Introduction: What are Augmented and Virtual Realities?
While certainly not new to the classroom, simulated environments have taken on new forms with the infusion of technology. In the past, teachers and instructional designers crafted science labs and history roleplays to recreate the authentic work of each discipline. Today, we see simulated environments break down into augmented reality (AR), “in which virtual objects and people can be superimposed over or embedded within real environments using a special kind of viewer,” and virtual reality (VR), “in which everything viewed is imaginary” (Harrington, 2016).
Educational Purposes of AR and VR
These simulated realities offer a variety of purposes for students and teachers in the classroom. Namely, they allow learners “to walk through a demonstration in a virtual space [which] may be the only way to train until an individual is on the demonstration site” (Harrington, 2016). Without the restrictions of cost, safety, and time placed on actual demonstrations, these virtual demonstrations allow learners to explore content with more flexibility than previously available. For example, science teachers are able to have students discover internal components of the human body through VR where previous studies may have required actual human cadavers.
Gamification in the Classroom
Certainly elementary and secondary teachers have been translating content into games for years. From board games to video games, “Games have been used to represent, communicate and explore the dynamics of complex situations with multiple interacting variables” (Squire, Jan, Mathews, Wagler, Martin, DeVane & Holden, 2007). As a student myself, I remember learning to improve my keyboard skills by playing a typing game that featured a hurdler who fell each time I made a mistake. In my own US History classroom, I use a modified version of the game Monopoly to teach about the race-based wealth gap during our Civil Rights unit. Inspired by the Teaching for Tolerance organization, students “get a glimpse of the long-term economic effects of race-based policies that have limited the economic opportunities of African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and other communities of color” by playing a “rigged” game of Monopoly (2016). These lessons introduce students into the experience in a fun way before they’re expected to dig deeper into the actual content. They are meant as engagement tools that build anticipation for inquiry.
Current trends are pushing to digitally gamify the classroom, yet these app designers and technology visionaries haven’t yet established impact on true content retention: “Games may create ‘greater engagement,’ but they have, with few exceptions, have rarely demonstrated long term learning gains” (Squire, et. al, 2007). From a cognitive learning theorist perspective, the rationale for taking time to plan and facilitate games during instructional time with students doesn’t carry much weight. Yes, engagement is key to building a foundation for students, but Mike Schmoker, author of Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning (2011), argues that schools must first focus on guaranteeing “a content-rich curriculum, sound lessons, and authentic literacy” (p. 11). Without a core built on what really matters for long-term student flourishing (i.e. knowledge of the content and transferability of the skills), there is little reason to gamify our lessons. He demands that “Until these elements are reasonably well implemented, it makes little sense to adopt or learn new programs, technology, or any other innovations” (Schmoker, 2011, p.11-12). Essentially, he saying that instructional designers must look at these essentials in schools before recommending new technology trends. If the curriculum is authentic and well-crafted towards college and career readiness, instructional designers must then evaluate if the teachers themselves are instructing with impact and effectiveness. If not, gamifying a lesson will not positively impact students in the long-term. If those elements are in place, “any innovation is fair game once these elements are implemented—but only if—that innovation does not dilute or distract us from these always-vulnerable priorities” (Schmoker, 2011, p. 12).
Review of AR Game // Designed Specifically for Education
Developers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison created an augmented reality game named “Dow Day” in 2011, http://arisgames.org/featured/dow-day/. As a part of the simulation, “middle school students are able to see footage of Vietnam War protests on their mobile phones wherever they’re standing on the UW-Madison campus” (Barseghian, 2011). In other words, this AR world overlays historical videos on to the actual geographic locations that they occurred years before. Students are asked to work as news reporters to craft an accurate description of the scene on campus before and after violence breaks out.
For students near the UW-Madison campus, this game might provide an interesting insight into the turmoil of the era; however, as with most AR apps/games, location is essential. The simulation isn’t versatile or necessary very meaningful for students in other geographic regions of the country or globe, like my US History students in West Michigan. While the AR could help students build empathy, it might be simpler and a more appropriate use of time/resources to simply show some of the videos in class and have students write from the same perspective, without having to travel to the UW-Madison campus.
Review of VR App // Adapted for Education
Two years ago, technology powerhouse Google introduced its newest platform Cardboard. Google Cardboard allows users to experience virtual reality via a cardboard head mount attached to their smartphone. Within this realm, Google Cardboard extended its application to classrooms with Google Expedition, https://www.google.com/edu/expeditions/, allowing teachers to “take students on immersive, virtual journeys.” With mixed research results, I found that Google Expedition/Cardboard is (and isn’t) offered for free to educators. Regardless of the price of the headset and app, each student will need a smartphone to participate in the VR experience.
Unlike the augmented reality games/apps that require users to be present in specific locations, VR can take place anytime, anywhere. Putting aside the cost and/or inequities that arise from requiring students to bring their own devices, Google Expedition could be used in my US History classes. According to a list of some of the Expeditions available, there are few that might work for high school US History students; most seem more fitting for elementary global studies students. The first is the Little Bighorn Battlefield Google Expedition. In this VR simulation, students are digitally whisked off to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, Montana. “In this expedition, your students will be able to explore the historical site” “of the June 25 and 26, 1876, Battle of the Little Bighorn” (Expeditions Pioneer Program…, 2015). Like the “Dow Day” AR experience, this lesson might teach students empathy about the clash between Native Americans and US soldiers/settlers during the period of westward expansion. Yet, when it comes to the scope and sequence of my curriculum, I don’t think this would be a valuable use of my students time. Certainly, I think that students need to see and hear from historians and eye-witnesses to understand the emotion behind this important battle, so I would share video testimonials or documentary clips with them. Following this, in preparation for college and career readiness, it would be a better use of our time to do the authentic, disciplinary work of actual historians; therefore, I would provide students with a collection of primary source documents to read and analyze, forming their own hypotheses about the battle. Because of the historical nature of these original documents, most are thankfully digitize on the Library of Congress’ website or available online in other locations, such as the Stanford History Education Group.
In the end, simulated experiences can provide rich and meaningful experiences for learners. They can transcend the content beyond the pages of a textbook or traditional learning environment to an augmented or virtual reality. The use of games and apps to promote engage students is emerging into a more and more popular resource for teachers. It’s important that as these digital media tools increase and improve teachers are certain that they have already built a strong foundation of curriculum and instruction before resorting to one these technology tools to ensure that content is retained for the long-term.
Barseghian, T. (2011, February 21). Students Become Immersed in History with Augmented Reality Games. Retrieved August 03, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2011/02/21/students-become-immersed-in-augmented-reality-games/
[Expeditions Pioneer Program] List of Expeditions for Teachers. (2015, September 24). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1uwWvAzAiQDueKXkxvqF6rS84oae2AU7eD8bhxzJ9SdY/edit?usp=sharing
Google Expeditions. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/expeditions/#about
Harrington, T., Ph.D. (2016). Trends in Instructional Design Module 4 Review: Simulated Environments and Gamification. Lecture. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from https://ace.instructure.com/courses/1364028/files/69772271?module_item_id=15533646
Teaching Tolerance. (2016). The Real Monopoly: America’s Racial Wealth Divide. Retrieved August 03, 2016, from http://www.tolerance.org/lesson/real-monopoly-americas-racial-wealth-divide