In 1838, Sir Charles Wheatstone was hard at work on the first stereoscope, a device that takes two pictures from one angle and combines them to give the image depth and solidity, but Augmented Reality in the classroom was nowhere in sight. While technology was growing rapidly during this period, schools across the country were confined to one room and all subjects, including English, Math, and Science, were taught on a board with chalk. Each child (or adult, as it was increasingly common for adults to also seek an education) might have had their own desk board, but not always.
More than one hundred years later in 1962, Morton Heilig patented his invention, the Sensorama Simulator. It took more than ten years to get computers into school. Apple Inc. itself donated several PCs to schools in 1975. (1) At the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), major companies unveiled their own plans for the coming year, including new phones, gaming monitors, VR headsets, and more. (2) Now, nearly every school in the country has computers that better equip students to expand their learning across various subjects.
Wherever technological advancements are made, educators around the world are watching for new ways to implement new products to better help their students learn. In recent years, augmented reality or AR has been appearing all over the place. It won’t be long before it ends up as a mainstream way to educate students.
1. The Differences Between AR and VR
While discussing the possibilities of AR in the classroom, it is important to understand the differences between AR and VR or virtual reality. As they are still relatively new technologies and still not quite mainstream, it's easy to conflate the two.
Merriam-Webster describes augmented reality as "an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera)." (3)
While AR takes digital objects and overlays them onto a physical space using a medium such as a smartphone, VR takes the user and puts them visually entirely into a virtual space. VR is entirely immersive. Think of it like the difference between Tony Stark's computer system and the gaming world of Ready Player One. One is pulled from a virtual world onto a physical world, and the other takes the physical to make it virtual. While VR is making its way into the classroom with beneficial applications of its own, there are some limitations for group learning.
Why would AR be better for a classroom setting than VR? VR is excellent for personal experiences. It's very singular in its ability to educate. Augmented reality, on the other hand, is perfect for allowing multiple students to interact with the setting in front of them. Say a class has twenty students. They could all sit around their display and discuss what's in front of them, all seeing the same thing from a potential multitude of angles. In addition, unlike VR, AR does not require any specialized hardware equipment. AR is mobile friendly, and most smartphones and tablets meet the requirements to effectively run AR applications.
2. Practical Applications of Augmented Reality in the Classroom
From kindergarten to university to post-graduate education and beyond, there are many ways for augmented reality to enhance the learning experience for everybody involved. Besides just being plain old cool, here are several practical ways AR can be used in the classroom.
Science- From Anatomy and Physiology to Astronomy and Chemistry, science has endless apps that teachers can utilize to teach their students about anything and everything. Kids could open a screen and be able to track the constellations as the earth turns and gain a practical understanding of the mechanics of the solar system. Medical students would be able to examine hearts, respiratory and circulatory systems, and brain function without the use of cadavers.
English- Kindergarteners are wild and rambunctious. One reason for this early class is to teach children to learn to sit still, to listen and follow instructions, to be polite and courteous. After several minutes of sitting patiently listening to the teacher read, more than half of them get the wiggles and can’t seem to hold it in. A favored children’s book, The Dragon Hunters by James Russell, which tells the story of two brothers who live on a far-off island inhabited by dragons, could help with this situation. On the end pages, it has a little code that, should the teacher scan with her phone, would show a three-dimensional image of the map, including small tidbits about the island not available on the printed version.
On this note, augmented reality would allow students to not only learn to read and understand the value of language and communication, but also help them visualize the story in a new way by prompting discussion on the many topics literature covers.
Art, History, and Geography- Art is possibly the easiest to understand the value of what AR could bring to the classroom. Class trips can be incredibly expensive, but just imagine if a teacher could bring the Louvre to the students. Or they could watch a 3D reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, or the assassination of John F. Kennedy. What if the students could stand before the temples at Petra, Jordan, without ever leaving their classroom?
3. How Can Teachers implement AR?
While using augmented reality in classrooms is still a glitchy subject, AR for education itself is already seeing an increase in products, specifically personal applications on phones that allow kids and teens to have a first-hand experience with the subject. Products like the Merge Cube offer a very intuitive way to utilize VR and AR to interact with a 3D object.
It’s hard to visualize distances in space. Does a regular person really know how far a light year is? With certain applications, you can. It allows the user to see just how far it is from one galaxy to another, or one star to another, or from Earth to the sun.
While we may not use every bit of math we learned in school, the importance of it lies more in the way we learn new concepts and approach and solve different problems. But math itself is a difficult subject because some kids just don’t get numbers easily. To help with this, there are apps that combine with flashcards to show a visual representation of numbers in order to help.
Augmented reality is already part of the world we live in, and it won’t be long before educators see the benefits of using it as an aid to help teach their students in practical ways.
We have augmented reality technology at our fingertips and use it on a daily basis. It's a relatively new technology and the expense feels difficult to justify, but just think- only forty years ago, having computers in schools seemed like a foreign, impossible concept. Now, every school in America has them, and most have personal laptops. With the proper placement of systems in schools, future generations of the world could be inspired to become archeologists, scientists, writers, statisticians. Possibly even developers of the future technologies that students will learn within fifty years.
For more information on some of the benefits of augmented reality in the classroom, visit XR Guru's immersive learning hub.
1. "History of Computers in Education." Home.csulb.edu, home.csulb.edu/~murdock/histofcs.html.
2. "CES 2022: All the Major Announcements from the Huge Tech Show." Trusted Reviews, 5 Jan. 2022, www.trustedreviews.com/news/ces-2022-4190026. Accessed 14 May 2022.
3. Merriam-Webster. “Definition of AUGMENTED REALITY.” Merriam-Webster.com, 2018, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/augmented%20reality.
About the Author: Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor is a freelance writer and avid researcher- a jack of all trades, but a master of none. She graduated from the University of Hawai'i with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts because she had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up. She has since found her love of Extended Reality and the possibilities it brings to the world, as well as gardening, cooking, and writing. Anna lives in Interior Alaska with her family.