Augmented Reality: Does the coolest thing EVER have a place in the classroom?

Augmented reality, as we now know it, has been around little more than a year but already there are a multitude of examples floating around on the Web. Why? Because it’s friggin’ cool! If you haven’t impressed your friends yet, check out this example:

The basic idea is this: you print out a specific image, then go to a Web site, connect a Web cam to your computer, and hold the image up. On the computer screen, Star Wars-esque holograms pop out of the image, allowing you to interact with them on some level.

So far, augmented reality has been used for little more than advertisements. But even though Harry Potter 3D is an ad for the upcoming Universal theme park, it would be a really cool visualization tool to use with students who are studying the books.

Another popular augmented reality example is the GE Smart Grid. It doesn’t have too many classroom implications that I can think of, except maybe as an interesting way to exhibit clean energy.

The really exciting thing about augmented reality, though, isn’t what’s already out there. It’s that the technology to create your own is almost entirely free for individuals.

How does it work?

Basically, augmented reality is a 3D Flash movie that is triggered to play when it recognizes a certain symbol displayed through the web camera.

The FLARToolkit, which is part of the open-source (FREE!) library ARToolkit, contains coding that detects the trigger image and calculates the camera position in 3D space (that’s why it works when you move the paper around).

PaperVision3D, an open-source Flash tool, allows you to create 3D movies using Flash. (To download, click on the image in the top left-hand corner, then find the “downloads” link on the right sidebar.)

How can I build one?

I’ve been wanting to play around with creating my own augmented reality for a few months now, but I haven’t had the time to do it. Hopefully, this will change in the coming weeks, and I’ll be able to offer a detailed tutorial here.

Until then, though, there are a couple of step-by-steps out there to help. From what I’ve read, it’s surprisingly not TOO difficult, provided you have some experience with Flash and Actionscript 3 coding.

Saqoosha’s tutorial seems to be a good intro, and the only extra software you’ll need is Adobe Flash CS3 or later. If you don’t already have Flash, you can download a 30-day free trial or buy it at the educator price of $250. (I would check with your district, though. Often, someone will have a copy of it that you can install on your computer.)

Marc Pelland offers a tutorial for programmers, but you’ll need the open-source FlashDevelop as well as the less-common Flex Builder 3, which is $230 (though a free 60-day trial is available).

In the classroom

Augmented reality could be a really amazing extra-credit project in a high school computer class, many of which already have access to Flash. Show the examples and open source software to your kids, and see who bites.

Check out how far your students could take it:

Not only would it be a fun project to grade, it would give those students some seriously marketable skills once they graduate. Several iPhone apps and Google Earth enhance their offerings with augmented reality.  The Sixth Sense (see video below) utilizes the technology to allow users to interact with their world on an entirely new level. Technology like this will, no doubt, be something future employers will want to exploit.

On a simpler level, think about how the use of flash cards could be completely re-defined:

As a teacher, it could be really fun to set up augmented reality on your classroom Web page. Imagine a student holding up the cover of his textbook, and a hologram of his teacher pops out giving him that night’s assignment. Okay, it’s not exactly the most time-efficient way to communicate, but if I was a kid, it would definitely increase my motivation to check for my homework assignment.

Better yet, what if a student could hold up a history handout and see a hologram of Abraham Lincoln delivering the Ghettysburg Address or Albert Einstein discussing his beliefs about the bomb?

More Info

There are a lot of augmented reality resources out there, but the Augmented Reality Wiki seems to be the best place to get the most up-to-the-minute information. You can also follow the AR Wiki on Twitter.

Katy Scott

I spent 5 years teaching in low-income districts in Phoenix, where most of my students were English-language learners. There, I taught 3rd- and 4th-grade self-contained classes, as well as 7th-grade resource. I spent a year teaching 5th- and 6th-grade science in an inner-city KIPP school in New Orleans. I did double-duty as a technology integration specialist for the last four years of my teaching career. I am now the Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where I work to help PreK-12 teachers and students utilize technology to better understand science. I'm a maker, a snorkeler, and a certified Google Education Trainer.

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