In the future, we’re thinking kids might be a little less excited about winter break.
Why would any student be excited to embrace elderly relatives and sing dorky carols when they spend their school days immersed in a technological fantasy?
The day is coming when interactive classroom technology will let dinosaurs roam the room, whales leap from gym floors, and snowy mountain peaks rise from between students’ desks.
Today’s youth are digital natives, and the classrooms they grow up in are rapidly turning into sensory experiences filled with augmented, virtual, and mixed reality learning.
The Promise of Augmented Reality Learning
We mentioned there’d be a whale leaping from the gym floor of the future. So here it is:
Spectacular as that image is, it’s really a marketing ploy. The company behind it, Magic Leap, produced it to demonstrate what is possible with the next generation of 3D special effects. To actually see such an image, every member of the audience would have to don a pair of special googles…the crowd reaction is just a well-timed illusion.
The technology behind that breaching whale, though, is very real. After walking a rather rocky path, Magic Leap has announced that the goggles that make such illusions seem real will soon go on sale. They’ll be competing with Microsoft’s HoloLens to be the first altered reality device to reach a mass consumer audience. Neither product is cheap–Magic Leap’s goes for $2,295, the HoloLens for $3,000 or $5,000 (depending on the edition)–but nothing shrinks so fast as the cost of consumer technologies. There was a time when video conferencing equipment that now costs less than $50 was once a big business luxury.
So, while there may not be any whales currently leaping out of the ground during your school’s pep rallies, the day is coming. And augmented reality is just one of several new ways of altering the world around us that will be deployed with our classrooms.
A Virtual Visual Education
These emerging technologies can be broken down into three key fields. Each presents a new visual reality and gives the user intuitive control over how they interact within this computer-generated world.
Augmented Reality: This is the power behind that leaping whale and the more mundane achievement of putting the scores in the corner of your Thanksgiving Day football game, and it’s the most convincing of these emerging technologies. Simply put, it’s created by laying computer-generated images over real world or graphical settings. At its best, the technology can map and respond to human movements, creating the illusion of interactivity.
Virtual Reality: Virtual reality is a wholly created second world. The idea is the oldest among these new technologies and it relies on immersing your senses within a new reality, a bit like an immersive computer or video game. You’ll always need goggles and headphones to totally disappear into virtual reality.
Mixed Reality: Very similar to augmented reality, mixed reality essentially places computer-generated objects in the real world. These objects can be interacted with and are more attached to their surroundings than in augmented reality.
What’s exciting about all these technologies, however, is how they can be used in the classroom to create new ways of learning.
Current and Future Interactive Classroom Technology
Video conferencing has already expanded what’s possible to achieve within the average classroom. It can provide face-to-face connections between students in different schools, cities, states, even countries. And it can invite experts into the classroom (as with the program Skype a Scientist) or transport students on virtual farm field trips.
To take things a step further, the most advanced interactive classroom technologies are all about introducing the impossible. As you can see from the video below, the technology is still a little clunky at the moment, but its evolution is speeding up.
The key will be moving from a singular experience that places each student within their own private world into a shared environment where everyone sees and hears the same thing at the same time.
At that point, every student in the history class can board and ride the Nina, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria together and learn firsthand what it was like to travel the high seas in the 1400s. They can all walk around the same prehistoric landscape and marvel at the scale of the dinosaurs roaming around them. And they can all manipulate 3D shapes and building materials as they learn about geometry, architecture, or physics in their real-world classroom.
Add video conferencing to that equation and you can mix in a live, back-and-forth conversation with a remote expert. Now, when that climate scientist calls in on their video link from Antarctica, the students can join them on a quick walk beyond the research center into an otherwise uninhabitable terrain of snowstorms and cracking ice.
Done right, this could be learning on a scale and dimension no other generation has experienced. Students could travel under the seas and through space as easily as they ride home from school. Theoretical concepts that underpin mathematics and language can be brought to life in floating, interactive shapes and computer-generated cartoons.
The only drawback is that it’s going to make coming home for the holidays a little less appealing…well, at least a little less stimulating.