Might Augmented Reality Find its Presence in Tomorrow’s Classrooms?
A couple weeks ago, as I entered my school library during my free period to get some homework done, I noticed a few library assistants gazing intently through their phones at a intricately-designed foam cube they were handling. Eager to satisfy my curiosity, I walked up to them to figure out what all the commotion was. As I peered through their phone screen, which now depicted a camera-like interface, I was shocked to see that the cube had been replaced with what appeared to be a human heart, complete with labels on each blood vessel, valve, and ventricle to identify them. The library assistants were quick to explain to me that the intricate designs on each face of the cube act like QR-codes that a specialized smartphone applications for the cube could read to display a new image in place of the cube. In addition, by tapping on a particular part of the “heart” on the phone screen, the corresponding label for that heart component would magnify to reveal an explanation of its function. The Merge Cube, manufactured by Merge VR and pictured below, is the first holographic object that you can hold in your own hand, and may provide us with an easy and affordable way to incorporate augmented reality in classroom education.
Augmented reality has been one of the most widespread and fastest-developing technologies we have witnessed in recent years. Though its applications have mainly boomed in gaming (I’m sure we all remember the summer-of-2016 hit Pokemon Go) and entertainment, augmented reality may discover a new purpose in the realm of education.
The number one complaint I get about school, particularly secondary education, is that though my fellow students and peers enjoy learning new things, they don’t necessarily like the monotony and dull busywork through which they are taught. As a firm believer in the power of hands-on education, I believe augmented reality can change this. I myself have seen the way students light up right before science labs, interactive activities, and field trips, while otherwise groaning on about the pages and pages of work they have to read or complete on other days. Of course, I understand this is not the school’s fault at all — budget cuts and breaks in funding can make it hard for schools to get the money they need to arrange field trips and bring in fetal pigs for dissection or other interactive toys to demonstrate hands-on activities.
Yet it is widely known and understood that interactive activities are the best vessel through which students learn. Simply, they better gauge students’ attention and allow them to grasp new concepts by manipulating factors and experiencing conditions for themselves. How then, can we restore experiential learning to the classroom without blowing a budget? Augmented reality is a possible answer.
Several institutions have already taken a step forward into the augmented and virtual reality world by introducing applications into the classroom to assist students in learning human anatomy, astronomy, history, and other subjects. One of the most popular examples of this can be observed in medical schools, who yearly spend thousands of dollars per donated cadaver for medical students to learn human anatomy via hands-on dissection. To supplement and enhance this experience, several medical schools have begun considering the use of anatomy augmented reality applications on smart devices. Rooted in machine learning and artificial intelligence, the theory is that in the future, such software may be able to identify anatomical parts in a dissected cadaver and, like the Merge Cube, would provide detailed explanations of each part’s function. Perhaps one day this may erase the need for expensive anatomy textbooks! Also like the Merge Cube, augmented reality may yield us a holographic object that when viewed through a smart device app, appears as a pre-dissected human cadaver with parts and functions labeled. Of course, no augmented reality can replace the invaluable experience of dissecting a cadaver for future medical and surgical professionals, but this software can certainly reduce the costs of education.
In elementary, middle, and high schools, augmented reality may find its presence as applications on school iPads and computers that display planets in the Solar System, organelles in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, or even the components of an iron atom. Yet though augmented reality may save students’ interests in STEM education, its benefits apply far beyond just science. With augmented reality, we could recreate a Civil War battle scene within the classroom where students can adopt the roles of major historical figures to experience life at that time. Related to this prospect, what if we could visually depict a famous literary event or scene? Make the characters of Hamlet or Fahrenheit 451 come to life? The possibilities are truly endless, and as technologies like the Merge Cube become more affordable and accessible (currently you can find the Merge Cube at Walmart for a relatively cheap price), they are practically begging to be used in schools.
Like with any new emerging innovation, we must be cautious of potential drawbacks to augmented reality, but as it stands now, its benefits far outweigh its risks (or rather, lack thereof). Augmented reality has the potential to truly transform education and restore a love for learning in students. I say the time has come to embrace augmented reality and bring it into our classrooms.
Might Augmented Reality Find its Presence in Tomorrow’s Classrooms? was originally published in Orbits of Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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