Getting started with augmented and virtual reality may seem overwhelming, but with the right approach, successful implementation is achievable—and can actually be a lot of fun to learn. As we head back to school, a solid plan will help turn frustrating experiences into mind-blowing creative lessons.
But first, an introduction to the world of AR/VR, which can sometimes get confusing.
Nearpod Exploring Ecosystems VR lesson
What’s the Difference?
It’s important to understand the difference between augmented and virtual reality. A lack of knowledge on the topic and limited awareness of content is typically the main barrier that educators face when presented with the opportunity to use immersive technology (a term that refers to both augmented and virtual realities). Educators are often surprised when they learn how easy it is to use and integrate immersive technology into classroom lessons.
When understanding augmented reality (AR), the essential element of this technology is the real-world view—that is, the actual environment around us. The enhanced camera view adds a digital layer of content that gives the illusion that something has now appeared in your space, be it a map, a 3D model or even a Pokemon. The transformed space can provide the viewer experiences such as holding a beating heart in your hand or history coming to life on your desk.
Moving to virtual reality (VR), the experience is entirely digital. The digital view is seen all around the viewer giving the illusion that the learner is transported to a new location. The real world is no longer visible, and the students can be immersed in otherwise impossible places, such as a trip to the moon.
CoSpaces' Life of Pi is an AR experience for English language arts.
Set Your Goals
Creating a plan to implement any technology requires a school district to identify a set of goals. Often times, there are few expectations provided on the outcomes of the lessons because there was never a set goal from the beginning. Surprisingly, I rarely have encountered administrators who have addressed what they want to accomplish with this technology. But still they are rather eager to make a purchase.
No doubt that immersive technology has the “wow” factor, but it offers more than just a cool learning experience. Setting a plan to address some of the complex concepts that students struggle to understand and making the connection to relevant content are a few valuable ways to use immersive technology effectively.
Assigning one educator or administrator to implement AR and VR is typical when getting started; however, the collaboration between multiple parties can help avoid many pitfalls. Start by introducing the technology to students. They can serve as an essential resource for discussing the importance of this technology for their learning, and can participate in thoughtful discussion on the best ways to use the tools in lessons. Student collaboration can be a powerful engagement motivator, transforming basic lessons into a supercharged classroom.
Another important department to include in the collaboration? The curriculum team. This department will confirm that the immersive technology lessons align with district expectations, and they may also want to share these valuable ideas with other educators district-wide. The curriculum should always drive the selection of technology, not the other way around.
Finally, the technology department should be aware of the technology demands of augmented and virtual reality to ensure access and reliability, and getting buy-in from this department can make or break a rollout. The availability of services, access to devices and any tech-related restrictions all play a huge role in the successful implementation of immersive technology.
Shapes, a series of 3D apps, can help teach geometry concepts.
Picking the Right Tools
Finding the resources to get started with immersive technology is crucial. Regardless of skill level, educators can use these simple augmented and virtual reality tools immediately. I’ve listed a few apps below to begin.
1- Merge Cubes. The Merge Cubes created quite a lot of excitement with educators this past year as they offer the opportunity to explore multiple apps in augmented reality through a single cube. Apps can be downloaded for the classroom that brings learning to the student's fingertips including HoloGlobe, 57º North and Object Viewer. Interested in testing an upcoming app? Join the Shapes - 3D Geometry Apps Facebook group to beta test their new app. Still looking for more? Check out this recommended list of Merge Cube educational apps.
2- CoSpaces EDU. Building virtual worlds are easier to do than you think. Using the CoSpaces EDU tool, students can drag, drop and animate 3D assets on a 3D space. A new release by CoSpaces uses augmented reality to display your creation on top of a Merge Cube and can also display your scene in your classroom.
3- Nearpod. One of the simplest ways to bring virtual field trips into your classroom is using Nearpod. Running a search for a specific location—such as Paris or an African safari—will populate numerous 360 experiences to add to your interactive lessons. The beauty of Nearpod is the engagement beyond just the experience, to confirm and solidify genuine learning.
4- AR Portal (iOS only). Become Dr. Strange and create AR portals in your classroom. Walk around the world in places such as Niagara Falls, a Swedish castle and Yokohama, Japan. The app allows the student to walk in and out of portals to new places without ever leaving the classroom. The next update will allow you to upload your own 360 images. Until then, enjoy the library of portal locations to explore.
Jumping into immersive technology can be exciting, but without proper preparation, the most engaging lessons can be a complete fail. There are no guarantees that any planning will avoid potential problems, but it should help minimize potential pitfalls and improve the effectiveness of your augmented and virtual reality lessons.