Augmenting Reality in Learning Online
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Augmented Reality is emerging as a powerful tool in distance online learning.
It is common that Virtual Reality (VR) is confused with Augmented Reality (AR). They are often conflated because some technologies apply to both. Augmented reality, by definition includes the “real world” around the user. Virtual reality is entirely virtual. To add to the confusion, eXtended Reality (XR) is increasingly commonly used to refer to the range of realities including “virtual, augmented, immersive, and mixed realities.” EDUCAUSE has recently published a guide to using XR in higher ed that cautions these require careful planning and substantial resources.
While the development and resources required are substantial, the impact is powerful, indeed. In fact, “A Review of Using Augmented Reality in Education from 2011 to 2016” in the proceedings of the Innovations in Smart Learning 2017 conference turned up some 55 studies, “most of the studies reported that AR in educational settings lead to better learning performance and promoting learning motivation, which was because AR supplies the authenticity graphical content and interaction. Also, deeper student engagement improved perceived enjoyment and positive attitudes of AR are reported as the effectiveness of using AR.”
One of the biggest challenges in online learning is to give students experiences that replicate those that they may find in laboratories or site visits. It is the in-person experience with artifacts and environments that is so difficult to deliver at a distance. Certainly, images and videos go a long way toward addressing the need, but they lack the rich, immersive context of a 3-dimensional opportunity to observe and interact with all sides of an object such as an organism or historical artifact that one might have in a laboratory or museum. Augmented reality offers that ability to “walk around” an object and observe it on all sides.
High risk scenarios are safely enabled by augmented reality. For example, a chemistry experiment using dangerous chemicals or one that carries a risk of conflagration or poisonous fumes can be done via augmented reality without danger to the student. Medical schools have been at the forefront of using augmented reality to teach surgical techniques as well as anatomy and physiology such as seen in this Case Western Reserve University video.
Providing these experiences to students at a distance is even more impactful. Augmented reality is not bound by time or location. Simulations and interactions are possible. Christopher Pappas, founder of the eLearning Industry’s Network, suggests “eLearning augmented reality isn’t just for asynchronous applications. In fact, it allows online learners from the world to interact with their peers in virtual settings.… Geography is no longer a barrier, as online learners have the power to share ideas and feedback in a virtual meeting space. They’re able to use mobile devices and smart glasses to make the experience even more interactive.”
The progress in this field is rapid with many industry partners refining and reducing the cost of goggles and monitors. And, of course, there are MOOCs available to help get you prepared to use augmented reality such as this Coursera one by Institut Mines-Télécom on developing augmented reality on the Android platform.
The time is now to prepare to integrate augmented reality in online learning programs. The technologies are ready, production software is available, and learning benefits are obvious.
Of course, I will continue to track the developments in MOOCs, emerging trends, technologies, pedagogies and practices in continuing and professional higher education and share them with you through Professional, Continuing and Online Education Update blog by UPCEA. You can have the updates sent directly to your email each morning – no advertising, no spam!
National Council for Online Education
Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.
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