Could your classroom’s reality use a boost? As weird as that can sound, it’s entirely possible to do so with a neat little trick commonly known as augmented reality.
The term augmented reality (AR for short) refers to any program or application that can take an element of the real world, analyze it, and then supplement it with additional images, information or other changes that work and interact with the ‘real’ world around them. The most popular example of augmented reality today still remains the infamous Google Glass, in which Google’s software layers additional data over a person’s vision with the help of a head-mounted interface. Using Google Glass, a person could look at a restaurant and see recent reviews of its menu, send or receive email, or even pull up maps of where you are and where you’re going in real-time. While this version of the technology is still imperfect, AR developers are aiming to perfect this kind of heightened experience.
However, current levels of augmented reality are increasingly finding a foothold in modern classrooms—and as more than just some technological novelty. By blending physical and digital resources in the same space, teachers are finding that AR adds a new level of interactivity to handouts, student readings, notes, and other things students might receive over the course of the year. One of our favorite products here at Teq—zSpace—is a great example of augmented reality, taking the digital and real worlds and blending them together in a way that students can engage with directly.
For teachers who are just starting out, however, there are forms of augmented reality available to classes at any level.
One of the most enduring uses of augmented reality in the classroom is to supplement specific content subjects. Over the last couple of years, a number of have been developed to use the cameras of mobile devices, then layer virtual content over the view. Many of these are limited to one specific type of content, but perform their job thoroughly and intuitively. For example, the Anatomy 4D app is paired specifically with content relating to the human body, while the multi-platform Starwalk app is designed to display astronomy landmarks, such as constellations or star clusters. In many cases, they’re used to help students visualize concepts that would be hard to picture in two-dimensional diagrams—for example, being able to see the complete anatomy of the human heart from multiple angles, or the imaginary lines that make constellations. Having these visualizations can help students make connections more readily between their curriculum and the world they see around them, by literally layering one on top of the other.
An interesting example of augmented reality is the apps that are released each year by the American Museum of Natural History. The museum has a long-standing tradition of releasing applications that coincide with exhibits at the museum. While these apps do not use the camera like many kinds of augmented reality do, downloading an app like Beyond Planet Earth or Dinosaurs allows students to interact with the exhibits in new ways. By scrolling through the app while they move through the museum, students are exposed to information, context, and ideas that they may not have access to otherwise. The museum also releases special apps that pair with their temporary exhibits; fortunately, the apps persist long after the exhibits are gone, so if you and your class missed a cool show, you can still get part of the experience!
Another popular example of augmented reality in the classroom comes with Aurasma. This application for the iPad allows users to create their own customized experiences. Using the device camera, teachers can pair ‘trigger’ images in their texts or classroom with other images, text or even video. Once students log in and use their own device, they can access the info provided by their teacher by viewing the ‘trigger’ through their device’s camera.
Classrooms have used this to great effect to get students engaged in the classroom. For example, interactive scavenger hunts can encourage students to hunt for images in the classroom that contain content and hints for quizzes, such as in an interactive scavenger hunts or ARGs (Alternate reality games). Teachers can also build study notes or video mini-lessons into their student texts using Aurasma on the text’s pictures, embed graded responses or feedback on student assignments for privacy, add student recordings to the classroom board for more depth, and more.
Augmented reality takes advantage of the presence of technology in the classroom to bring students back into the present. Rather than separating the content and the technology from its real world application, AR ties them together by literally showing how one can be viewed through the lens of another, giving students a chance to make those connections themselves. So let’s ask the question from before again, but a little differently: Don’t you think your students’ reality deserves a little boost?