Barriers to Utilizing Augmented Reality in an Educational Setting, Capstone Project Example
Words: 5524Capstone Project
Augmented reality is, in essence, a branch of IT technology that adds virtual layers of experience, visual and otherwise, to activities. In the field of education, this translates to a range of learning opportunities from three-dimensional books to holographic experiences in climate activity and historical epochs. At the same time, the novelty of AR generates barriers and debate, based on issues of suitability, cost, security, and a template of procedures not easily altered within schools. Nonetheless, vast evidence points to AR as providing invaluable degrees of enhancement for learning, and to an extent that must eviscerate existing objections. AR is a means to revolutionary advantages to education and, although the impediments to this occurring may be formidable, they should not be permitted to undermine the wealth of potential benefits.
It is inevitable that a certain amount of controversy would be attached to augmented reality (AR) as employed in education, if only because the technologies and the concepts of AR generate debate in most arenas of society. On one level, AR is virtually omnipresent, as people increasingly rely on interactive technologies to enhance both their business and commercial concerns. At the same time, various forms of ideological opposition assert that such advances do not enhance these concerns, but rather obfuscate the true elements of them. While it is specious to categorize viewpoints here as belonging to either those supportive of technological progress or those disinclined to value the new and unknown, the reality nonetheless indicates such a basic division. Simply, as immeasurable numbers of people eagerly avail themselves of the latest technology created to augment reality, vocal minorities demand some investigation as to the intrinsic worth of what is very much a global and cultural revolution. Not unexpectedly, then, the debate takes on larger dimensions when AR in the classroom is the subject, and the actual process of education is the focus.
As will be explored in the following pages, concerns regarding AR in education range from philosophical objections which perceive the technology as impeding, rather than enhancing, learning, to more pragmatic issues regarding secure networks in school environments (IRMA, 2010, p. 48). Issues with actual development of the technology, as well as of expense, also factor critically here. Furthermore, ideological issues with AR are by no means easily dismissed, given the complex nature and vast importance of education. Ultimately, however, and as will be demonstrated, the existing barriers to AR applications in the classroom, if important as considerations, cannot eviscerate the value of them. Essentially, the nature of AR presents as expansive a range of educational opportunities as educators seek to create. More exactly, AR is an extension of communicative, informational processes applicable to virtually all endeavors, from the most intricate mathematical processes to the lightest forms of entertainment (Shumaker, 2011, p. 13).. It is not an entity of itself, but a means of amplifying and/or enhancing interactive processes. This being the case, and provided AR is employed with the same diligence required in all modes of instruction, the practical and philosophical barriers are rendered temporary obstacles. AR is poised to provide revolutionary advantages to education and, while the impediments to this occurring may be formidable, they should not be permitted to undermine the wealth of potential benefits.
Definition, Background, and Current Applications
AR, while intrinsically reliant upon technology, is more of a concept than any specific process or implement. It is generally assumed that AR in education translates to computer technology within the classroom setting, and this is essentially correct. With AR in place, physical and digital domains become mutually interactive, as students utilize varieties of informational devices to expedite learning in particular fields, and in ways imposing heightened or virtual realities to emphasize the nature of the work at hand (Billinghurst, Dunser, 2012, p. 56). This most typically takes the form of adding distinctly visual, and often three-dimensional, images to the learning experience at hand, and in a manner allowing both student and teacher to direct or control the activity. The actual equipment required is by no means arcane; for AR to function in the classroom, the hardware must be present, and this typically involves a central processing unit (CPU), display options, tracking systems, and computer software developed for the particular fields of study. These components in place, the opportunities to devise new modes of educating are then limited only by the capacity to conceive them, just as actual systems of learning may be altered or generated. For example, traditional behaviors in learning may be enhanced, as in the replacing of the student’s notepad with a digital tablet; similarly, students once confined to paper images depicting the solar system may now observe a three-dimensional, holographic image of it, adding to their sense of spatial relationships between planets. More sophisticated AR technologies in classrooms provide virtual journeys through history, in which students enter into past eras and societies by means of integrated systems allowing sensory immersion (Klopfer, 2008, p. 70). What AR actually translates to, then, is whatever the current technology enables, and in concert with whatever agenda holds sway in the classroom. AR is, as will be repeatedly emphasized, a means of assisting educational processes, and not a form of education in itself.
