Last month we covered the many uses of virtual reality in education. This month we look at how educators are using augmented and mixed reality.
While virtual reality gives the user the experience of being in some other location, such as a museum, scientific expedition, or another planet, augmented reality (AR) superimposes digital content onto the user's current location. Pokémon Go made this famous over the summer of 2017 when people could chase animated Pokémon creatures viewed through their cell phones that were released at various locations around the world. An AR app will detect the user's location using their cell phone's GPS system to send location-specific content or recognize an image on the cell phone's camera to superimpose content onto that image. For instance, the app might recognize a building on the camera and start a video about the history of that building.
Thomas Cochrane of the Auckland University of Technology made one of the first uses of augmented reality in teaching when he had his students create architectural tours of Auckland. (2015) They found historic locations and made educational content about that location in various formats, including video, text, and sound. They then posted the content to Wikitude, connected it to Google Maps, and allowed others to view that content by either clicking a link on a Google Maps layer, or pointing their camera at a structure and activating the content on-site. This allowed students to create tours that could be taken by students in other countries or tourists in their own city. See the discussion of the project in the September, 2015 issue of Online Classroom.
Faculty can apply similar exercises to their own courses. Students can research and display the history of their campus by creating teaching content about different locations and creating augmented reality tours that people can play of their campus. An instructor teaching the history of the 60's at the University of Wisconsin can have students build a tour that covers the major events at different locations on campus
Roger Edmonds and Simon Smith extended this idea by gamifying the location-based content for their course Business and Society. (2017) They used the Game Maker app from the Mobile Learning Academy (http://mobilelearningacademy.org
) to create walking tours of businesses in their town. Students would stop at various locations on these tours and play the GPS-activated AR content related to the history of businesses at that location to teach the relation of businesses to society. But rather than just playing videos or displaying text, the AR content included quizzes that would require the student to explore the location to answer. Often the student needed to find and photograph a physical item at the location to satisfy a requirement. This makes the AR content interactive. The result was heightened discovery, learning, and engagement from the student.
Like augmented reality, mixed reality superimposes digital content on the real world of the user. But while augmented reality uses hand-held devices such as smart phones, mixed reality uses wearable devices such VR goggles. Moreover, mixed reality provides a heightened ability to interact with digital elements, such as by manipulating them.
Bert, Moore, and Cowling used mixed reality in a very clever way to teach paramedics how to manage airway obstructions in a distance learning course (2017). The instructors first printed 3D copies of the tools that a paramedic uses to open airways and mailed these to students, along with cell phone holders to wear. The program then projected the image of a person with an airway obstruction to the student and used the ability to locate the 3D tools in the student's hands to walk the student through different procedures for clearing that obstruction. Thus, the student had the experience of working on a virtual patient in his or her own environment.
Microsoft has made educational use of this technology with its HoloLens system which projects a virtual body into the viewer's room which he or she can pull apart to explore its anatomy. This is currently being used to teach anatomy to medical students at the Cleveland Clinic. Students can walk around a 3D image of a body and pull out individual organs to explore in more detail, thus providing a sense of how the organs work together. Learn more about this at: https://youtu.be/h4M6BTYRlKQ
One additional power of HoloLens is to project the digital image of another person into the individual's environment in real time. This means that two or more groups of individuals from different locations can meet with one another as if they were in the same room by each sitting at a conference table and wearing a HoloLens viewer. Everyone has a 3D replica of themselves projected to everyone else, so each person seated in a different spot at the table can turn and speak to one another's 3D image as if they were in the same room. See the demo at: https://youtu.be/7d59O6cfaM0
This system could be used to host virtual meetings between students in different classes, such as American French language students speaking with students in France who wish to interview their American counterparts about American culture or politics. It could also be used to allow students on a foreign exchange program in a different country to take classes back at their host institution that they cannot take abroad by sitting in on those classes.
Like virtual reality, there are a number of mixed reality apps coming out with different types of free educational content. Take a look at the Microsoft Store to find this content: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store
. Moreover, apps are coming out that allow instructors to make their own HoloLens content. RoomScannerS, in beta version as of this writing, makes a digital, 3D copy of the user's room that can be viewed and walked around by others. A physics instructor working on a particle experiment over the summer could use it to film the machinery of the experiment to allow his students to walk around that experiment to learn what it is like to work on it. An archeology instructor can do the same with a summer dig for his archeology students, while a history instructor can create mixed reality tours of historically significant rooms or other locations.
While virtual, augmented, and mixed reality might sound exotic, free educational content is emerging daily that puts these tools within the reach of any instructor.
Birt, J., Moore, E., & Cowling, M. (2017). Improving paramedic distance education through mobile mixed reality simulation, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
, 2017, 33(6).
Cochrane, T., Narayan, V., & Antonczak, L. (2015). Designing Collaborative Learning Environments Using Mobile AR. EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications
, 22-24 June, 2015, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Edmonds, R. and Smith, S. (2017). From playing to designing: Enhancing educational experiences with location-based mobile learning games, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
, 2017, 33(6).