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P. Merchán1, S. Salamanca1, A. Adán2, M.J. Merchán3

1Universidad de Extremadura (SPAIN)
2Universidad de Castilla La Mancha (SPAIN)
3Universidad Pablo de Olavide (SPAIN)
Technologies have opened new ways to deal with different methodologies in the teaching-learning process. Among others, digital content, defined as “all content that is electronic in nature that supports or acts as the curriculum and helps students learn”, is a very powerful tool that has changed the methodology of work for students and teachers. Video, music, web 2.0 or electronic encyclopedias are some of the most usual digital content components.

3D models can be considered as one more of these elements. They can be defined as a computer representation of the three-dimensional surface of an object. The procedure to obtain them begins with the acquisition of the actual surface information by using a 3D scanner. Then, a sequence of stages that comprises registering, merging and processing must be followed. Although it is a complex process, the models generated offer many possibilities to be used as a digital content.

This paper has a double aim: on the one hand it deals with the description of the work that must be carried out to incorporate 3D models to the teaching-learning process. It covers the whole course of action from the planning acquisition phase to the post-processing stage that finishes with the digital replica of the real object provided. On the other hand, it is devoted to show the potential of this new digital content, which has turned out to be a very versatile tool for all the levels in the educational process, ranging from Primary School to the Higher Education Area. Specifically, we focus on the digitalization of ancient roman sculptures belonging to the National Museum of Roman Art in Spain and its implications in the educational field: interaction with precise physical replicas avoiding moving and touching the original pieces which would entail the risk of damage or contamination; the creation of educational resources for researchers and students of history and art; making works of art readily accessible to the public; facilitating virtual exhibitions and virtual tourism leading to an easy way of learning History; and last, but certainly not least, the mutually enriching formation of multidisciplinary teams.

In order to facilitate its use for both teachers and students in the classroom, we have developed an easy-to-use visualization computer application bearing in mind the possible problems in the combination of a large data set and a relatively slow computer. This required us to pay special attention to the trade-offs between speed and quality, and between usability and flexibility. Functions that can change the original 3D meshes have not been implemented, since, in general, our users are not accustomed to this type of tool. However, other actions related to display, illumination, and elementary measurements are easy to perform. The software also permits several models to be loaded into the same window with the option of moving them around, and allows multiple windows to be open at the same time.

To sum up, we mean to show that beyond the computer graphics and computer vision research involved in cultural heritage 3D modeling, the interdisciplinary aspects and social and educational benefits that can come out of this type of digital content are outstanding.