a model of the boxcar, and to place in and around it, objects from the book that were important to the story and to be able to say why they had chosen the objects that they did. The models were small scale creations made from cardboard, modeling clay and other random tidbits that they could find. They also wrote an essay explaining their choices of objects and their significance to the book.

In our digital storytelling version of this assignment, we’ll change a couple things. First, we’ll have kids work in groups using 3DBear’s multi-user mode. This will allow multiple students to work together to create their boxcar, placing real world and AR objects in a shared space. Each will be able to record their own narrated video walkthrough of their share boxcar. As a group, the students would collaborate together with the Design Thinking Process as a framework to guide their work. Ultimately, the students will discuss the book and which objects should be included in their model of the boxcar, and why those objects are important to the story. They would gather real world objects that are easily found, and download or created AR objects when a real world object was not easily found. Students will take time to script their narration, and when ready, each can record their own walkthrough of their jointly created boxcar.

These boxcar projects would be completely student created. Like most parents, I aided my kids with the construction because it required cutting cardboard with a box cutter, and did some of the construction. By leveraging 3DBear and its multi-user mode, students are provided an opportunity to practice collaborating as a group while they are empowered to construct essentially anything they can imagine, place it into their scene, and create their narrated videos. No parents required!

This project, as described above might be more than some educators would want to tackle if it was their first project using 3DBear. Using SAMR as a guide, we can consider different entry points, and recognize that as teachers and students gain comfort with the project style and 3DBear, teachers can do subsequent projects further along this SAMR “Ladder”.

Substitution/Augmentation

Students could construct their boxcar models just as my children did using cardboard and other traditional arts and crafts supplies. For certain objects, or perhaps to place the boxcar into a forest, the students can then use 3DBear to add AR objects to the scene and use 3DBear’s photo mode to take snapshots of the augmented reality scene. These photos could be printed and displayed on a posterboard along with additional commentary written by the student to be displayed with their model.

In this way, we’re simply substituting the use of AR objects using 3DBear, like trees to make a forest, rather than constructing the trees out of branches or green construction paper. In this example, the AR trees may seem fancy as compared to my construction paper trees, but functionally speaking, I’ve not changed what the students are doing. They wanted trees, and 3DBear helped them include trees.

Some may see augmentation here because 3DBear is providing a simple functional improvement in the ease of not only generating and including the trees, but resizing them, making lots of them, and that’s fine too.

Augmentation/Modification

An alternate version of this project incorporates video again. Students can take a video and add a voice commentary into the video. In the Substitution example, students offered this commentary in written form on their poster boards along with printouts of the AR enhanced photos they created using 3DBear. Here, we swap out the poster board and photos for a video.

In this example, we’re clearly gaining functional improvement from the technology as it’s allowing us to record video and audio enhanced by the AR objects that finish our boxcar models. For most kids today, making a video with a phone or tablet is a relatively mundane concept, but 3DBear gives us a functional gain with the AR objects.

As with the previous example, I can also argue that as compared to the original model project that my sons did, modifying the storytelling aspects from a written exercise to a combination of writing/scripting and speaking all while recording this in video. 

Modification/Redefinition

Finally, if one considers the group project version as described above in comparison to the project that my sons completed, it is clearly modified. By asking students to work in groups, we make the process a social one. Students are now consulting with each other and being asked to explain their reasoning to each other throughout the planning and creation process. The use of multi-user mode also introduces facets of group work that can be viewed from augmentation (multiple students can interact and edit the scene at the same time) to redefinition (multiple students in different places could collaboratively build the scene in real-time). And more simply, the finished media is easily shared with a wider audience, and brings the potential for facilitated discussions across time and distance with other classrooms in other places.

Like any tool, the true educational value is in how you use it. 3DBear is flexible and easily integrates into a number of different academic activities across curricular areas. Whether kids are learning their letters and numbers, shapes or colors to creating media for digital storytelling or explaining concepts or processes, 3DBear will engage kids. And, if you can engage kids, you can teach them anything!

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