The buzz surrounding the new augmented reality (AR) mobile game Pokémon GO has been phenomenal. More than 30 million people have downloaded the smartphone app which takes players to real-world locations and simulates Pokémon for them to catch and battle. Using AR technology to great effect, Pokémon GO has proven popular with children and adults alike. The magic formula – an addictive combination of cutting-edge technology and engaging gameplay that marries reality with fantasy, has proven the potential of AR to captivate an audience and what’s really exciting is that this technology is running on smartphones. Without the need for additional expensive or bulky hardware most of us already have the computing power right in our pockets.
The wonderful worlds of AR and VR
Recently there has been a lot of talk about AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality). Despite having some similarities the difference between the two is actually very important when it comes to learning. While VR creates a fully immersive experience without reference to the real world AR takes the real world and enhances it, by projecting 3D elements into a blended reality. Where AR really comes into its own is in taking tasks that are normally static and turning them into interactive and dynamic activities. An advantage that AR has over VR is that the experience can also be shared with others simultaneously as the technology doesn’t require the user to detach entirely from reality.
More than 30 million people have downloaded the Pokémon Go smartphone app
Leeds City College are keen to explore the possibilities that this emerging technology can bring to the learning environment. Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Developer at the college, Hicham Alaoui, explains: “AR manipulates real-life content so that it creates the effect of another dimension and adds contextual layers to existing information.
It overlays virtual 3D graphics onto our view of the real world, whilst VR immerses us in a completely virtual world without the input of our surroundings.”
The augmented classroom
The implications of AR on education are exciting. Imagine being able to captivate or motivate your students the way that Pokémon GO has. Although the technology is still in the early stages, a lot of research is being done into the impact it has on pedagogic development and early indications show that AR can indeed boost academic achievement through increased engagement. Leeds City College’s Hicham Alaoui doesn’t find this surprising, he said: “We now live in a digital age where contemporary learning methods are being developed, and student interactivity/engagement is key for absorbing and retaining information.”
This interactivity could be key to why AR is good for education. While the benefits of AR are only limited by your imagination there are a few ways where it particularly excels. Visual learners could benefit from projections of graphics and animated explanations and simulations. By expanding complicated processes into the third dimension many pupils will be able to see correlations that transcend the more traditional 2D model. Active learners could also benefit from AR technology as it encourages users to go out into the world and seek the answers for themselves. A school excursion to the museum could be greatly enhanced if additional information could be superimposed onto the exhibits or imagine a language app where students could learn vocabulary by scanning the world around them and have objects labelled with their corresponding article and noun.
The movers and the shakers
Blazing a trail in the AR for education market is independent children’s publisher, David Salariya, founder of The Salariya Book Company. Wanting to stay ahead of the curve, The Salariya Book Company designed and built two AR picture books for children to enjoy. Writing about the potential of AR technology to inspire the younger generation, David said: “Imagine a classroom where the teacher can summon up ancient civilisations and famous historical figures in three-dimensions. The ability to bring the outside world and past to life in this way would potentially make learning a much more fun and engaging experience for students. Children today are used to accessing knowledge via digital devices, so it’s far better to embrace the potential of this technology as a learning resource than to ostracise it from school.”
Children today are used to accessing knowledge via digital devices, so it’s far better to embrace the potential of this technology as a learning resource than to ostracise it from school
Another educational app, Dáskalos Chemistry, uses AR to demonstrate complex chemical concepts. The app combines traditional textbooks and physical learning materials with digital technology. For example, students can use QR code flashcards representing a chemical element, and when viewed through smart glasses the codes become interactive 3D models of that particular element. While this technology does require an additional wearable peripheral the benefits of the technology is clear. By blending physical and virtual learning educators can bring difficult subjects to life and turn hard-to-teach subjects into engaging and interactive lessons. To Hicham Alaoui at Leeds City College, investing in new technology is an obvious choice: “AR can be a highly effective tool in the classroom and a valuable investment for educational establishments. It encourages engagement and showcases subjects in an interesting format, allowing students to learn in a contemporary environment.”
Looking to the future
While this new technology is still in its infancy it has caught the attention of technology heavyweights Microsoft and Google. Both industry giants are investing in AR technology, with Microsoft showcasing its Hololens project by broadcasting a live three-dimensional Minecraft build at last year’s E3.
Minecraft has already been adapted for use in the classroom and is celebrated for its ability to nurture children’s creativity while at the same time teaching them geometry, algebra and other practical applications of mathematics. Not to be left behind by Microsoft, Google has also championed AR with its Google Glass project that aims to beam the power of the internet directly into your eyes through its iconic spectacles. It’s too early to speculate on whether AR will become a part of mainstream education however, with all this interest and investment it just might be one to watch out for in a classroom near you.