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Living and Learning: Potential of immersive technologies in education

Advances in digital technology and communications are radically changing the way we live. Can they change the way we learn? YES!

One of the areas digital technology has the potential to make the biggest impact is education. I’ve been a teacher for over a decade and currently teach both online and offline courses. I’m excited about the paradigm shift that is happening in education, however there is is still a VERY wide gap between what is possible and the current state of classrooms. Today’s students aren’t engaged by the old teaching methods and aren’t gaining the skills required to succeed in a digital world. This is where immersive technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR) and virtual environments can help.

AR and Education

According to recent research conducted by Wu, H.K. and others, AR could be used for education purposes to help enable the following learning outcomes (Wu, H. K., Lee, S. W. Y., Chang, H. Y., & Liang, J. C., 2013, p.3):

1) learning content in 3D perspectives
2) ubiquitous, collaborative and situated learning
3) learner’s senses of presence, immediacy, and immersion
4) visualizing the invisible
5) bridging formal and informal learning

Utilizing AR technology is still relatively new, however Wu et al. explore research that indicates AR systems and environments are more effective than other digital technologies in helping students acquire knowledge and skills. The immersive nature of AR has shown to help increase student motivation and engagement and AR is a good vehicle for teaching the new skills that are essential for an information-based economy (Wu, H.K., et al., 2013).

MUVE’s

Another notable immersive technology making its way into classrooms, are multi-user virtual environments or MUVE’s. These are 3D environments that allow students to enage with objects, students and teachers via an avatar. MUVE’s allow for new forms of mediated communications between avatars, allow instructors to create shared simulated experiences and “offers students an engaging ‘Alice in Wonderland’ experience (Dunleavy, M., Dede, C., & Mitchell, R.,2009)”.

These virtual environments have been shown to increase ‘presence’, a concept that has been linked to improved learning and engagement. One challenge identified with online learning is a lack of immediacy and presence when compared with a face-to-face or in-person course. MUVE’s present an interesting alternative to static online courses, however there are several challenges when it comes to applying this virtual world technology in the real world.

Second Life provided universities and teachers a platform to create virtual classrooms. Many early-adopters and innovators created in-world locations, however they have now disappeared into the virtual ether. The steep learning curve associated with maneuvering the virtual environment, lack of control over content and the costs associated with building such virtual environments have impeded its widespread use for education. As bandwidth increases and costs are lowered, there may be a resurgence of successfully using MUVE’s in the education industry.

Wearables

Another interesting immersive trend hitting classrooms are wearable devices. These can co-exist with AR and can provide the hardware alternatives for delivering AR systems. According to a recent study conducted by Amy Weiss (2015) there is HUGE potential to incorporate wearable devices into a classroom setting. Most young adults have heard of wearable devices and those that actually own one report using it for fitness tracking. The report identifies three possible uses of wearables that could benefit students: 1) multimedia capabilities, such as recording a lecture and taking photos 2) access to information outside of classroom materials 3) information storage and 4) new ways to engage with course materials (Weiss, A., 2015).

The University of Southern California’s journalism department has been experimenting with Google Glass in classrooms, as the wearable of choice. They added a Google Glass class to their curriculum with the goal of creating “glass-centric software for journalists (Weiss, A., 2015).”

Application

All of these immersive technologies have HUGE potential to help engage and teach today’s students. However, implementing these innovative approaches has been a HUGE challenge. Push-back from teachers, administrators and those married to traditional teaching methods is just one of many hurdles blocking the way forward.

One group that appears to be working together to move the needle, is Immersive Education or iED. They have been helping to fund projects such as the one featured in this video, that uses the gaming platform Minecraft to create a virtual learning experience:

Partnering with learning institutions such as the Smithsonian, MIT, Harvard, UCLA and many others, iED is championing immersive education all over the globe. You can join their cause by applying for membership  and attending their upcoming fall 2015 conference. I plan on attending – Paris anyone?

References:

Dunleavy, M., Dede, C., & Mitchell, R. (2009). Affordances and limitations of immersive participatory augmented reality simulations for teaching and learning. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(1), 7-22.

Weiss, A. (2015). Wearable Technologies: Possibilities in bringing innovative learning experiences to the classroom. Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2015/03/how-to-embrace-innovative-learning-opportunity-with-wearables/

Wu, H. K., Lee, S. W. Y., Chang, H. Y., & Liang, J. C. (2013). Current status, opportunities and challenges of augmented reality in education. Computers & Education, 62, 41-49.