Recently I have been getting more and more excited about augmented reality (AR) and its possible uses in the classroom in the years to come. I believe that AR could have the same effect the introduction of interactive whiteboards has had on classroom practice and student engagement a decade ago. AR has the potential to provide teachers the ability to show the children absolutely anything in their classrooms. But we are not there yet and most applications are simply cool toys to be marvelled at. There are many huddles to overcome before AR begins making a real impact on the classroom and learning.
Augmented Reality, the superimposing layers of computer generated images over the real world, has been with us in one form for longer than you might think. The first head up display was introduced into aircraft back in the 1950s. But AR has been making a bigger mainstream impact over the last few years as mobile devices have begun to have GPS, accelerometers, and high resolution cameras.
There are two main types of AR that are commonly used. The first is more commonly used with mobile devices that have GPS to know its position and direction. The device then overlays the image using this positioning information. The second is more commonly use with relatively static devices such as desktops and laptops. They use a marker to provide the position. The latter often shows 3D virtual models which the user can move about to turn the objects, whereas the GPS variety usually shows images in a 2D plane.
I have used AR resources in my class many times and it always gets a great reaction from the children and develops their learner. As with all technology we use in our class, we have be careful that the technology is being used to further the understanding of the children and that it brings something unique to the experience. The very first time I used augmented reality with a class was in a science lesson about the heart. I used a resource from http://learnar.org to superimpose the organs of the torso onto an unsuspecting child. I could have taught the same thing with many other resources, but the impact the 3D model had on the class was amazing and the higher order questions and discussion that followed was superb.
I have tried many other AR resources in my lessons, such as http://guubes.com, http://layar.com and http://scimorph.greatfridays.com. But the resource that is the most versatile and I find most exciting to use as a teacher is a free plugin for Google SketchUp from In Globe Technologies. SketchUp is an amazing piece of software which allows users to design 3D models. It was originally created to make buildings for Google Earth, but users can and have made models of thousands of other things. You can even upload images into a 3D environment. Users can upload their 3D models to the SketchUp library for anyone to download and use. What the plugin allows users to do is to use any 3D model, either designed themselves or downloaded, to make an AR layer of that model and manipulate the model by moving the makeror moving the camera.
The plugin can be used to display models of buildings or other 3D models on a table top. Very nice, but using a bit of imagination you can make some great learning situations: -
- Move the maker to create a lion creeping towards a child on your whiteboard.
- Ask your children to design puppets of SketchUp and perform a puppet show.
- Superimpose an alien over a child to ask them to role play.
- Get the children to design a 3D presentation.
- Attach the marker to a hat and make face masks or superimpose a photo of a famous person’s face. For example, if you are learning about the Tudors, why not have Henry VIII standing in your class to answer questions.
- Download virtual scenery and props when making videos.
- View relief maps and famous buildings from around the world to build a perfect eco city.
The list of possibilities for teachers is astounding. The ability to have any sort of virtual object in your class which can be manipulated by the children will be a great leap follow. But there are still some problems. All the interaction is happening on a screen and the marker is still essentially still a controller. What will need to happen to make this technology truly revolutionary for education is if children can see the virtual layer in their hands or in their classroom with their own eyes with the ‘real’ reality behind, like it is for a head up displays. Many engineers are working on AR Goggles which will allow users to see augmented object. They are still in their infancy, but they already exist in high tech labs. Even when they do appear in shops, it is likely that they will be prohibitively expensive for schools in the short term.
Another problem is that AR resources are still the mainly the domain of enthusiasts and there is yet to be a central ‘You Tube’ of AR resources where users can easily create/upload their own 3D models and share them. But I predict that a site will appear over the next few years doing just that. Only then will the technology have the potential of become as pervasive and routine to put together as a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation.