Monday, December 5, 2011

Embedded Phenomena, Augmented Reality, and Education

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Report Abuse Weird News I love it when something so simple is so effective. Tom Moher's 2006 paper [ACM, CiteSeer] describing his work on what he calls Embedded Phenomena was a case of "why didn't I think of that?" for me for sure. He offers an affordable way to integrate digital information into standard classroom practice, and while he doesn't use the term augmented reality, I think the systems created definitely are.

The abstract of the paper goes like this:
‘Embedded phenomena’ is a learning technology framework in which simulated scientific phenomena are mapped onto the physical space of classrooms. Students monitor and control the local state of the simulation through distributed media positioned around the room, gathering and aggregating evidence to solve problems or answer questions related to those phenomena. Embedded phenomena are persistent, running continuously over weeks and months, creating information channels that are temporally and physically interleaved with, but asynchronous with respect to, the regular flow of instruction. In this paper, we describe the motivations for the framework, describe classroom experiences with three embedded phenomena in the domains of seismology, insect ecology, and astronomy, and situate embedded phenomena within the context of human-computer interaction research in co-located group interfaces and learning technologies.
As mentioned in the abstract, the paper reports on three different projects. In each, simple tablet computers act as windows into another world. Their placement in the classroom matters. For example, the solar system project, HelioRoom, has the tablets positioned so that the centre of the classroom becomes the sun, and planets orbit around it in a proportionally correct small scale. As the planets orbit around, they appear in the tablet windows at exactly the time they would had they actually been travelling around the entire room. This makes the digital information location-dependent, and this is what makes it an instance of augmented reality.

One of the things that struck me about this use of technology in the classroom is how easily the teacher could continue working how he or she always has. I remember another educational games author pointing out that we can't bring all kinds of new and exciting technology to the classroom and expect teachers to be able to learn how to teach in a whole new way as well as learn the new technology. Instead, we need to first bring technology that supports the way the classroom already works, and in the future begin slowly transitioning to new ways of teaching. If you look at the pictures included in the paper, you'll see students working on charts, in groups, with teacher direction -- heck, you'll even see those traditional Styrofoam model planets hanging from the ceiling! Everything teachers did before they still do; they just have a new way to visualize things in a spatially and temporally aware way.

I'd really like to see more projects that use simple technology like this in education. Sure, it'll be great when we all have our own augmented reality glasses and can recreate detailed simulations right in front of our eyes, but those days are a long way away. Let's use what we have now to create engaging learning environments without having to drastically shift our way of teaching quite yet. Nouvelles de Téléphone et Gadgets

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