Right now digital globes are too expensive for most classrooms, but promise an exciting new way to teach geography and more.
One place that has looked at the impact of digital globes on education is China. A study by the Chinese Ministry of Education's Educational Equipment Research Institute looked at 700 students who spent a year with the Magic Planet in class, using it with 15 different topics, and a control group of 700 that did not. It found that students in the Magic Planet classrooms averaged comprehension levels 16.5% higher than the students in the control groups. It also found that 100% of students in classes with the Magic Planet participated, while just 80% of the control group participated.
China has recommended the Magic Planet as a piece of standard classroom equipment, which has swamped Global Imagination's production in Campbell, Calif. "We can't keep up with demand," said Mike Foody, CEO of Global Imagination. China was already by far the company's largest market, with more than 1,500 globes installed in 800 schools. In contrast, there are six school districts in the U.S. using its globes. (Others might use digital globes from rivals such as iGlobe or ARC Science.)
Foody said his company has about 1,200 globes on order, 1,000 of those bound for China. But he can envision hundreds of thousands of orders. He says if he can get prices down to about $2,500, every one of China's 440,000 schools will buy one.
To meet that $2,500 price, he's hoping to convince a Chinese manufacturer to produce globes. China is the main source for the specialized projector components that power the digital globe's display.
Schools are a breakout market for the Magic Planet, first sold to NASA and to museums. Foody said they work well for teaching, because they offer 3-D visualization for objects that are indeed three-dimensional. He says the brain has to do a lot of work to convert a flat map into a 3-D image.
However, he said that entrepreneurs often underestimate how much time it takes adopters of new education technology to do new things. "You hear a lot about revolutionizing education and completely revamping the way it's done," Foody said. "One of the biggest challenges is teachers don't have a lot of time."
Ellis, for instance, spent nearly three months developing his Magic Planet curriculum in Richmond. But as the globes spread in education, resources should increase, which might help teachers round out their lesson plans.
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