In my last blog on augmented reality I bemoaned the overly enthusiastic predictions that AR will revolutionize the classroom. As a counterpoint, and in the interest of fairness, I thought today I’d share with you a couple of ways teachers are using the technology to great effect in real-world classrooms.
Any research on AR in the classroom quickly reveals an abundance of products, and a dearth of real-world applications. It is also worth bearing in mind that the AR bubble went up in 2011/2012, and there are many now defunct apps and programs from that time, and for our purposes utterly redundant.
A short introduction to AR (Augmented Reality)
Unlike VR (Virtual Reality), which is an entirely immersive digital world, (think well-made computer games and Second Life) AR says what it does on the label: it augments reality with layers of digital experiences. Pokemon GO is probably the most well-known example of how augmented reality works.
Some of the critiques, from an educational point-of-view, include:
- Is the time it takes to design and set up justified by extraordinary educational benefits?
- Do overworked teachers truly have time for another “augmentation” to their classrooms? (just check out this funny BuzzFeed listicle)
- Can school IT and WiFi systems (not to mention budgets) sustain the relatively high demands of AR?
3 Ways AR works in real-life classrooms
To look at these critiques from a real-world perspective, I went hunting for case studies (one of my favorite things to do). Here’s what I found:
Google Expeditions AR
One can’t really move in the Ed-Tech world these days without bumping into a Google product, and AR is no different. As with its quite successful VR Expeditions program, driven by Google Cardboard etc. the company has, over the last 6 months, hit the road to beta test their Expeditions AR program at schools across the US.
Armed with smart phones on selfie sticks, preloaded with the AR program, middle schoolers were let loose in the classroom to “discover” giant fish, dinosaurs, planets, historical objects and more. Teachers were given a brief pre-expedition session, along with a “master” phone that managed and selected the items up for discovery.
I couldn’t help being charmed by the images from some of these experimental lessons: the students' faces are a picture of delight and intrigue. So it appears that Google here has addressed at least some of the AR drawbacks we mentioned in the introduction: It’s accessible, and easy for teachers to use, preloaded and designed; the only question is can schools afford the technology and systems required?
The Metaverse Augmented Reality development app is, by its own account, taking the education world by storm. It’s tricky to drill down through the hype and find vivid and useful examples of lessons, without actually downloading the app. But fear not, I did indeed download the app, and explored a number of creative and useful lessons there, which I describe below.
- 18th Century “Woke” - take a guided tour through the principal events of the Enlightenment.
- ELL Lesson, that enables second language English speakers to “hunt” for vocabulary in their environment.
- Mad Scientist, a 10th Grade chemistry game that also features a wall of fame for students that have completed the challenge.
Liberty County Schools and zSpace
Liberty County schools district in Georgia made the bold move a few years ago to invest $500,000 in zSpace labs placed in six schools, collectively serving 10,000 students. Typically a lab features on station (made up of a screen, interactive stylus and tracking eyewear) plus a teacher management station. The visualization tool lends itself primarily to Earth and Life sciences, as students can select and dissect a range of objects from mice to planets. Virtual-holographic images can be "lifted" from the screen and manipulated with the stylus.
One real-world lesson plan example is Natalie Mondesir, a fourth-grade teacher in one of the schools, who usually taught her students the principles of forces in motion with a lesson involving the design of a roller coaster on paper. zSpace comes with a preloaded program called Newton’s Park, and Ms Mondesir now has her students create and test their roller coasters in a virtual environment, where they can change the mass of objects and even the pull of gravity. Once the design is optimal, students go on to create real-world (smaller) models. Watch teachers talk about the improved engagement, especially from normally disengaged students:
All in all
I’ve explored both sides of the AR argument in this and my previous blog; and as far as I can see the jury is still out on the broad-based impact it is currently having on K-12 education: what some teachers might call less teaching and more entertaining, but I still believe that with careful planning, these AR tools could add enormous value. The other inherent learning opportunity is getting students to think about the technology itself, how it works, what it means for communication and what it could look like in 20 or 100 years time.
Reading some of the reviews and comments from teachers engaged in the programs above yields no doubt that the technology is highly effective, because it is highly engaging for students; however cost, time and resources - as ever - remain the key challenge.