An alternate education

Dec 5, 2013 09:31 PM , By C.S. ANURADHA, DR V. SRIDHAR

Augmented reality is making its foray into the education sector
and bringing about changes for the better.
Soon, your 6-year old child may well be holding your smartphone
or tablet over a Robin Hood book to experience in vivid details,
how the savior fights against offenders in the Darbha valley area
of Chhattisgarh to save innocent men and women. Yes.. It is the
pet project on The Extended Book and Robin Hood by Dr. Dave
Miller, UNESCO Chair in New Media Forms of the Book,
University of Bedfordshire that will be Augmented Reality (AR)
based and will be collaboratively written by authors around the
world to bring out an Indianized version of Robin Hood.
With the developments of Google Glass and other related
products, decade old Augmented Reality (AR) technology is
moving from labs to mainstream adoption.
AR enables superimposition of digital content on real environment
thus providing contextualized information to users. In simple
words, AR merges the physical and digital worlds in order to
make the real world more interactive to the user.
While Virtual Reality is a complete digital representation of the
real world, AR is an add-on to the real world. This remarkably
enhances the human-information interface and allows very
interesting applications to be developed.
When deployed in outdoor environment, virtual information
overlays enable a wide range of applications ranging from tourist
guides and pedestrian navigation to urban gaming.
It is estimated that developer investment in AR applications will
be about US$670 million this year, and is expected to exceed US
$2.5 billion in 2018, as AR becomes an everyday part of mobile
experience.
Mobile continues to be the preferred device for AR application
and is expected that more than 2.5 billion mobile AR applications
will get installed by 2017.
In this article, we explore how AR can be used to enhance
learning and education.
Applied in Education
According to Professor Xiangyu Wang, an internationally
recognized expert in AR who is with the faculty of Curtin
University, Australia, AR offers an innovative learning experience
by merging digital learning material over the physical space, thus
providing “situated learning”.
AR broadens the scope of physical learning environment to
“outside the classroom” and enables “individualised” learning.
Each learner can control her own learning, manipulating digital
information and objects as per the need to enhance
understanding. AR can also interleave theoretical and practical
learning. For example, when you and your son are in the park,
your son can point the AR browser in your Smartphone to a
seasaw in a park to learn concepts such cantilever, and centre of
balance in a natural setting!
In subjects such as biology, chemistry and even physics where it
is difficult for learners to imagine complex models and
experiments, AR can enhance learning in a real environment.
Though AR based learning is being explored more in mathematics
and sciences, AR Gaming applications can be used to teach
complex business and economics concepts such as Game
Theory, negotiations and strategy.
For example, a learner can be trained on complex tasks such as
laparoscopic surgery, heavy equipment operation and risky tasks
such as firefighting with augmented objects and content.
Risks of failure in AR is minimal as compared to practical real
object based training – that is, a heavy fall while demonstrating
firefighting as happened in some cases in India, can be avoided
using AR based training programs. Researchers have found that
the learning curve is steep with AR based training (i.e. shorter
time to understand) and that performance post training is also
higher, compared to conventional training. Researchers have
found that books and tool kits such as AR-Dehaes that contains
hundreds of 3D models allows learner to visualize and perform
spatial engineering tasks with industrial elements with ease.
AR Books
Though most of the text book publishers bundle relevant CDs,
content in them are rarely accessed due to complexities such as
finding a computer to load and search through the content for
relevant information. AR can enable the dreary books to become
“live”. By pointing the AR browser (in Tablets or mobiles) to an
AR enhanced chapter, students can access all relevant information
in various formats (i.e. video and images, articles, talks) pertaining
to that chapter in real-time and on the go.
For example, a student who is trying hard to make out the textual
description of wind currents and their effect on climatic conditions
will be able to point the smartphone to the AR enabled chapter in
his text book to access a video that shows the storm system in
vivid detail, thus enabling her to better understand the concepts.
Publishers such as Harper Collins have started releasing AR
enhanced books. Niche publishers such as BooksAlive.com have
started publishing AR enhanced children books.
Relevance for India
Though the impact of Right to Education on school education
system in India improved Pupil-Teacher Ratio from 42:1 to 32:1,
it still thrice that in developed countries. With the RTE mandate,
children from lower income groups do have a chance to mingle
with children of high income groups in the same school and have
access to the same educational material. These less privileged
children however may not have access to computer and digital
resources at home. However most of such families today own
mobiles, thanks to domestic manufacturing, stiff competition and
related lower prices. Mobile AR provides students access to key
digital information right from their homes without the need for any
other device to supplement their text books.
Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt in the recently released
edited book by McKinsey & Co on ‘Reimagining India’ remarked,
“Parents who believe their children are not getting proper
instruction in local schools will be able to use mobile phones or
tablets to help fulfil their kid’s educational needs”. The
possibilities with mobile AR are only limited by imagination.
The only caveat is without good broadband connectivity for
downloading content, that is conspicuously absent in India,
mobile AR can be a frustrating experience. Hope that with more
spectrum to be auctioned soon and spectrum trading being
allowed, the mobile operators in the country will wake up and
enable the huge possibilities of AR to be realised.
(The authors work at at Sasken Communication Technologies.
Views are personal.)

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