Ninety percent of 16-24 year olds now own a smartphone, according to the UK communications regulator Ofcom. Many teachers believe the devices are a distraction in the classroom and detrimental to learning. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to resist technology – and why should we? There is substantial evidence to suggest that technology and smart devices can actually aid development and learning.
Few educators would dispute the idea that interaction and creativity are the basis for effective learning. Simple observation, listening and reading through pages and pages of text are not the most efficient ways to absorb information – especially when tackling complex subjects, such as algebra and anatomy, or even learning a foreign language.
It’s not the handset itself that supports learning, but the technology that a smartphone can unlock. One such technology that has been in the spotlight recently is augmented reality (AR). AR gives smartphones and tablets the ability to uncover hidden digital content within printed material, bringing an interactive element to education and extending learning beyond the classroom.
What exactly is augmented reality?
Put simply, AR bridges the gap between print and digital via a smartphone app. Printed material like labels, textbooks and information boards can host hidden layers of digital content.
Many confuse AR with virtual reality – a more complex and expensive technology which requires immersive headgear. Augmented reality is much simpler. All users need to participate is their smartphone and a free-to-download app, such as Layar.
Although this technology has been around for years, it’s only recently that schools and universities have realised the potential for AR to support and encourage learning, and even market themselves to potential students.
The future of AR in the education sector
The potential uses for augmented reality in education are endless. Imagine how useful the technology could be when studying anatomy. A 2D image of a human heart isn’t the best way for students to grasp its formation and functions. However, if a student was able to scan the 2D image to reveal a 3D image it would provide a much more cognitive experience.
Similarly, in geometry AR could help students picture shapes in their 3D configuration.
In geography class, a tabletop globe could be augmented to reveal facts and images of different countries when scanned with a smartphone app. Or students could scan an image of a river to reveal an explanation of how oxbow lakes are formed.
Learning a foreign language can be extremely challenging. Sometimes the hardest thing for students to grasp is the accent and pronunciation of words. AR could facilitate this by embedding pronunciation guides into a textbook. Imagine being able to scan text and hear a native speaker read it back to you.
This emerging technology could also prove extremely useful in science labs. Safety posters and signs could be augmented to provide further information on the different safety procedures and protocols for using lab equipment when conducting an experiment.
And augmented reality doesn’t need to be confined to the classroom. If this technology was used more widely, a school trip could be transformed into a much more productive activity. What once resulted in a day of herding uninterested students around a museum or historical site could be made far more interactive.
Students could scan museum information plaques and be directed to an online web page where they could find more information about a particular exhibit. For example, the British Museum has employed the technology to transform the typical museum experience into one that is much more immersive and engaging. It created an augmented reality game that rewarded students when they identified certain statues around the museum by telling them more about the exhibit and unlocking the next level of the game.
With so many ways for augmented reality to enhance learning, it won’t be long before your local primary school is scanning their way to excellence.
Kaan Aydogmus is an AR specialist at Magnetic London.