Throughout our 15 weeks of work on this project, we have endeavoured to discover patterns and use-cases at a micro level, that can give rise to new ideas around the use of wearable Augmented Reality technology in the classroom. However, the question of how to use the affordances of our currently-available pass-through VR rig at a larger level remains largely unaddressed.
Effectively, pass-through VR allows us to create a boundary in the classroom, where the real world ends and the virtual world begins. This virtual world can be used to represent anything from the inside of the human body at a cellular level, to ancient worlds and cultures.
This is not a wholly new idea. The whole premise of an old cartoon, The Magic School Bus, rests on this notion of total immersion – “Wouldn’t school be fun if your field trips went to places you had to learn about, but could never truly visit?”
Early on in our conversations with educators, we got some requests for an “immersive” experience through which students might be able to better understand different time periods for their English and History lessons. Given that AR’s strength doesn’t exactly lie in immersion, we relegated those ideas in favour of the other ideas we saw to completion. However, as we explored the capabilities that pass-through VR lends us, we realized that this mixed reality could allow for a measure of immersion, in a way that does not take the students out of their regular classroom setting, but instead brings the subject material to life around them. The slices of a future classroom that we have prototyped in our work represent the interactions that a student could undertake with specific virtual objects, either alone or with partners. However, with our explorations of our platform, we discovered that an immersive classroom could possibly be a host to these pedagogical experiences.
Quite often, immersion in a VR or MR context implies the ability to interact with the virtual world that one is immersed in. The idea of an immersive classroom, however, is more similar to a 360 video of sorts, that transports the students without them losing their-real world desk-and-chair setup. That is not to say, however, that there are no interactive elements. The interaction with specific virtual objects, appearing on student desks, could be prompted by the teacher. The idea is that the immersion could be a way for the teacher to present content, with the ability for the teacher to “pick out” objects of interest that the students could then break into groups and interact with. For example, the students could be immersed in observing an aquatic biome, and the teacher could then pull up interactive models of different organisms to describe their roles in the ecosystem, their adaptations specific to the environment etc.
The possibilities are almost endless. The students could pick out objects of historical and cultural significance from scenes around them and see them up close, or observe them as they are used by “people” from a different time and place. They could be located on different planets as they learn about them. They could effectively shrink down and observe phenomena that are invisible to the human eye. This could replace the need for a presentation-based lecture format, doing away with projectors, while the walls around the class melt away to reveal new worlds.
The questions then revolve more around what makes sense pedagogically. Would you want students to be immersed in a space and restrict their interactions to specific objects? Does it add value to learning or simply increase motivation? Is it desirable, pedagogically, to retain the real world context of a desk-and-chair setup when ”immersed” (which is perhaps a misnomer) in another world? Further research and conversations with educators could help illuminate how the technology could be used to aid pedagogy.
Our project, with small slices of interactions and models, aimed to imagine a few starting points for how new media might be integrated into the classroom. These ideas and patterns can be further developed by researchers, educators and creators to design more complete learning experiences using emerging technologies in the classroom.