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June 19, 2014

Know Your Audience

by mariyasitnova

Mariya Sitnova

My first project at the National Museum of American History was to review the ibook the Smithsonian intends to publish to introduce 3D technology to the classroom via the story of Abraham Lincoln. (Two of the first 3D scans of the collection included life masks of Lincoln.) The ipad format has opened up a lot of room to create various interactive tools (maps, timelines, 3D viewers, etc.) that create a much more dynamic experience than a printed textbook.  As a life-long science and math nerd, I have to admit I find history pretty intimidating. Surprisingly, this has become a bit of an advantage these past couple of weeks. I am much less immersed in the historical content of the book so I think about the application of this tool in very different ways than the creators.

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My first encounter with this was trying to distill the audience for the book (and some of other tools we are working on). There are various layers of complexity that make this a difficult task not just for the Smithsonian but for others working to incorporate 3D tools in education. 3D visualization technology (scanning, printing, etc.) has been hailed to be the ultimate resource to capture the attention and imagination of students who otherwise would turn away from STEAM fields. The technology affords a feeling of ownership of your own tangible creations. However, these tools are still relatively expensive and require a high level of competence in the field. So they typically end up in schools that already have high-end resources (technology and staff) and in the hands of students who already STEAM-inclined. As the technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, the learning tools will need to be adaptable to the changing environments in which they are presented.

Also, there are a lot of nuances of proposing “multidisciplinary” learning in traditional schools where engineering, history, and art are taught during three different time blocks, by three different teachers who are teaching to three different types of skill assessments.  A choppy transition between any of the disciplines undermines the benefits of multidisciplinary learning. Part of my work here is to create a various interactive elements for the book that would mitigate some of these issues.

One of the ibook activities involves re-creating Lincoln's life mask using the 3D scan data and paper-craft.

One of the ibook activities involves re-creating Lincoln’s life mask using the 3D scan data and paper-craft.

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