Augmented reality in education: teaching tool or passing trend?

What some may call an ‘unsurprising’ 71% of 16 to 24-years-olds own smartphones, so why aren’t teachers utilising these in the classroom or campus? Is the use of these devices going to detract from the learning process or contribute to future workplace skills? Should teachers be using techniques such as augmented reality (AR) to engage students and develop their skills for the modern world? Well, I say ‘yes’.

I believe we should be embracing these opportunities. For instance I see AR as a real opportunity for colleges and universities, not only as a way to market and promote themselves, but as a way to communicate with learners and improve the student experience.

AR allows people to add digital content to printed material, geographic locations and objects. Then using a smart device or tablet, viewers can scan an object and the digital content will appear. The digital information can range from a link to a website, an invitation to make a phone call, a video, a 3D model or any other supported digital information. For example, the Scarlett project from the University of Manchester used it to allow access to rare books and manuscripts.

City University London have used a combination of techniques to develop resources through the CARE (Creating Augmented Reality in Education) project for healthcare students, including a series of ‘health walks’. These use the GPS functionality of devices in conjunction with AR to allow students to discover the health risks around the locality. The advantage of this is the delivery of situated contextualised learning.

So what are the advantages for learners? AR provides a more effective way to enable learners to access content. A ‘QR code’ is simply a short cut to a URL – it has no other meaning in its own right. Many AR platforms use a visual browser to recognise an image. There is no need to add a special symbol to trigger the content. The trigger can be a source of information in its own right, it can give a clue about what the extra content may be, yet also still provide a message for anyone unable to access the extras.

Soon all phones produced will be smartphones; this means that future learners will have the means to access AR content at their fingertips. Images on walls or in publications can allow learners to access information when it suits them.

South Staffordshire College grabbed the technology and put it to use across their curriculum. The bricklaying team at the college produced their own videos which have improved the number of trainees cutting bricks right first time from around 40% to a staggering 90%. Think what this can save in terms of cost on this course.

So why does there seem to be a sudden interest to tap into these technologies? As AR is an emerging technology, many of the platforms that support it have allowed free or low cost access. There have been improvements in the interfaces for developing on these platforms meaning you don’t need to be a geek to be able to access it, all you require is some basic understanding of files and a creative flair.

Future learners will expect to be able to make full use of their own technology, and as expectations rise, if it is out there in the real world there should be a pressing reason to make use of it in education. I believe educators have a duty to educate for the real world and make use of future technology that will be part of that world.

Judy Bloxham/The Guardian

25. Feb. 2013