The role of AR in creating equitable, accessible education for everyone
By Clemens Braakmann (originally published in the January 2019 issue of AC&E)
When it comes to technology integration, the education sector is just picking up pace. Far behind what other industries have discovered years ago, educators today steadily begin to see the advantages that digital technologies have for education in general, but more importantly, their students. Through various inventions in the EdTech space, by educators and non-educators, and branded under the increasingly popular term Edupreneurship, people have started to realise the potential for return that investments in computer equipment and digital infrastructure have for their school. From the first iMacs to the first Virtual Reality Goggles to the first creative makerspaces, the very best of schools around the world have already integrated a variety of tools and enabled themselves to deliver the most excellent education that the world has ever seen.
But as pointed out as well by Marty Creel of Discovery Education lately, excellence is far from what is really required to “renovate” the education system, although it is what most Edupreneurs focused on in the last years. The best education system is not the one that ultimately produces the most capable individual; it is the one that creates the largest, equally well-trained, highly capable group that features a diversity of skills and strengths that enable every problem to be solved through cooperation.
This capability to solve complex problems through abstract and critical thinking, creativity and collaboration is often referred to as a STEM-skillset nowadays. These skills are based on curiosity and ideas, with curiosity being at the heart of every scientific experiment and discovery, and they are soft skills that can be acquired through actively interacting with the world and discovering how everything is interconnected and interdependent—and how the solution for one problem can often be found in an entirely different space when used in an innovative way.
Through high-quality digital content, technology can provide all the means to take on this journey of active discovery and practical learning: Once the right tools are used, STEM can be learned and taught everywhere, creating interactive, engaging lessons that entice kids all around the world to revive their long-lost interest in everything scientific, mathematic and technologic.
But what needs to be done? How do we make digitally enhanced education accessible for everyone? How do we create equitable integration of the developments that can improve the success of our education system so drastically and even lead to the creation of crucial soft skills?
To create accessible, high-quality education, we need accessible, high-quality technologies.
These technologies need low investment in terms of money, time and training, because all of these factors are barriers to widespread adoption. Yet, they need to generate proven, significant improvements in students’ academic and social skills.
All of this can be found in one of the key players of the immersive technology space: Augmented Reality (AR). Often overlooked beside its more popular brother Virtual Reality (VR), AR requires no specialized equipment, is much easier to program and create and can be used incredibly intuitively.
As a mixed reality technology, AR combines a real-life scenario that is viewed through the lens of a normal mobile device with digital data and content, added into the camera perspective by software. Through AR, 3D-content and models can be projected right on the class room table and then augmented with information on what you are viewing. In most cases, AR works through apps on normal mobile devices, making it possible for schools to use the devices students already possess in BYOD-programs or have them collaborate on one device.
Through this approach, that does ‘augment’ your reality with digital elements, yet does not isolate you from your actual environment like a VR headset does, there are countless options for collaborative learning in the classroom and outside with AR. Through 3D-modeling and visualization, especially STEM subjects can be made accessible, easy to learn and exciting. If you think of complex structures like DNA that are extremely difficult to show accurately in 2D, the merit of AR for STEM learning instantly becomes clear. In turn, this then leads to the creation of the exact skills that are linked to STEM and urgently needed for the economy of the future, as also pointed out in this recent article by Inc Magazine.
In the end, AR can be used in every school that possesses at least one device that runs Android or iOS and a projector that can be connected to it. This is the first step toward improving teaching with accessible technology, and the options for expanding it are endless. On the measurable side, AR has already been proven to increase knowledge retention by up to 100% and improve students’ test scores by 33%. Through its multi-modal, interactive nature, it supports every learning style and can be an extremely valuable tool in Special Needs Education. Exactly because of this circumstance, AR is one of the steps towards equity in education, where the teaching methods used suit every learners’ individual needs.
Identifying, supporting and even expanding technologies like AR will be a key task for everyone with the mission of creating excellent, yet accessible and equal education all around the world. Along with other major trends and technological developments, 7 of which you can find here, AR creates something we left behind long ago in traditional teaching: Room to dream about future ways of application and how much more this technology can do for us, the education sector, the future economy and last, but certainly not least, our children.
Clemens Braakmann, Business Development Associate at CleverBooks Ltd. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. CleverBooks Ltd. is a Dublin-based company that aims to make 21st century education accessible for children all around the world. Their innovative STEM-accredited Augmented Reality teaching resources supplement traditional methods and work with curriculums all around the world. To find out more, go to cleverbooks.eu.