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Teaching AR vs Teaching through AR

Using AR can give a tremendous boost in learning. Image credit: Adobe

5 billion smartphones and tablets provide a huge platform to deliver augmented reality content everywhere to everybody. The growth and pervasiveness of high speed communication infrastructures (wifi, 4 and 5G) plus the huge storage capacity of devices (acting as a local solution where connectivity is not available) is another enabling factor.

No wonder that universities are busy developing and delivering course on AR/VR. What puzzle me is that very little is being done to actually use AR/VR as a teaching tool. As it is often the case the school environment is slow in walking the talk.

In a nice article Adobe explains how it partnered with the Smithsonian Institute to create an AR content explaining through interactive clips coral life. The article reports the benefit in terms of more effective knowledge transfer in adopting AR in teaching.

The content adaptation for the Adobe AR platform uses libraries created by Adobe. Several other companies, like Apple and Google are also providing AR libraries simplifying the content adaptation to AR. It is not yet a very easy task, it requires skilled people and it takes time. However the impact on education effectiveness can be significant.

In my experience teaching has not progressed to the point of leveraging all the technology that has become available. In Italy, as an example, many school forbids smartphones in the classroom on the claim that students are distracted by them and / or can use them to cheat on their assignments and tests. Would we forbid pencils and notebook because students could be distracted by using the to daydream by scribbling or hide hints for their tests? If you think about it there is not that much difference, just in effectiveness. Effectiveness, however, plays both ways: smartphones can also be much more effective in learning than pencil and notebook. Teachers have to learn to adopt and leverage them. In my experience teachers are the weak point in the evolution of teaching. I saw during the lock down students were, on average, perfectly at easy in using videoconf technology, much more than teachers!

Most students and teachers lamented, and lament, that the on premise experience is so much better than remote teaching/learning and I do agree to this. However, I also noticed that most teachers used the remote connectivity to delocalise the teaching, as a plan B. They did not exploit the opportunities offered by technology, like creating interactive groups in the cyberspace that manipulate knowledge, injecting AR and VR into the teaching, creating virtual labs …

It is not easy, there are technological hurdles but to me the biggest hurdles are cultural ones, the mantra is “we always did that way, why should we change?”.

May be because the world is changing?

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.