In the not-so-distant future, a field trip might mean donning an augmented reality device to allow a student to overlay digital elements on their real-world environment, to better understand other places in space and time. That device might also let a grade schooler look at a glass of water and see a screen overlay with a detailed description of H2O molecules, as well as pictures and descriptions of the microorganisms living in it. Or it could help a medical student understand the symptoms, feelings and medical background of a patient.
Augmented reality, or AR, creates a composite image of the real world by superimposing a computer-generated image over it. The promise of this tech is to “augment” real-world information, to help students better connect with and learn about the world. In the classroom, for example, this could involve a student wearing a headset that projects a secondary layer of information on a real or virtual space such as the above-mentioned glass of water.
Such ideas were part of the conversation at Samsung NEXT’s Jeffersonian-style salon in San Francisco, which focused on the possibilities and challenges of augmented reality in the future of education. A diverse group of technologists, entrepreneurs, journalists, educators, and investors gathered to discuss key issues that need to be addressed in order for augmented reality to have a positive and lasting impact in the classroom of the future.
The Key Question
While textbooks can help students understand other people’s experiences, augmented reality can give those experiences real-time context. “The big question is, how can augmented reality spark interest and engagement to give students a better experience than a textbook?” asks Jennifer Carolan, a former teacher and founder of Reach Capital.
And, of course, anything that might upend one’s perception of the world needs to be implemented with care. The group agreed that there are a lot of ethical considerations to consider, and that kids need to understand the difference between real and not real.
More Empathy and Engagement
As children become more glued to their screens for work, play and their social lives, research suggests that college students have become 40% less empathetic than they were ten years ago. At the same time, only 50% of students report that they are engaged in the classroom.
But if augmented reality education tools are built in conjunction with leading-edge thinkers in education who are planning the curricula of the future, students could start to feel more engagement and empathy by gaining further insights into subjects and develop stronger connections with diverse groups of people outside their own communities.
The Benefits of the AR Classroom
With the right applications, AR might offer many benefits. In some communities, particularly those that are lower-income, teachers often don’t have a lot of resources to take kids far outside the classroom, and likewise, families don’t have the financial resources to travel and experience other communities and lifestyles. “AR could bring students into communities around the world that they might not otherwise get to visit,” Carolan says. Real-time experiences, such as visiting a museum and seeing an exhibit about the Roman Colosseum, might be overlaid with a 3D gladiator duel. Such a dynamic, real-time experience could be overlaid with facts and statistics about the historical era, so that the student is absorbing the same information they would from a textbook, while at the same time feeling immersed in the time and place about which they are learning.
Jason Palmer, a general partner at New Market Venture Partners, suggests that AR could help students who learn in a different way. For example, one application of AR could be that a deaf student could wear a watch in a seminar that might vibrate to alert them when another student is speaking. Such applications could create more connection between students.
But for these experiences to happen in a thoughtful way, technologists and educators need to work hand-in-hand. “If you want AR to be a strong learning tool, you need the pedagogy and curriculum to drive that combined with the technology experts who help make the ideas happen,” says Sergio Rosas, a program lead at the Kapor Center. “A VR headset is not going to fix the problem if kids are left behind.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly presented AR as an immersive digital experience. AR usually refers to the addition of virtual assets to a real-world experience, so that virtual and real seem to merge. VR is a more accurate description for the creation of virtual worlds.