Cool Technology for Education

An important part of what I do is to continue to seek out innovative ways to support and augment education and learning. Below are some technical innovations that stand out in terms of what they could possibly to do enhance learning and overall user experience.

Augmented Reality (“AR”) – My interest in AR was first piqued some time ago, when I read some articles in Computer Graphics World (“At Home with Augmented Reality” by Barbara Robertson and, later, “Play Ball” by Karen Moltenbrey) that showcased Augmented Reality as innovation.

Why it’s cool

Augmented Reality enhances users perception of reality, usually in a visual sense, but can possibly be extended to auditory information. Augmented Reality provides real-time context and information layer(s) on top of the real world view and becomes interactive and digitally usable.

Augmented Reality can be used to create immersive environments and simulations. the AR provides live, direct and/or indirect view of real-world elements ‘augmented’ by virtual computer-generated imagery (CGI), AR is often mentioned in context with 3D models or assets. Deservedly, much attention is given to ARs potential to allow users augmented experiences using their mobile devices (smart phones or other devices). The analogy: an overlay or information layer placed on top of existent reality. See Augmented Business Cards & GE’s Smartgrid page to try it yourself (you will need to print out icon on website).

This type of interface could benefit any learning environment, but could potentially offer an entirely new dimension to exhibits and museums, where ‘real’ space is a premium commodity. Additionally, think of all the ways users to could implement and interact with educational resources, using their own mobile devices. While the coolness factor is high on this, its educational value has barely been tapped. For a quick overview of AR use in education, see Brett E. Shelton’s Augmented Reality and Education: Current Projects and the Potential for Classroom Learning.

Multitouch touchscreen displays

Why it’s cool:

Multitouch (“MT”) devices can allow multiple inputs simultaneously on a visual display surface and provides users direct, interactive computer control. From an educational perspective, imagine if learners could have interactive kiosks where multiple users could interact with a simulation, exercise, or other training material.

Like augmented reality mentioned above, this type of interface could benefit any learning environment, but could provide an excellent resource to exhibits and museums, where ‘real’ space is a premium commodity. Consider of the possibilities of combining the two into a truly immersive experience, where users can not directly interact with assets, but can also be provided an added layer of information and/or experience on top of existing real-world elements.

Additionally, the MTs can be custom-built allowing for a variety implementations, depending on use of space (see Maximum PC article on how to build a multitouch surface, for example) or purchased as commercial off the shelf (like, the ones from PQ Labs).

Cost Effective ‘Smartboard-like’ interface – using Wii-mote, a projector, and an IR emitter, Johnny Lee, a Researcher at Microsoft Applied Sciences division, allows individuals to create a low-cast interactive white board. Johnny Lee outlines this project and others at his website:

Why it’s cool:

Similar to the MTs above, the user interactivity alone makes this a noteworthy item. While, the sheer fact that you can turn any surface (that you can project on) into an interactive whiteboard surface, the real value is that innovations like this open up possibilities for other use. What else can we do with Wii-like technology? Also on his website, Lee outlines other immersive uses for this innovation, including adding a truly three-dimensional perspective (i.e., ‘depth’) to simulations and video games, which looks even more promising.

Bottom line…

Really, from an educational value, these innovations could offer a myriad of uses and added dimensions of learning for users. In many cases above, instead of simply being a passive participant in the learning process, the user or learner actively shapes their own educational experience. With this, the user potentially gains empirical knowledge of the information at hand. These technical innovations could especially benefit eLearning environments and/or presentations, exhibits, or other educational elements at museums, or other entities where real-world space is limited. Additionally, the use of personal mobile devices in some of these innovations make these an important asset to enhance user learning experience.

It may not be as cool as what we see in The Matrix – where individuals are so completely immersed into a different reality that it becomes more ‘real’ than real-life – or Minority Report – where users directly manipulate digital projections in mid-air – but it’s a very good start, especially for education.

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