Given the advanced nature of the technologies which enable classroom AR, it is not surprising that the subject has a rather recent history. Some time before the personal computer would become a household fixture, Morton Helig, a cinematographer, conceived in the 1950s of a multi-sensory film experience and developed “sensorama,” a rough prototype of an electronically-based virtual reality. By the 1960s, an augmented reality head-system was created, somewhat like a large helmet. This in turn gave way to Myron Krueger’s Videoplace of 1975, an interactive chamber allowing users to connect with virtual objects. It would not be until 1994, however, that the first AR continuum would be identified as bridging the literal and the virtual, with an important emphasis on the literal. More exactly, as AR moved through even its earliest and most clumsy stages of existence, it was its aspect as augmentation that defined it, as opposed to efforts made to promote virtual realities (Furht, 2011, p. 4). Then, and importantly, it is clear that AR development relied upon the rapid advances made in information technology (IT), most especially in the 1990s. This was, irrefutably, the decade wherein IT became universally accessible to the masses. The actual technology had been in existence, certainly in regard to the Internet, since 1969. It would be, however, the introduction of the World Wide Web browser in 1990, along with new developments in software and advances – and subsequent affordability – in the creation of personal computers, that would combine to change the societal landscape (Castells, 2011, p. 20). In a brief span of time, increasing numbers of ordinary people were “augmenting” their realities through daily exposure and interaction with IT systems.
What is crucial to note here is that any such cultural change is inherently exponential; as the homes were equipped with computers, so too were the children in the homes increasingly familiar with the games and other offerings of them. Today, it is unusual to find homes in developed nations wherein even the youngest children do not engage with toys and devices with interactive capabilities, and this is a social reality in place only for a matter of decades. It is reasonable to speculate, then, that the schools suddenly faced something of an alarming dilemma. If children traditionally resisted books and established methods of instruction as tiresome, how much more so would be their lack of interest when their worlds were so technologically stimulating? At the same time, and more optimistically, it is likely that educators perceived an unprecedented opportunity here. Educators have long devoted themselves to rendering learning a desirable experience for their students, one in which student participation is actively given because the material engages them. With IT and AR, then, came just such facilitators. One of these is the MagicBook, and it is interesting to note just how definitively AR is reflected in this construct. More exactly, as the MagicBook provides virtual graphics to accompany text, and increasingly in ways that allow the student to both enter into the virtual arena and control it, it remains an augmentation. As technologically removed as it is from the traditional book, it is nonetheless merely an enhancement of the old, “pop-up,” books which relied on cardboard insertions (Billinghurst, Dunser, 2012, p. 57). Essentially, the process and aim of the education here is unaltered; only the delivery of the information changes, and in a manner promoting greater student interest.
Current forms of AR implementation vary, as noted, according to the actual technologies within schools. There has been vast interest on international fronts in exploring learning potentials through AR, as is witnessed by a recent symposium in Athens. A variety of nations both offered and were exposed to AR models for classroom use, ranging from elementary levels of instruction to advanced physics. What appears to have ensued is that even very young students gain a more visceral appreciation, or awareness, of natural laws when AR technologies are employed. For example, in the Doppler experiment, a fire truck siren is heard as the wave propagation of its sound is visually presented, and the student actually sees Doppler mechanics in operation. The Double Split experiment recreates through AR the activity of electrons fired from a particle canon and diverging in wave form (Agogi, 2011, p. 49). It is interesting to note that such an interactive, enhanced mode of presentation may render even complex problems in physics more comprehensible to students, as they actually witness the electron behaviors that baffle experts in physics. There appears as well to be the probability that these more interactive processes may encourage such learning at earlier ages, simply because the subject matter itself is easier to understand when presented dimensionally.
As indicated earlier, AR potentials and applications rely on both available technology and instructor ambition, which translates to incalculable implementations. As a MagicBook may provide a young child with a sense of an historical era more vivid than that offered by a standard text, so too are there more pragmatic applications of AR. It is certainly accepted by instructors today that the majority of their students come to class with their smartphones, and this has given rise to strategies turning a potential distraction into a learning implement. In chemistry classes, for example, AR may take the form of the smartphone display interacting with the literal substances being studied. Applications programmed into the phones may read barcodes on the items, and then translate the substance into a breakdown of chemical composition for the student (Williams, Pence, 2011, p. 684). In these instances of AR, the technology is less visually-dependent, yet the AR effect remains the same; more precisely, as the phones equip the students with access to virtually limitless stores of data and information, it becomes a matter of “connecting” the subject at hand to the applicable information, and this most certainly reflects the basic aims of the educational process. The AR process is exactly that. It is interactive in bringing together instructor, student, technology, and information in a manner promoting both interest and degrees of efficiency unthinkable only decades ago. As the barriers in place with regard to implementing AR in education are addressed, it remains critical to retain a sense of the potentials only just beginning to be realized in this arena.
