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Why Use Augmented Reality in the Classroom, From an Early Adopter

By Tim Needles, STEAM Teacher

Do you remember the first time you experienced augmented reality? For many of us, it likely appeared in our lives unexplained in the form of an interactive advertisement at a theme park or the on-field 1st and 10 line graphics during a football game. The technology probably wasn’t mentioned so the moment may have just passed you by, unless, of course, you happen to purchase Google Glass or created a Pokémon Go account and took a photo with Pikachu when it began in 2016. Today, augmented reality is showing up in more and more places in our lives and if it hasn’t appeared in your classroom yet, now might be a good time!

As an educator, one of my main goals is to help my students prepare for the professional world that they will enter after graduation, regardless of what career they might choose. A major element of this preparation is teaching them about the emerging media that may impact their future. The world of technology is evolving faster than ever, but if you stay current, it becomes clear that some technologies are more likely than others to play a role in our future, and augmented and virtual reality is a great example.

AR Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

As a digital media teacher, I was an early adopter of augmented reality. Why did I begin using AR, as it is commonly abbreviated, in class? The answer is curiosity. I suspected that it was an important up-and-coming technology, so I wanted to have an understanding of how it worked, but I also found the interactivity filled with potential. It was also inexpensive, especially compared to virtual reality, and fairly easy to access and incorporate into my curriculum. I began as most people do by using the simple paper templates that companies like Quiver and Disney produce which are easy to use and resemble coloring book pages. It’s a bit like a magic trick when you view the coloring pages through the free apps on a tablet or smartphone and can see your artwork come alive and dance, fly, erupt, or even play a game with you.

AR Empowers Student Voice and Choice

These experiences were amazing and allowed for memorable and engaging learning projects with students. As I continued to incorporate AR into my teaching I found more and more apps and programs that all had different specialties and advantages, so I regularly experimented with using new tools with my students and we made these collaborative tests part of the project itself each year. This gave students a voice in the learning process and a choice in which tools we used but it also taught them a process for teaching themselves about new technology tools and making collaborative evaluations, a valuable lesson itself.

Leverage AR to Share Student Work

Ultimately, the best learning experiences came from projects in which students can create their own AR triggers and media. We used tools such as Eyejack, Merge, and Co-Spaces to design our own AR experiences to create interactive posters in the classroom and art galleries in our school hallway. These projects allowed us to share not only the terrific artwork students created but the creative process and hard work it took to make them. We used the art to trigger time-lapse animations which revealed the digital drawing from start to finish.

AR Continues to Evolve for the Classroom

When I published my first book, STEAM Power from ISTE, I included a chapter dedicated to AR and VR and some of my favorite projects for diving into the process. Since that point, I’ve seen more tools become more streamlined for education and adapted to fit multiple learning environments. It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in the last few years but I believe that we are still in the growth stage of AR and there is amazing potential to be fulfilled. Regardless of what subject you teach, there are many great AR resources available to help you infuse this technology into your teaching and give students a chance to work with a tool that may be an important aspect of their future careers.

Tim Needles is an artist, educator and author of STEAM Power: Infusing Art Into Your STEM Curriculum. He teaches art/media at Smithtown School District, is a TEDx Talk speaker, and his work has been featured on NPR, in the New York Times, Columbus Museum of Art, Norman Rockwell Museum, Alexandria Museum of Art, Katonah Museum of Art, and Cape Cod Museum of Art. He’s the recipient of ISTE’s Technology in Action Award and Creativity Award, NAEA’s Eastern Region Art Educator Award & AET Outstanding Teaching Award, and The Rauschenberg Power of Art Award. He’s a National Geographic Certified Teacher, PBS Digital Innovator, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, an ISTE Arts & Technology and STEM PLN leader, NAEA ArtEdTech interest Group leader, and Adobe Creative Educator and Education Leader Emeritus. He’s active on social media at @timneedles.

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Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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