Imagine if digital content could somehow be inter-woven into the physical environment to provide a new way of exploring and understanding the world around us. I’m here to tell you that it can. It’s called augmented reality (AR).
Augmented reality utilises digital technologies that emulate our senses in order to enhance our interactions and understanding of the physical world. Unlike virtual reality (VR) where the user is pulled into a digital environment, AR pulls the digital content into the physical environment (Billinghurst, 2002) (Furht, 2011). In this diagram Benford et. al (1998) explains the difference using two dimensions; transportation and artificiality.
Our physical selves.
Our digital selves.
Never seen together in the same environment.
We are all Clark Kent and Superman. Existing as one and yet still so disconnected. It was only a matter of time before we discovered a more efficient way to merge these two personas… these two environments into one. And how is it to happen? Well, it just may happen with a pair of glasses.
The more well known forms of AR emulate sight rather than the other senses. A digital camera ‘sees’ the physical world, the computer identifies it, and then the display supplements it with digital content. The two examples that are most recognised are QR Codes and Google Glass, the latter of which has only just entered a beta testing phase this year (Straumshein, 2013). In this video, Sergey Brin, lead for special projects at Google explains how the concept of Google Glass came about…
The beginnings of augmented reality dates back to the 1950’s with the invention of the Sensorama by Morton Heilig (Carmigniani et. al., 2010). Yet it has only been with the availability of camera-enabled mobile devices (small digital tools that can ‘see’), that augmented reality has begun to diffuse amongst the wider population. The first camera phone was sold in Japan just thirteen years ago (Wikipedia – Camera phone) and taking into account the time for enhancements to the hardware and software for capturing and interpreting the world, AR is still in the early stages of development.
In experimenting with augmented reality myself over the last couple of years, I discovered some serious limitations:
1. GPS signals can be weak and inaccurate. If you are geo-tagging real world objects with digital content, it is crucial that the device being used can accurately indicate where it is in the world. GPS is not functional in a building, as it requires a clear line-of-sight from the device to the satellite above. Not only this, but some devices measure altitude differently.
2. QR codes and AR pictures must be clear and close enough to interpret. QR codes that are viewed from a distance can often not be read by less capable device cameras and interpretive software. Therefore, its not advisable to use AR in a lecture theatre or large room where the audience cannot be close.
3. Automatic callibration based on perspective still requires development. The software that is currently used to interpret the physical environment is often limited in the perspectives that it can understand. For instance, a device pointed at an object from 45 degrees may not understand what it sees, whereas a device at 90 degree will.
4. There is a reliance on mobile or wireless connections. This issue is probably more prevalent to Australia than in other parts of the world. Yet there is still vast amounts of land that is not covered by an internet signal. AR requires the internet to transfer digital content. Therefore, without a strong signal, the information will be unattainable.
van Krevelen and R. Poelman (2010) also mention a number of other limitations including difficulties with incorporation of depth-perception, user over-reliance, information overload, and privacy concerns.
So how can we leverage this technology in the classroom?
Despite the current limitations, augmented reality still offers some exciting opportunities for education.
Ubiquitous computing has always been difficult in a classroom. The devices and technologies we want to use to give access to rich content can often interrupt the flow of learning rather than enhance it (Finneran & Zhang, 2005). Anything that brings the students out of the state of learning interrupts that flow (Van Eck, 2006). If we take, for example, a classroom where every student has access to a desktop computer or laptop…
1. The computers take up a lot of space, have cords, need power and desks – this is space that could have been utilised for collaborative activities, group discussions and other activities that an open space can allow.
2. The students are focused on the screen rather than the teacher or their peers – this is not taking advantage of benefits of the face-to-face situation that they are in. In fact, according to Billinghurst (2002), not only has research suggested that students perform worse in this environment, but it’s also been found that more often than not, students will end up gathered around a single monitor rather than remaining separate.
3. Software can be slow and the interactions required to find digital content often takes more time then necessary – desktop computers and laptops can still not perform simple tasks as efficiently or easily as our human minds. This is why we are continually looking at better human-computer interfaces such as touch screens and gesture controls.
Why should a student have to jump onto a search engine to find supplemental material related to a topic or slide, when they could just ‘look’ at a QR Code on the slide through a device and find exactly what they need with minimal interruption to the lesson.
Learning Activities that Incorporate AR
As you can see, augmented reality adds a richness and depth to what was previously just a single piece of paper. The learner is given visual and auditory feedback and the feedback is immediate and personal.
Rich digital content can be utilised for many different real world activities and we just have to use our imaginations to discover the possibilities for the classroom. Some people believe that the physical classroom will soon be extinct but I believe that there are opportunities we are only just beginning to realise for a true blended learning experience with the best of both worlds.
For anyone looking for more ideas, these sites give some nice examples of incorporating augmented reality into education:
- http://www.edutopia.org/blog/augmented-reality-new-dimensions-learning-drew-minock .
Benford et al. (1998). Understanding and Constructing Shared Spaces with Mixed-Reality Boundaries. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 5(3), 185–223. Retrieved from http://www.crg.cs.nott.ac.uk/~sdb/research/downloadable%20papers/mixed%20reality%20boundaries.pdf
Billinghurst, M. (2002). Augmented Reality in Education. New Horizons for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.solomonalexis.com/downloads/ar_edu.pdf
Camera Phone. Wikipedia Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_phone
Carmigniani, J. et. al. (2010). Augmented reality technologies, systems and applications. Multimedia Tools and Applications 51(1), 341 – 377. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11042-010-0660-6
Finneran, C., and Zhang, P. (2005). Flow in Computer-Mediated Environments: Promises and Challenges. Communications of the Association for Information Systems ,15, 82-101. Retrieved from http://melody.syr.edu/pzhang/publications/CAIS_05_Finneran_Zhang_Flow.pdf
Furht, B. (Ed). (2011). Handbook of Augmented Reality. Springer. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.au/books?id=fG8JUdrScsYC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
Straumshein, C. (2013). O.K., Glass, Teach. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/08/21/google-glass-beta-test-generates-excitement-innovation-among-medical-professionals
Van Eck, R. (March, 2006). Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless…. EDUCAUSE Review , 41( 2). Retrieved from http://edergbl.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/47991237/digital%20game%20based%20learning%202006.pdf
van Krevelen, DWF., and Poelman, R. (2010). A Survey of Augmented Reality Technologies, Applications and Limitations. The International Journal of Virtual Reality, 9(2), 1-20. Retrieved from http://kjcomps.6te.net/upload/paper1%20.pdf