We often hear education technologists speculate about the ‘next big thing’ that will change the way we live, work and teach. As with anything, some of these ideas take hold and set the world alight, while others seem to promise so much, but never quite live up to the hype – Google Glass anyone?
AR is one such technology, often talked about, but until recently lacking evidence as a learning tool. No doubt you’ll have seen fantastical images of virtual dinosaurs, brought to life to scare and entertain, which is all very impressive – but what value, if any, is it adding to the learning experience?
Thankfully, many learning technologists are recognising the benefit of AR in enhancing the delivery of content, and there are excellent examples of where this has been used to stunning effect, such as British Museums’ Ancient Egyptian trail or The Augsburg Display Cabinet at the John Paul Getty Museum.
The key to getting value out of AR is to have clear objectives of what you want to achieve and how AR will help in getting you there. If you’re thinking about implementing AR in your own organisation and you are wondering whether it’s the right platform for you, here are a few things to consider:
Can what you’re doing be achieved by other means?
It sounds common sense, asking if AR can do for you what other tools can’t, but trust me, it saves a lot of time and effort. If the experience you want to provide simply replicates what’s already available – for example, just offering PDFs through a different channel – then you’re not going to get the results you want. Look at how AR can offer a new way or format of delivering resources to complement learning.
Could you offer the same experience in the real world?
By its very nature AR is designed to offer a modified view of the real-world. This clearly has benefits for use in environments that it might be difficult or impossible to expose students to, meaning they’re not suddenly dropped into unfamiliar situations and expected to know what to do. Hospitals are one such example where AR can help. City University London uses cARe, a Jisc-funded project, which offers simulated clinical training to nurses to support patient care.
What subject matter are you are trying to convey?
The subject matter for your AR tool or app will be a major consideration. As an extremely visual medium, AR simulations can be used effectively to articulate complex or abstract themes. For example, in chemistry, it can give a visual representation to chemical reactions, or the movement between gaseous, liquid and solid states. Likewise, highly visual subjects that use kinetic media, such as architecture, construction and engineering, also tend to respond well.
Does the application feel authentic?
If AR can help the learning experience feel authentic, that’s a big plus point for doing it. The SCARLET project I was previously involved with does exactly this. The project gives learners access to fragile special collections materials that have been digitised, in the same way as they would normally expect. An added bonus is being able to make possible additional experiences, including zooming in to see fine detail not visible to the naked eye, or the translation of ancient text into native English.
Will you need to create a whole new set of resources?
It’s not only the costs of creating an AR app you need to consider – what about the content to populate it? Think about what resources you already have that could be repurposed, and how they might add to the AR experience. For example, the app we’ve developed with Leeds College of Music to help students become more proficient in the use of music production equipment offers a realistic experience of music production, while allowing them to link off to existing technical documentation and interactive learning experiences should they wish to find out more.
Are your expectations realistic?
I’ve said it throughout this article, but it’s important to bear in mind – AR solutions should complement teaching, not replace it. If we take the Leeds College of Music example, students still attend lectures and technical demonstrations. The app is there merely to offer additional support to self-paced, independent learning and blended learning, giving students context specific and academic qualified materials to real-world studio environments.
Find out more
If you’re interested in learning more about how augmented reality – and other emerging technologies – can help support your practice, Jisc is hosting a series of regional events this summer to help you do just that. There will be an opportunity to hear from Jisc experts and other practitioners who are using these technologies, and to network with peers. Check out the events happening in your local area and come along to find out more.
Matt Ramirez is lead augmented reality developer/manager at Jisc.