The NAIS Trendbook 2013-2014 summarizes current research in a variety of topics relevant to the independent school community. I’m exploring some of the topics discussed in the “Education Technology Outlook” chapter.
Citing the Horizon Report, the NAIS Trendbook 2013-2014 indicates that Augmented Reality is one of the important upcoming trends in Ed Tech. Certainly PLN discussions and conference sessions bear this out– AR is becoming a frequent discussion topic, especially using Aurasma (iOS, ???). While the technology certainly creates some fun and impressive results, I’ve remained skeptical of the learning benefits presented by AR given its setup time required. The way that AR is presented in the Trendbook has highlighted a key benefit of AR that I hadn’t considered before, and it’s one that definitely changes my perception of the technology: the capacity to create self-directed learning opportunities outside of the school boundaries. Off-site learning may be the killer (and under-discussed) feature of Augmented Reality.
AR in the Classroom
Most of the AR examples that I’ve seen presented go something like this: teachers program prompts related to webpages or media around the classroom or school. By printing signs with leading questions or “station names,” teachers can let students freely explore and check in at different locations to complete the learning activities there. While it’s undoubtedly impressive to point a tablet at a bulletin board and have a video suddenly appear and play, this type of use is very similar to QR codes, which can be set up much faster. Aside from the technology in play, the whole concept of “find stations” is often described as being open-ended or “free exploration” when it really isn’t: a teacher-directed activity to complete tasks 1-4 does not miraculously become student-owned just because students can move freely or choose the order of completion. These are great steps towards student ownership and agency, and I don’t mean to imply that they’re not worthy goals: I only mean to say that (as with many Ed Tech tools), the breathless rhetoric around these kinds of activities doesn’t always match the execution.
On page 124, the Trendbook adds a key qualifier to the use of Augmented Reality–“[i]n one approach, designers map out a learning experience in the real world and augment the information available in a specific location with information or data from virtual resources[…]” (emphasis mine). This is a significant addition to learning opportunities outside the school walls. While making a multimedia bulletin board in school is a nice feature, it isn’t transformative. Linking educational resources and material to external locations, though, allows a teacher to provide curated content to students with just-in-time delivery. Furthermore, since AR does not require a physical “trigger” or prompt as do QR codes, teachers and students can curate and place content without having to have permission to hang signs or figure out how to create a “scan here” prompt. Let’s look at two different models for how this could play out. But first, a warning…
Consider Your Tools (and Your Students’)
AR requires an active Internet connection to work since all online materials are retrieved live. Nothing is embedded into a location. Consider this when planning an activity outside of school: where will your students’ Internet connection come from? If your students have school devices, do those devices have 3G or other cell data? If on Wi-Fi, is there an available public connection? Do students need to obtain a login or credentials somewhere in order to be able to use the Wi-Fi at whatever location they are visiting?
The Museum Model. This model applies to any field-trip in which students typically move as a unit: museums, zoos, guided tours, etc. A teacher would visit the location ahead of time to either select or “plant” pre-selected content such as videos, webpages or audio to go with key locations. Similar to the self-guided audio tours common in large museums, students would choose an exhibit and scan it with an AR app to see the teacher-created or -curated content. Depending on time constraints, students may not be able to visit everything available, but having the self-guided AR exhibits allow students to find exhibits and freely explore. Jigsawing back in the classroom will allow students to share experiences and compare notes.
The Homework Scavenger Hunt Model. Because teachers can plant material anywhere that students can access the Internet, activities which span many locations now become viable if students have access to the necessary transportation. A unit on the history of their city, for example, could include students traveling outside of class to key locations and accessing content which is again teacher-created or -curated. As opposed to trying to create a single class trip to get all students traveling to multiple locations simultaneously, teachers could give a window of time in which students must access all of the locations throughout the area. Again, class discussion, pair/share and other jigsaw techniques will allow students to reinforce each others’ experiences.
This type of activity is always challenging for students with significant outside-of-school-day restrictions: scheduled after-school work, sibling-care obligations or restricted access to transportation, for example. Organizing parent volunteers to assist with transportation (in accordance with school policies), advance notice and ample dialog with families will go a long way in situations like these, but consider how to respond to students whose situation limits their ability to complete a cross-town activity outside of normal school hours.
AR content is organized into channels or feeds. To access one collection of curated content, one must follow that user. In this way, you know that a student who is subscribed to your channel would receive your content upon scanning a common location or image, and not all other curated content at that location. Since each user has the capacity to curate their own channel, AR “on location” can also be put in the students hands. Asking students to file brief news reports from locations around the city for example, or having them research several pieces of art and record their own guided tours of a museum or gallery put the students back in control of generating rich media content. Whatever the location or activity, AR may allow you to take an activity where you have traditionally owned the content and push that responsibility down to the students.
Augmented Reality is clearly gaining momentum in Ed Tech, but the Horizon Report gives it one of its longer timelines-to-adoption, marking it as “Four-to-Five Years” to mainstream use. Many of the common examples of AR seem to be in enriching traditional classroom staples like bulletin boards and posters. The use of AR off-campus, though, represents an opportunity for teachers to attach rich learning content to locations and situations outside of the classroom. This gives teachers the capacity to envision asynchronous or multi-location activities that couldn’t be done with QR codes. The limitation will be the capacity of students to access an Internet connection in each location with tagged content, whether through 3/4G cell data (not a given for students) or accessible Wi-Fi. As both of these become more universal, AR may become an attractive option for facilitating learning outside the classroom walls.