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Augmented Reality and Education

This article was updated on July 13, 2021

There's a problem with educational engagement among American students. Middle schoolers, for example, say they're considerably more bored at school than they are at home, as Education Week reports. Bored students perform less well than their engaged counterparts, leading to even more boredom and disengagement that can harm their prospects over the long term. Here's a look at why engagement is such a challenge and how augmented reality for education can help.

Why Are Students So Bored at School?

According to Education Week, research shows that almost 80% of boredom is due to the situations we find ourselves in, not our individual character. Accordingly, classrooms may not be set up in a way that supports meaningful learning for all students. With remote learning replacing in-person instruction in many parts of the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, some students face structural inequalities driven in part by lack of access to technology and the internet. These disparities have, in turn, caused further disengagement in too many cases.

Thankfully, as McKinsey & Company reports, technology can support better learning outcomes when properly applied in the classroom. Recent research indicates that more than an hour of device use in the classroom per week is associated with almost a half-year of learning improvement in the U.S. As the most recent strand of educational technology, AR in education is already making an impact on how educators bring their subjects to life.

Why AR?

You'll find AR almost anywhere there's a smartphone.

As an example, take a look at the Google Translate app or one of the increasingly popular sky-mapping apps. Both take real-time input from the phone's camera, accelerometer, compass, and so on, then combine it with relevant data.

Point a sky-mapping app at the red star in the sky and it'll tell you it's actually the planet Mars. Not sure what that intriguing international soft drink will taste like? Show the label to Google Translate and it'll translate the words on the label into your language.

AR is remarkably well-suited to education. Not only does it introduce novelty, solving the boredom problem, but it also:

  • Is easy to update, without reprinting textbooks and other materials.
  • Helps students learn at their own pace.
  • Turns learning into an investigation.
  • Goes beyond the screen, adding context and depth to real-world learning.
  • Has low marginal costs.

In the Classroom

So, how does AR work in a classroom setting?

AR is all about meshing the real and the virtual, which is precisely what the best teachers do. Remember that chemistry teacher who described the atom in such captivating detail that you can still picture it in your head now? Or how about the English teacher who unpacked Shakespeare so that it went from an incomprehensible jumble to leaping alive from the page?

Augmented reality tools help uncover the meaning that's sometimes hidden in a subject. What if your English teacher could have populated the classroom with Shakespearean figures and scenery? Or if your chemistry teacher could have given you a 3D interactive model of the atom that you could manipulate?

Educators are already creating AR experiences using tools like Metaverse that provide enhanced learning experiences, such as:

  • Puzzles that combine real-world and virtual elements.
  • Themed expeditions and hunts that embed learning opportunities in the classroom.
  • Virtual expeditions to places that would otherwise be unreachable, such as a class of Florida students visiting the pillars of Stonehenge in their school gym.

Publishers are adding AR elements to textbooks and other traditional learning aids. CleverBooks publishes a world atlas that, when viewed using its AR app, shows animal migrations, weather patterns, geopolitical facts, and other interactive features.

And it's not just for K-12 students. Insight Heart provides an interactive way for medical students to learn the structure and mechanics of the human heart.

Of course, not everyone buys into the idea that augmented reality is a good thing for the classroom. As McKinsey notes, a nuanced and thoughtful approach is important when deploying ed tech. However, the research currently available clearly indicates that, when used correctly, technology has a beneficial role to play in the classroom.

Outside the Classroom

If augmented reality is valuable in the classroom, what about in other educational contexts such as museums?

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History is using AR to breathe fresh life into some of its oldest exhibits. The museum's Bone Hall features exhibits with animal skeletons that have been on display since as early as 1881. With representatives of every major group of vertebrae, the collection represents an unparalleled learning opportunity.

With the Smithsonian's Skin and Bones app, the exhibits in the Bone Hall transform from skeletons to moving, breathing, flesh-covered animals — and while the physical museum remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19 concerns, the exhibits are available in digital form 24/7.

But what about the technology that brings AR itself to life?

Implementing AR for Ed Tech

At the core of any augmented reality app is video. Solo AR experiences take a feed from the device's camera, merge any computer-generated imagery, and display the result on the device's screen.

The future of augmented reality for education, though, lies in shared experiences. These shared experiences require low-latency, highly reliable streaming video between devices. Vonage's Video API provides an ideal foundation for teams looking to build shared AR educational experiences.

Imagine a real-time lesson where distance-learning architecture students take part in an online seminar and can each interact with a shared 3D model of a building to explore its design and engineering. Or how about helping elementary school children in the U.S. connect and share with their counterparts in India by working together to solve AR puzzles?

Augmented reality is making a real difference in today's classrooms. However, the future for AR in education lies in dynamic shared experiences delivered with the help of APIs.

Vonage staff

Vonage staff


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