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Augmented Reality and Education

Augmented Reality and Education

There’s a problem with educational engagement amongst American teenagers. Less than a third of 11th-graders feel engaged in their schoolwork. The cause is boredom and bored students perform less well than their engaged counterparts.

Thankfully, there’s an inexpensive and readily available solution: augmented reality. Studies show that classroom technology improves student engagement and, so, learning outcomes. As the most recent strand of educational technology (edtech), AR is already making an impact on how educators bring their subjects to life.

Why AR?

You’ll find AR almost anywhere there’s a smartphone.

As an example, take a look at Google’s Translate app or one of the increasingly popular sky-mapping apps. Both take real-time input from the phone’s camera, accelerometer, compass, and so on, then combine it with relevant data

Point a sky-mapping app at the red star in the sky and it’ll tell you it’s actually the planet Mars. Not sure what flavour that soft drink is when you’re on your foreign vacation? Show the label to Google Translate and it’ll translate the words into your language.

For all its other uses, AR is remarkably well suited to education. Not only does it introduce novelty, and so solves the bored boredom problem, but it also:

  • is easy to update, without reprinting textbooks and other materials
  • helps students to learn at their own pace
  • turns learning into an investigation
  • goes beyond the screen, helping to add context and depth to real-world learning
  • like all digital media, has low marginal costs.

So, how does AR work in a classroom setting?

In the Classroom

AR is all about meshing the real and the virtual. Think about it for a moment and that’s precisely what the best teachers do. Remember that chemistry teacher who described the atom in such captivating detail that you can still picture it in your head now? Or how about the English teacher who unpacked Shakespeare so that it went from an incomprehensible jumble to leaping alive from the page?

Augmented reality tools help to uncover the meaning, the understanding, the learning that is sometimes hidden in a subject. What if your English teacher could have populated the classroom with Shakesperian figures and scenery? Or your chemistry teacher given you a 3D interactive model of the atom that you could manipulate?

Educators are already creating AR experiences, usings tools like Metaverse, that provide enhanced learning experiences, such as:

  • puzzles that combine real-world and virtual elements
  • themed expeditions and hunts that embed learning opportunities in the classroom
  • virtual expeditions to places that would otherwise be unreachable, such as a class of Florida students visiting the pillars of Stonehenge in their school gym.

Publishers are adding AR elements to textbooks and other traditional learning aids. CleverBooks publishes a world atlas that, when viewed using their AR app, shows animal migrations, weather patterns, geopolitical facts, and other interactive features.

And it’s not just for K12 students. Insight Heart provides an interactive way for medical students to learn the structure and mechanics of the human heart.

Of course, not everyone buys into the idea that augmented reality is a good thing for the classroom. However, when looking at edtech generally, even skeptics such as Stanford’s Professor Larry Cuban are coming round to the idea that technology has a role to play in the classroom.

Outside the Classroom

If augmented reality is valuable in the classroom, what about in other educational contexts such as museums?

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is using AR to breathe fresh life into some of its oldest exhibits. The museum’s Bone Hall features exhibits with the skeletons of animals that have been on display since as early as 1881. With representatives of every major group of vertebrae, the collection represents an unparalleled learning opportunity.

With the Smithsonian’s new Skin and Bones app, the exhibits in Bone Hall transform from skeletons to moving, breathing, flesh-covered animals.

But what about the technology that brings AR itself to life?

Implementing AR for Edtech

At the core of any augmented reality app is video. Solo AR experiences take a feed from the device’s camera, merge any computer generated imagery, and display the result on the device’s screen.

The future for augmented reality in education, though, lies in shared experiences. And shared experiences require low-latency, highly reliable streaming video between devices. Here at Nexmo, the Vonage API Platform, our OpenTok video API provides an ideal foundation for teams looking to build shared AR educational experiences.

Imagine a real-time lesson where distance-learning architecture students take part in an online seminar and can each interact with a shared 3D model of a building to explore its design and engineering. Or how about helping elementary school children in the US connect and share with their counterparts in India by working together to solve AR puzzles.

Augmented reality is making a real difference in today’s classroom. However, the future for AR in edtech lies in dynamic shared experiences delivered with the help of APIs such as our own OpenTok.

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