3D in Education: China Edition

The Jiayuguan Branch of Gansu Province’s RTVU (Radio and Television University) announced the completion of its first “3D Guide Simulation Experiment & Training Room”. The 3D Guide Simulation Experiment & Training Room is a “Multi-Channel Dome Projection System”, which employs VR technology to simulate 3D stereoscopic scenery. (For more information on dome projection systems in general, see this link.) This 3D in education project was funded jointly by the Gansu Provincial Department of Education, which invested 1 million Yuan ($160K), along with the Jiayuguan RTVU Branch, which provided an additional 300,000 Yuan ($48K) for the solution.

According to a spokesperson, students sitting in the new training dome can “travel forty thousand kilometers per day in one place” and are freely able to explore many famous scenic spots around the country. The scenes created by this immersive virtual simulation display environment are uniquely placed “within arm’s reach”. The platform can also support 3D films, pictures, PowerPoints, audio/video files, video conferencing and distance learning.

The solution is used for training students for the growing tourism and hospitality industry in Jiayuguan City (known for the Jiayuguan pass, the Great Wall, tombs, glaciers, stone carvings, mounds and glider recreation), which has experienced rapid growth in the last few years. Using the platform, students are able to practice tour guide explanation and language skills. The RTVU also plans to use the dome for simulation practice and teaching in the specialties of mechanical engineering, auto repair and architecture.

The Story Behind the Story

In China, Radio and Television Universities (RTVUs) are open higher education institutions that conduct distance education using interactive multimedia courseware, online courses and satellite-based distance learning. These RTVUs were created to improve the quality of the work force, adjusting to a large number of learners, particularly in support of non-degree education. To that end, RTVUs operate educational programs for community education centers, municipalities, counties, business and industry needs, rural areas, remote areas and regions inhabited by ethnic minority groups. Their advantages include lower costs and quicker graduation schemes.

We see a similar trend in U.S. colleges and universities. The trend is described in a recent book by Richard DeMillo, From Abelard to Apple. The theme of DeMillo’s books is that “any college or university can change course if it defines a compelling value proposition (one not based in “institutional envy” of Harvard and Berkeley) and imagines an institution that delivers it”. There’s the rub. Smaller and less influential institutions, like these Chinese RTVUs, now seek to accommodate large numbers of new learners in quick and cost effective ways, at the same time competing for students with more well-known and well-endowed universities. One way such second-tier schools are competing is through providing cutting edge visualization tools. (See my recent article, Nevada State College Flies High with 3D.) In both the Nevada State example and the Chinese Jiayuguan Branch RTVU, 3D visualization becomes much more than a sexy technology acquisition – it becomes a value proposition for the school. A draw for students. A competitive edge. A necessity. What are the implications in this story? Some of the most promising – and most likely – customers for display technologies are smaller colleges, universities, and technical schools. – Len Scrogan