Augmented Reality, augmented learning?

8th January 2018

Augmented Reality, augmented learning?


It began with projectors and electronic whiteboards. More recently, we've seen the mass implementation of tablets in classrooms across the UK. But what's next for audio visual education technology?

We're beginning to see some very exciting new ideas appearing in the technology sphere, and one that has really captured the imagination is the concept of Augmented Reality (AR). This has led to discussions on how it could be used to enrich learning in the classroom.

In its simplest terms, AR is a technology that adds another layer onto reality, onto the user’s view of the real, physical world. It is the use of computer graphics to change perceptions.

The earliest example of similar technology is in Google Maps and other navigational apps that provide an extra layer of reality, in that they can map out nearby locations as you walk around and even give you directions. More recently, we’ve seen even more creative uses of this technology. You may be aware of the new function of the popular messaging app, Snapchat, which scans your facial features and lays an animated mask over the top that reacts to how you move. Even more prominent was the recent explosion of gaming app, Pokémon GO, which uses both geo-mapping and computer graphics to reflect animated characters into the real world, allowing users to interact with their surroundings in a very different way.

The huge popularity of Pokémon GO amongst young people has inspired the question: could we use this technology to promote engagement in the classroom? If so, how might it work in practice? Here are just five examples of potential uses for AR in the classroom:

Expanding horizons

In certain lessons, the boundaries of the classroom, and in fact, the school day, can limit the opportunities for certain topics. Take science lessons focused on space for example. With the school day running between nine and four, it’s not possible for pupils to go into the playground and look up at the stars to get a real sense of the solar system above them. However, by using AR, an iPad could hone in on the student’s location and map out the stars above them on the screen, no matter what time of day it is.

Live data

In a similar way, a tablet equipped with an AR app can help to gather real-life, real-time data from things around us. You might use it to track which planes are flying nearby, where they’re going, how high up they are and how fast they’re travelling, all as it happens above you. Students will then start asking each other questions, such as “how much faster is the British Airways flight moving than the EasyJet one?” and by using the destination information of each flight, they are able to calculate how fast it will reach the airport at its current speed. This can spark some really interesting discussions which make mathematics, and a variety of other subjects, more real when it comes to returning to the classroom.

Getting hands-on

There are some activities that we have done in the classroom for years that have attempted to bring topics to life that are otherwise quite abstract. Taking mathematics as an example again, the concept of creating 2D nets that become 3D shapes can be quite challenging, and this was often solved by cutting out paper nets and folding them into cubes or other shapes, secured with a glue stick. While this technique can be very effective, there may be some children who find this difficult to get their heads around at first, but by using AR, these shapes can be brought to life for them on-screen. It also allows them to interact with more complex polyhedrons, that might be a little too complicated to fold together by hand. There are even apps that will incorporate the students’ input. For example, you could have students colour-in a globe on the paper, which when scanned will become 3D, with their selected colour scheme and annotations included!

By the book

Whenever I think back to my school days, I always remember going for the pop-up books when it was time to read, as they provided an extra level of reality that really came out of the pages. AR can enhance this even further, with animated images appearing from the pages of the book, or even video clips. This can be a real hook for reluctant readers, and getting that initial inspiration going is the most crucial factor of the process, rather than the medium that this motivation comes from. You might think that augmented books will cost the earth, but in reality, they’re often no more expensive than standard formats, and the apps to enhance the books are almost always free!

Show and tell

Display boards are an integral part of most, if not all classrooms, no matter what age group you’re teaching. And while the visual content of the display is often very engaging, this can be enhanced even further, by adding “trigger images” that unlock video content or animated graphics. This can be used to display great work that students have created, both for their own personal celebration, but also for parents, whether that’s at teacher meetings for existing students, or potential new parents at Open Evenings. There are some pretty incredible examples of how this has been used to boost the home-school connection, providing a level of communication that simply wasn’t possible before.

Pros and cons of AR

The main benefit of AR of course, is that it has a real “wow” factor for students, and if used effectively, it can be a fantastic stimulus for boosting engagement and getting kids excited about learning. It provides opportunities that wouldn’t ordinarily be possible in the classroom, and can give insights into topics that might be hard to demonstrate on paper. A lot of schools will already have the hardware in place to implement AR in the classroom, especially following the increasing use of tablets in the last few years! Again, a great deal of the software is free, so the costs to this can be minimal, while yielding a high return on investment (ROI).

Of course, the danger with these types of technology is that they will become more of a “toy” for the students to play with, rather than a classroom aid. As with everything, the technology shouldn’t be implemented for the sake of it, it must have a specific learning purpose, rather than just being a replacement for traditional teaching techniques. AR must be implemented effectively, by being appropriately integrated into lesson plans, to gain the benefits.

The advice that I would give to anyone wanting to bring AR into the classroom is that the teacher will always be the central, most important aspect of a lesson. Technology will never replace great teachers, but this type of technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.