Reflections: Augmented Reality in Learning – First Keynote (Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2011)

By Matt Cornock

This is the first post of my reflections from the 2011 Durham Blackboard Users Conference (abstracts also available on Durham site) on the theme of Location. My posts won’t be a complete representation of the session, more how I interpretted them and the points that stood out for me. I thought a series of short(ish) posts would be more digestible than a long waffly one. I will add more and collate them in the Reports section of the site shortly.

Session: ‘Designing Augmented Spaces to Ensure Effective Information Visualisation and Critical Knowledge Formation’ by Carl Smith, Learning Technology Research Institute.

This keynote focussed on the role of Augmented Reality (AR) in relation to teaching and learning, primarily using examples from the Architecture subject domain. The key element was the way information was displayed/obtained from the real world and presented to the student in a way which complements and adds to the real world environment.

Key concept

‘Augmented Reality allows the user to see things from a different point of view. Seeing things from a different or new perspective is the fundamental principle of learning.’ Smith

Previously, renders of 3D models have been presented as only the final object, however in presenting the elements which comprise the final scene, keeping records and permitting visualisation of the development process, students are able to get more information out of the final product. Indeed, the record keeping of the development phase is particularly important for future users and adds longevity to the number of research projects taking place in the HE sector. Data storage is cheap, and whilst previously we had to be selective, there are now opportunities for archiving very large amounts of data.

Key concept

‘The construction of the object is more important than the final product.’ Smith

An example was demonstrated of a 3D mesh of a historic building (e.g. an abbey). Seeing the final product gives an impression of the building, however detailing the component parts and creating a final product from them can be more valuable. E.g. a user can focus on the individual architectural elements of the pillars of the building, shapes of the bricks or window panes, these elements are what characterise the whole building as being of a certain description, a certain time period. The whole is very much the sum of all its parts, but the parts themselves are just as invaluable for the current user and as records for future users.

Another analogy which translates to learning is that of the ‘macroscope’, allowing the user to see their current surroundings simultaneously within the context of a wider picture. This is best understood visually through this frame taken from the movie Inception, which has a Paris cafe scene with the path to be taken wrapped upwards so you have a plan of the roads ahead. The small ‘local’ decisions and actions then contribute towards an endpoint, with both the local and distant simultaneously in view and changing. Many small actions are then combined together to produce a holistic view. In learning this takes place all the time, small actions of learning take place but in the context of wider course or programme objectives.

A more practical concept, commonly used it appears in Archaeology, Architecture and likely Palaeontology, which could be transferable to the social sciences is the use of GPS-based delivery of mobile learning resources. The examples shown in this session were of a location in a city where a collection of buildings, or rather the historical changes that have occurred for those buildings are of interest. Pointing a users smart-phone at the building at a particular GPS coordinate will overlay the building with different fascias showing how it may have looked over time. In addition, historical records and documents can be downloaded to the mobile device to add context to the surroundings.

Furthermore, aggregating data about location, time spent at a single location and what resources are downloaded means field trip exercises are no longer tied to a work-through sheet but could adapt to different interests of the students, depending on their location.

In the social sciences, this would be useful when studying changing communities whilst on a field trip for example. The key is to add additional information about an location, whilst at that location. The aim is to provide a more engaging experience connecting the physical to the historical and theoretical.

Key concept

‘The world itself is an interface.’ Smith

Augmented Reality is debated in relation to the dumbing-down of education, in the sense that novelty and spoon-feeding of information contrasts against traditional book-based evidence and research. In my view, although AR seems to have stagnated in its uptake, and the learning potential probably hasn’t been fully tried and evaluated, with small doses it can complement traditional teaching and learning practices. As humans, we have an instinctive bond with our physical environment and the more connections made between theoretical principles taught in an academic way and the physical world in which these theories are put into practice can only support and motivate our learners.

Some showcased uses of AR:

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