In short, Matt Ramirez gave us a tour of the future! As JISC’s Senior Innovation Developer for Digital Futures, his presentation provided a wealth of examples of the implementation of Augmented Reality (AR) in education. He finds that, while Augmented Reality has been around as a new technology since 2010, it is reaching a trigger stage in terms of its cultural visibility. Consequently, there is likely to be an explosion of interest and an exponential growth in the AR user community this year.
My existing knowledge of AR and its potential was decidedly sketchy and two-dimensional, not lucid and three-dimensional as befitting augmented reality. However, while the technology is still a kind of scientific magic in my mind, I moved several notches forward in terms of my understanding during the members’ day! For a definition of AR I am taking an explanation from an earlier blog post by Matt on the subject:
‘Put simply, augmented reality is a technology that overlays computer generated visuals over the real world through a device camera – bringing your surroundings to life and interacting with sensors such as location and heart rate to provide additional information’.
Matt Ramirez giving a glimpse into the future at the CILIPSW Members’ Day.
(Photograph by Stephen Hunt)
The take up of AR in research, education and museums, Matt argues, is particularly popular because it bridges the gap between theory and practice. There are some striking examples of this. Scientists from different parts of the world have been able to simultaneously view three-dimensional images from Mars in real time, to build collaboratively on their understanding. Post-graduates working in the Geology Department at the University of Manchester have applied their lecture theory in real world contexts in a novel way. They have used an app to see fossils in the living environment when studying markers of fossil faces and oil reserves during their field studies. Museums have used AR enhancements anchored in exhibits to bring exhibits to life, thus successfully encouraging deeper and ongoing interaction, reflected in an increase in families returning for repeat visits.
The take-up and successful implementation of AR in education and research depends upon adopting best practice and identifying a genuine pedagogic need. The initial ‘wow’ factor will inevitably diminish if it cannot be demonstrated that AR is adding value to the user experience and is able to help deliver actual measurable learning outcomes. For Matt it ‘must have a unique selling point rather than just being impressive technology’. To this end it is also important to consult users throughout the process and to continually reappraise the application of AR based on their feedback.
In this respect AR has already started to prove its pedagogic value some practical projects. The University of Manchester Medical School encourages informal collaborative learning by exploiting AR to complement face-to-face and independent learning. In the 24-hour resource centre at Leeds College of Learning, AR has been used to reinforce situated learning when academic and support staff are not present. AR has also proven its worth at the John Rylands Library where it has been used to foster a mixed team approach to research, enabling technical experts, curators and subject specialists to collaborate effectively on project work.
Matt’s own work in the implementation of AR through JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) has been in his foundational role in the development of the Special Collections Augmented Reality to Enhance Learning and Teaching project (SCARLET). This shaped his thinking about the need to implement AR carefully in order to demonstrate its worth, ensuring its future take-up and development. A central application was to make rare and fragile objects and artefacts accessible in a new way to those who do not necessarily have a technical background. In this way that they can visualise what is not usually on show, whether a fossil or a brittle literary manuscript. ‘I knew, said Matt, ‘if we were to embed and have longevity within educational learning space I knew there had to be something behind it beyond replicating pretty pictures’. An example of the potential of AR was SCARLET’s experiment in the presentation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Attendees at the Members’ Day in Exeter experimented with Aurasma Augmented Reality Software, tiny Raspberry Pi computers and code bugs, like this little fellow
(Photograph by Stephen Hunt)
The recent transformation in digital technology was the impact of mobile technology during the first decade of the century. Matt predicts that the ‘next paradigm shift will be about consuming information through wearables’ during the next ten years. Pioneer products such as Google Glass explorer glasses are already available, although, as to be expected, there are teething problems. In his initial trials Matt found his head overheating and that the sensor devices were extremely battery hungry! Nevertheless, Virtual Reality visits to the world’s leading museums and art, may not be far into the future.
So the future is likely to be one in which the application of AR places the user at the centre of the learning experience. The significance for our profession is that students will have to engage with these learning technologies across all subjects and will need to develop skills in this area for future jobs.
Matt’s work with AR can be followed on Twitter at @Jisc_AR