AUGMENTED REALITY: REVOLUTIONISING EDUCATION

 

We all know that technology in education is now as essential as pencil and paper. Benjamin Herold’s (@BenjaminBHeroldvery informative post about the state of technology in education gives us a well rounded overview about the trends and challenges of the role of digital media in education. Public schools in the United States now provide one computer for every five students, and it’s safe to assume that very soon, technology will take over from the traditional tools in helping children learn and collaborate with each other in classrooms. It is predicted that “in 2015-16, for the first time, more state standardized tests for the elementary and middle grades will be administered via technology than by paper and pencil”. Although it seems that challenges are aplenty, it is without question that schools and educational institutes are aiming to take advantage of the digital tools they have access to.

One can very easily get lost in the politics, business, standards of ed-tech, and lose sight of the main problem technology is trying to solve: helping students learn.

Behind all the issues of standards and the missing facts about how and if tech helps students learn faster, better and easier is the technology and the content that schools have access to. A school can have the nicest and shiniest of PCs and Macs, but without the right content for students to work with and the right way to interact with that content, it’ll all be just pieces of hardware oppositions of ed-tech can blame for all the problems around education.

How do you solve this problem? How do you help students make better use of the equipment they get at school? And is there a way to tap into the vast number of mobile devices already in the pockets of the children? We may not have a definite answer to those questions, but we have ideas. For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on children’s education for now.

Gamification

The word may be overhyped and overused today, but gamifying educational content is without question one of the best ways to keep students focused and engaged. Ask a child about chemicals and how to produce them, and you may get a blank stare or at least a moment or two of hesitation. Ask them about how to craft a diamond sword in Minecraft, and they’ll know all the ingredients and steps to do it. All the experiments in chemistry class are really interesting and maybe even exciting, and children probably learn more by watching something boiling or exploding than by reading about them in textbooks, but it’s not entertaining in a digital, “it’s like a game” way.

Gamification is a great way to engage students, and although competition may not always work in a classroom, especially with less capable students, giving them an incentive to solve game-like situations and puzzles by creating a reward system will help them get familiar with the subject. It’s not a magic wand, and it needs teachers as much as great content, but using it the right way can potentially produce spectacular results.

Interaction

We all learn best when we live through an experience, and interact with our surroundings in natural ways. You may argue that swiping, tapping and pinching on a touch screen is now a natural way to interact with content, but it’s a two dimensional interaction lacking the immersion and depth of real gestures.

You don’t have to be a teacher or be in a classroom to see how children react to virtual or digital animals and characters. BroadcastAR is a great example of children playing around with digital animals, and really enjoying themselves. Shameless plug aside, you can clearly see that they’re engaged (pulling their parents in with them), and interested in interacting with the animals. Add a teacher and a fun narrative, and the experience turns into a learning tool.

Presence

Speaking of living through an experience. VR will become a great tool in teachers' hands in many situations. The reason is the fundamental of VR: presence. Once you put on your HMD (head-mounted display), you teleport to a whole new world. Or to space.  Or back in time to witness the first ever successful flight by the Wight brothers. "We don't necessarily need to give you an educational message, just put you in the context and let you absorb all that information around you..." - says Ben Grossmann, Co-Founder of Magnopus. We agree to that principle. Great content will give you the experience in VR that will be educational, shocking and memorable. Children, however, will need to be directed and informed of what they’re seeing, and maybe point out different elements of the story, allow them to examine the details from closer, and so on. This is where the teacher comes into play, and where right now VR falls a little bit short: students are present, but they’re present in space or somewhere in the past, losing connection with the teacher.

AR - presence and experience

There are some arguments out there about VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), and which one will win in the end. The obvious answer is that both will win, but in different ways. Especially in education, both will have their places, and both can help students learn. Right now VR is a little bit lonely - you’re disconnected from the world, and even if the teacher has a “master device”, controlling the experience, the one-on-one human connection is missing. The student is taken to the virtual world.

AR brings the virtual world into the classroom. Students and teachers see each other, communicate with each other, but they can examine virtual objects using their tablets (much cheaper than VR enabled PCs, even at the high end), or their smart AR HMDs, like Hololens. The one-on-one human connection is there. And there’s another aspect that AR can add: collaboration between students. Using AR to solve puzzles or experiment in small groups can enhance not only the learning experience, but collaboration skills of students as well.

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