Augmented reality: A whole new teaching & learning experience

We’ve all heard the saying: “You learn by doing.” That seems to have more practical application in the working world. But there’s a growing belief that it’s just as applicable in even the earliest stages of education.

It’s all encapsulated in conversations I hear almost daily. Ever ask someone a question only to hear the response “Google it” or “There’s this thing called the Internet that can tell you?” Sure, it’s annoying. But it makes a larger point about the ability to find information in today’s age that certainly extends to education.

Cultivating the skill of searching for information is as important as having the information. . And therein lies the argument consuming educators today: Should our country’s schools be more process-oriented?

The best teachers don’t lecture. Instead, they guide students to discover the information themselves, cultivating exploratory skills. More so, the ability to explore, engage and fail are vital parts of the educational process. And there are educators who embody that principle.

But the educational institution at large must ask itself how it can better empower great teachers in this endeavor?

While the Information Age can very well be a boon to the educational experience, the classroom experience shouldn’t be abandoned in favor of it. Instead, the two should be bridged together.

Augmented reality would do just that.

In industry parlance: Augmented reality is the use of the real-world environment in conjunction with computer-generated overlays. If you don’t know what any of that means, Google it (kidding)!

But reciting augmented reality’s technical definition is far less important than understanding exactly how it can be used to better education. Our brain is an incredibly powerful tool, one that can process information beyond the two-dimensional landscape that textbooks and other educational instruments utilize.

If a picture is worth a 1000 words, what is a three-dimensional object worth? Pretty much the next best thing to actually being there. And that has some valuable use in education.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

An anatomy class might be studying the heart. And sure there are three-dimensional models made of wood that assist in studying that organ. But augmented reality could overlay a three-dimensional picture of an actual, functioning heart.

With augmented reality, students could spin the heart around, locate valves and visualize how blood is delivered from the heart to other parts of the body. Examining a three-dimensional image of a DNA strand would net the same educational benefits.

In other areas of science, a chemistry class could use augmented reality to allow students to experiment with different volatile substances. What happens when you mix Berthol­let’s salt and red phosphorus? Or want to demonstrate the Pharaoh’s’ Serpeant? Do it through augmented reality. Students will be much more engaged than sitting through a lecture about dangerous combinations and potentially dangerous reactions.

Really, augmented reality has practical uses in all subject areas. There are different applications that map to specific subjects. The biggest questions that linger just concern the widespread implementation of the technology.

Augmented reality headsets have gotten significant press lately, notably with reports that Apple is in the developmental process for such hardware. And ultimately, the vision for augmented reality is that headsets, much like smartphones, will become completely ubiquitous. That every single one of us will wear augmented reality glasses that look like Ray-Bans.

But currently headsets run about $3,000 per pair, which makes it a near impossibility for cash-strapped school districts. So, more realistically, immediate implementation would have to be on smartphones, which many students have today. Every smartphone has a gyroscope and a camera — both of which can be used to display 3D objects on smartphones as if they were in the real world. The smartest of phones even have advanced augmented reality features that allow for surface detection and more.

It’s time to put the smartphone to good use. The App Store already offers a myriad of different augmented reality education applications for almost every subject — chemistry, geometry, zoology, programming, history.

Ultimately education is ripe to adopt augmented reality. Thought it won’t change the information students consume, it will change the way they consume the information — all of which enhances the educational journey.

And growing that skill set is arguably even more important.

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