Education augmentation? Artificial intelligence in the classroom

Martin Bailey, Naace board member and director of Animate 2 Educate, discusses how augmented reality (AR) works in practice and gives advice on how it could be used in classrooms to enhance pupils’ experiences

In recent years we’ve seen a huge revolution, with schools making use of technology to enhance the teaching and learning process. The first electronic whiteboards were introduced in the 1990s followed by greater access to classroom desktop computers; more recently, the growth of tablet use has shaken up the education arena, enabling a range of new teaching techniques and learning activities. One of the most notable instances of this is augmented reality – AR – which came onto the scene in a big way following the release of Pokémon GO.

What is AR?

Simply put, AR is a technology that adds another layer onto reality using computer graphics. For instance, Pokémon GO uses a mixture of geo-mapping and overlaid graphics to project digital creatures into reality. With the app’s popularity comes a question: could we use this technology to enhance the learning environment? The short answer is – yes, very much so. It provides the opportunity to break the boundaries of the classroom, or even the school day, to open up experiences that would otherwise be impossible.

A whole new world

Take studying the solar system, for example. While diagrams and videos will help in giving context to space above us the hours of the school day limit opportunities to actually go out and look at the stars for real. AR mapping means that, even in the daylight, students can use tablets to chart the stars right above them in real time, inspiring them to learn more when they look up at the night sky. This approach also creates possibilities for data-logging and cross-curricular questioning. You might use it to track which planes are flying nearby, where they’re going, how high up they are and how fast they’re travelling, sparking conversation around mathematics, physics and geography as students quiz each other on how quickly the plane will arrive if it carries on at this or that speed, and so on.

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Augmented education

AR can even bring sheets of paper to life. Augmented books include ‘trigger images’ that access a wealth of additional content such as videos or animated graphics to increase engagement and make topics more real. An added benefit is that augmented books are often no more expensive than standard books and the apps to access the content is almost always free. With more and more schools already using tablets in the classroom, the benefits of AR, combined with its low cost, can be a real asset to schools.

Of course, the main issue that teachers will have in introducing AR is that of distraction. As with everything, AR shouldn’t be used for the sake of it, or to replace perfectly good teaching techniques. Instead, it should be used to emancipate or ‘free up’ the student learning experience. The teacher will always be the most important aspect of a lesson but this technology, in the hands of a great teacher, can be transformational.

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