Augmented Reality for Education

Augmented Reality Applied to Education

One example of augmented reality using text images (Photo: Wiki Commons).

What is Augmented Reality?

As a science educator I often find myself walking a fine line between wanting kids to experience nature in person, unplugged and engaged with their surroundings. But, I can't turn a blind eye to technology.   STEM science education is rapidly emerging as part of classroom requirements, and that includes tech. Besides, most of the kids I teach or write curriculum for were born with smart technology at their fingertips, and it's how they understand their world.

One of the newest technologies emerging for museums, science centers, engineering and design, and even advertising is augmented reality or AR.  Augmented reality is a  type of smart technology that superimposes a computer-generated image onto a user's view of the world using a smart phone, iPad, or camera on your computer. There are many different types of AR, but most require that you download an app to be able to see these over-laid images. You'll also a device with a camera (phone, tablet, or computer). The idea is that your device, using image cues, uploads a computer-generated video, 3-D image, photos/photo album, news-feed, or interactive animation. The computer program keys in on one of several types of cues in static images, these can be things like QR codes (those black and white boxes of smaller boxes you see everywhere), which is a symbol that is unique to the app you're using, or even a specific picture, image, artwork, or advertisement.

One of the best introductions to AR that I've seen comes from Matt Mill's TED talk. It's about 8 minute long. This gives you some idea about the opportunities that AR represents.

Augmented reality is being introduced into museums and education centers like in the National Geographic exhibit in Rotterdam, where visitors could interact with rhinos, rainstorms, or lightening.

Art museums are working with AR to develop tours where visitors could literally have characters (really they're actors) or painters walk out of paintings and begin talking. Imagine going to a museum and being able to see Abe Lincoln pick up his hat or Amelia Earhart get into her plane and talk to you. The technology is quite exciting and I can image how, in a short few years, it will eventually evolve to be fully interactive.

Here's an example from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and their exhibit of "Walk Among the Dinosaurs."

This is another way that the Smithsonian is using a modeling app for the Museum of Natural History. It lets you hold up your smart device to the skeletons in their bone hall and then see the skin and muscles on the animals, as well as how they moved.

The opportunities for augmented reality are quite literally endless. News outlets are exploring using it for morning news and of course advertising agencies are already excited about making fun interactive ads. You have to admit, it would make for fun Harry-Potteresque newspaper articles and photo albums.

As a curriculum developer I'm also quite interested in the classroom applications as well. For example, books can have AR features embedded in them. Here are two examples:

This example is using flash cards for teaching students math.

NASA has released a spacecraft AR app that allows users to interface with a rover, or other spacecraft. You can move parts, make the rover rotate, and learn about the engineering features.

There are certainly limitations to AR, such as the fact that students need smart phones, downloading apps, and/or having a computer with a camera, but overall the technology is accessible.  Naturally keeping control of the use of these devices is a challenge, it's more fun to text friends than to stay on task, so this is something teachers will be faced with.  Attention spans waver pretty quickly, even with these apps.

There are many different AR creation software programs, both free and paid. Here are a few:

Apps that use AR for different purposes, such as learning or shopping include:

  • Theodolite, an app for geo-tracking, mapping, photo tagging, and navigation (iPhone).
  • Snapshot showroom, where you can see furniture you might want to purchase "dropped" into your living room or home spaces (iPhone).
  • Skymap, 3-D images of constellations and the sky where you are (Android).
  • Anatomy 4D, Learn human anatomy and physiology, from the heart to the circulatory systems and muscles (iPhone).
  • Sunseeker, track the path of the sun, elevation, rise and set time, etc. (Android).
  • Lookator, is a WiFi overlay app, which shows you a real time image of where you are with WiFi hot spots overlaid on the image (Android)
  • AR Invaders, a game that puts real-looking spaceships over the view you're looking at, and you have to try to keep them from taking over the planet (Android and iPhone).

This is one of the many possible futures of educational materials, museum experiences,  3-D imaging for engineering and design, and advertising. One of my personal favorites is using business cards with AR, and having your head pop out and talk about yourself. The applications are endless. While I may be a semi-reluctant science educator using technology, I can't help but think this this technology is pretty amazing.