Augmented Education

North Kingdom
The Startup
Published in
7 min readSep 13, 2019

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How new interactivity is shaping tomorrow’s classroom
By Ted Ripple, Experience Designer at North Kingdom

Animation by Clara Bacou

“I understand you’re trying to change the way kids read,” remarked her boss. The year was 1978 and Joëlle Delbourgo, a publishing assistant, was advocating to print Journey Under the Sea, the first choose your own adventure book. In his eyes, it was an idea too radical for the status quo of literary consumption. With enough insistence she managed to persuade him. Two years later, with 4 million copies in print, the genre was said to be “as contagious as chickenpox.” 1

Delbourgo understood the potential impact of interactivity, a concept so old it’s new again. Proponents claim that allowing kids to take agency over the stories they read could “unleash their innate creativity.”² Educators today are finding clever ways to leverage digital interactivity. It’s heralded as an antidote to low student engagement and information retention. One of the biggest challenges facing educators is identifying how each student learns best. Some retain more of what they experience than what they read. This suggests that interactive mediums can help a broader range of students, from kinesthetic learners to those with special needs.

As advocates for creative play, we at North Kingdom are invested in uncovering new ways to help empower students. Students who are being exposed to pixels at an earlier and earlier age. So, as emergent tech becomes more commonplace, how does it inform interactivity in the classroom of tomorrow?

Passive consumption is dead, long live the smartphone

This future is well underway. Pearson, a leading supplier of academic textbooks, has seen a 35% decline in revenue since 2013. Evidence of a rapidly shifting market. But they hope to maintain their top position by releasing an AI-powered study tool called Aida. Students will be able to scan their calculus homework and get step-by-step corrections. The tool is designed with a multilateral teaching approach, moving away from the unilateral textbook paradigm. The student experience will be defined by how they tackle material.

Is learning a fundamentally social experience?

Today, students can study with interactive, AR flashcards or scan book covers for a quick synopsis. A personal favorite is Lessons in Herstory, which allows students to scan pictures of men in their history books to learn about a prominent, lesser-known female figure (only 11% of the stories in U.S. History Textbooks are about women). VR/AR immersive field trips allow kids to time travel to the Civil War or teleport to a UNESCO site and make it back to the cafeteria in time for lunch. And MIT is exploring adolescent behavior towards relational robots in the classroom. What distinguishes them from the more “social” bots of today is how they’re “designed to build and maintain long-term, social-emotional relationships with users.”

Tomorrow, the AR cloud will weave a layer of information and interactive experiences into any classroom. This allows for persistent engagement with digital space, rather than a one-off experience. The tech will grow more sophisticated, with intelligent AI-actors and reactive, haptic environments. It will enable students to tackle challenges together in synchronous spaces that will evolve based on user input and biometrics.

And the cloud will extend beyond school to a student’s home. Picture an assignment exploring the gold rush era. A duo of students adorn virtual sheriff’s attire, investigate the denizens of a saloon and inform their class on the bandit’s whereabouts. Machine learning will assess the students’ performance, convey insights to their teacher and parents, and craft the next assignment in their evolving smart syllabus. Yes, this is WestWorld as history homework.

Students will be able to access their education in a way that suits them best. And what they apply themselves to would feel relevant and engaging. This is a major win for developing creative thinking and social skills. Students ought to thrive in a more flexible, reactive learning environment. No more dry lectures! But the adoption of AI, and the feeling of being monitored and analyzed at every turn, could backfire. What is meant to provide freedom from conventional class could actually create an emotionally claustrophobic reality. Kids should feel comfortable to make mistakes and see the value in growing from those experiences. That’s learning maturity. And we don’t want to stymie that. Additionally, faith in AI may cause us to fall short of imparting other important life skills. If AI always segues to things a student wants to do, they won’t be pushed out of their comfort zone.

For one educator, the significance of this is not the medium itself, but in how it allows students to participate in a way that feels natural:

“They are not discussing something abstract because it is what they’ve been asked to do, which inevitably ends up with the same few being very vocal about what they already know and the same many sitting back and trying to look busy or desperately try and think of something to say when an adult approaches.
With VR, they describe their experience; something that they are used to doing.”

-Hannah Davies Avantis Senior Educational Specialist

Advancing this tech will be a challenge. First is the cost of development. Second is preparing educators to implement next-gen tools. Third is reach; will we be furthering the digital divide between the haves and have nots? Fourth is student privacy. Adaptive tech relies on user input and analytics. With school data breaches already occurring, AI-assisted dev ops will be required to protect the ever growing information captured from minors. Whether or not we should be capturing that data at all is another critical topic worth discussing.

Design by Clara Bacou

New tech exposes the tension between teaching fundamentals and problem solving skills

As tech becomes second nature for the younger generation, relying on traditional teaching methods will only further the rift between students and academic engagement. Textbooks are growing more archaic by the day, and students will continue to look online as their primary source of information. This is why we must race to adapt to how students already interact with the world. Educational technology cannot fall behind.

Kids are saturated with media and quickly become immune to its attention grabbing effects. As ClassVR points out, “these days it is rare to see technology deployed in schools that students haven’t already seen, or already own, themselves. It’s no wonder that classroom technology often now falls short of student’s expectations. The increase in fidelity can also create distractions — a common worry about tech’s prominence in the classroom. When does engagement tip towards entertainment? Ultimately, the success of these experiences will rely on substantive content that students retain.

Animation by Clara Bacou

Are we conditioning students to refer to, rather than retain information?

And how do we know what students retain? We test them, of course. But what if we didn’t have to wait until the big test to identify a student’s knowledge gaps and misconceptions. Companies like Eedi are leveraging intelligent multiple choice questions (MCQ) to gauge student abilities. “Problems in education are often hidden — Eedi makes them visible.”link These assessment tools will grow more advanced and eventually meld with sophisticated AI assistants. It will become a service embedded in all tech-related education. As natural language processing develops, AI assistants will engage on more nuanced, complex subjects. This again will create fluid insight into student performance. Because education will be more specific to each student, cheating would be made more difficult. Students will receive tailored test questions. And we’ve already developed AI that can spot AI-written essays. This starts to look like an AI arms race; one that will require new laws and addressing matters of algorithmic accountability.

Thanks to more sophisticated student assessments, educators won’t have to teach to the middle of the class any more. Robert Barnett, a math teacher and co-founder of The Modern Classrooms Project, sees the value in AI-empowered classrooms, “I get to know my students as real people! It wouldn’t be possible if I had to teach them in a traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ way. But because they learn and progress as individuals, I can develop relationships with them as such”.

Design by Clara Bacou

How will we reconcile standardized testing with interactive, personalized learning?

Teachers will spend less time lecturing. transitioning from “a sage on a stage, to a guide on the side.” This alters the hierarchy of the classroom. With more student-led learning, peers will be more equipped to teach one another. Students will develop specializations and expertise, promoting self-assured. And through imparting knowledge to their peers, they will hone their communication and social skills.

The rise in tech-driven learning is part of a larger pedagogical discourse on how we ought to prepare our kids for adulthood and the demands of our evolving workforce. According to Google, “97% of UK teachers say life (SEL) skills are as or more important than academic qualifications.” That, coupled with automation and demand for computer science (STEM) skills, means more pressure on students to prioritize critical thinking, communication, and initiative-taking skills. Charismatic entrepreneurs, for short. That’s a high order if you ask me. But new, ambitious applications of tech are hoping to equip educators and students with the tools to make this possible. Interactive technologies are a means to an end; it’s the interactive teaching that will inspire lasting curiosity.

Design by Clara Bacou

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North Kingdom
The Startup

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