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Bringing Experiential Learning to Students Through Augmented Reality

Bringing Experiential Learning to Students Through Augmented Reality

Growing up, most of us saw a picture of the Mona Lisa at least once, probably as a picture in a textbook or a poster in a classroom. Far fewer of us have walked up to the actual Mona Lisa in the Louvre and had a chance to study the painting up close and in-person—the brush strokes on the canvas, the subtle evidence of aging in the 500 year-old masterpiece, the feeling of surprise that the actual painting is a lot smaller than you imagined when you saw it in a textbook. Appreciating this artwork in any manner is great but being there is so much better.

In science class, we dissect a squid, because the diagram in our textbook falls far short of the tactile feel of the live animal; the ability to look at these creatures up close and learn about the different structures firsthand puts them into the context of real life. Similarly, in social studies, we take field trips because it’s one thing to read about the Lincoln Memorial, but quite another to walk up the steps, gaze at the pensive visage of Lincoln, and take it all in with the National Mall as the backdrop.

Educators recognize the value of experiential learning, but schools often face many barriers to providing students with quality experiences. While it would be wonderful for art students to travel to Paris and visit the Louvre, it’s far too expensive. Geology students would really gain perspective on the forces of nature if they could stand on the edge of Yosemite’s Half Dome and peer over the valley, but it is too dangerous. An astronomy teacher could plan an evening of viewing meteors during the Perseid meteor shower, only to have cloudy skies. And, what a great learning experience it would be if history students could walk the streets of New York City in 1900, but of course, we can’t travel back in time. 

While the exact needs and constraints vary, across the board, school budgets are tight, and the materials needed for these in-person learning experiences are often too expensive to be practical. For some schools, especially those in very rural areas, location can preclude access to quality experiences. And for other schools, factors like a low-income student population or students being physically unable to participate can also be barriers to experiential learning.

Edmentum is committed to providing equitable opportunities for all students; giving students agency and choice in how they learn; and supporting academic achievement through quality, engaging learning opportunities aligned to standards. That’s why we’re so excited to be releasing a pilot program of augmented reality (AR) activities to support and enrich our English 9 and Biology courses this fall. Learners can download and access these immersive learning experiences through an app on their smart phone or tablet, and the app will create interactive, virtual models that appear on a desk, a table, or the wall—whatever the student “sees” through the camera on their device.

In our Biology course, students will be able to explore insects in a virtual bug collection where they can interact with a butterfly or a beetle—making them walk or fly, or even land on their hand. Learners will also be able to dissect a virtual frog without ever touching a scalpel and collect experimental data on aerobic and anaerobic respiration. These AR activities go beyond traditional science instruction to provide learners with an engaging and interactive experience that might otherwise be impractical, prohibitively expensive, or even dangerous to perform.

Image captured from the AR activity “Classifying Organisms”

In our English 9 course, students will bring artworks from museums across the globe into their own spaces, and use them to deepen their understanding of topics like poetry, literary devices, and careful reading. Imagine students placing Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks in their classroom or home, and then hearing how the artist made choices to create a specific theme, tone, and character development—all while being able to walk up so close to the painting that the brushstrokes are visible! But it doesn’t stop there: next, students are asked to change the narrative by adding “stickers” to the painting, and then record an audio explanation of how they used visual devices to change the scene.

Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967), Nighthawks, 1943

When students are actively involved in the creative process like this, and making choices that the original artist might have been faced with, they gain a deeper understanding of their viewpoint. By asking questions like “Should I do this?”, “Why did I do that?”, they gain ownership in the creation, practice critical thinking, and uncover new insights about where and why the artist made the choices they did.

The addition of these interactive augmented reality lessons are made possible by Edmentum’s collaboration with Boulevard Arts, an industry leader in augmented, virtual, and mixed reality education. And, our Biology and English 9 courses are just the beginning. Our team is investigating how augmented reality can bring exciting and engaging experiences to students across all disciplines, wherever learning occurs.

Want to learn more about leveraging AR, VR, and MR in the classroom? Check out this blog on The Immersive Future of Education Technology!