Antitheses to AR in Education
Before noting the significant and documented benefits accruing from the utilization of AR within classrooms, it is necessary to confront existing, and by no means irrationally-based, barriers before it, which reflect antithetical thinking. To begin with, and in a manner strikingly ironic, a major obstacle in the implementing of AR in the classroom has nothing to do with AR itself. More exactly, and for at least the last 50 years, there has been a growing frustration in regard to public schooling, and one by no means limited to any particular nation or hemisphere. The issue is most definitely not a Third World problem: “Well-established accounts persist in many developed countries of school systems somehow ‘failing’ to perform as they should” (Selwyn, 2011, p. 10). Parents and communities alike have been bemoaning an apparent disintegration of school value, as studies put forth by the media invariably report severely deficient levels of learning evident in graduates, and at all levels. The criticisms emerge from seemingly every quarter; employers bemoan the inability of graduates to perform at elementary levels, as statistics point to a continuing decline in literacy rates, and within the most developed nations (Solmon, Chirra, 2006, p. 3). The circumstances then generate a cross-fire; parents blame schools, schools point to poor parenting and lack of support, and the society as a whole is usually at a loss as to how to remedy the situation, and create – or recreate – the classroom as the effective platform is has traditionally been held to be.
This pervasive attitude, then, has served to hinder the advancement of classroom AR, even as it also potently urged it on. In simple terms, as the technology developed, there arose a vocal faction, and on international levels, asserting that technology would solve the educational dilemma. Not a minimal component of this movement was the IT industry itself, eager to commercially respond with so vast a potential client base as the school systems. In the mix as well were political interests, and also educational advocates who had researched the potentials for IT in education and were convinced of its efficacy (Selwyn, 2011, p. 11). In essence, then, and from the basic influx of IT within societies, an insistence upon IT, and consequently AR, as radically and inevitably improving schools was in place. This created, not unexpectedly, an antipathy nearly as extreme. Educational traditionalists perceived the encouragement of technology as nearly evangelical, and certainly not to be trusted. Consequently, AR entered the educational arenas significantly handicapped, and a large measure of that handicap resided in too pronounced a faith in its ability to actually alter education. As vociferously as advocates championed the technology, skeptics resisted anything so resembling a technological “quick fix” to an enormous and complex problem. Moreover, an enormous barrier to the promotion of AR in education is that schools are notoriously disinclined to adapt. Extensive studies confirm this invariable characteristic; resistant to change, yet obligated to incorporate some facets of modern technology, most schools tend to incorporate AR only in peripheral ways, and as nothing more than a means of reinforcing methods of instruction long in place (Klopfer, 2008, p. 70). If the rationale is comprehensible, it is nonetheless self-defeating, and requires address.
Overcoming this particular barrier to AR relies, in a further irony, on accepting the reality as voiced by the opposition to it. The issues facing schools today are complex and discouraging, and it is in fact dangerously naïve to believe that any sort of technological processes may eliminate what must surely be more integral problems. That in itself, however, is not the point. What matters in this regard is that AR be viewed as what it is, and not be exalted as possessing capabilities removed from it. More succinctly, to assert that AR can be of no help is as irrational as assuming it may correct all issues, for it remains nothing more than an elaborate set of components in place to facilitate. To oppose its implementation, then, would be as specious as an instructor of the past resisting the usage of paperback texts in the classroom, as opposed to hardcover books. There is irrefutable evidence that IT programs of all kinds tend to promote interest, which then improves retention and learning. This has been extensively researched in regard to video games alone, which have been adapted into learning modules for employment purposes. The Digital Media Collaboratory at the University of Texas, for example, has engaged in several such programs, and developed “games” that simulate work environments and educate participants lacking in the necessary education for the jobs. Not only do the majority of the participants secure employment, but many are motivated to pursue additional education (Messaris, Humphreys, 2006, p. 192). It must be reiterated that, in whatever form it is employed, digital technology is only as effective as how it is utilized. The classroom, for example, lacking proper leadership, is likely to produce poor performance results with or without AR technologies in place, just as the class marked by a committed instructor may be expected to succeed without technological advantages. In any such scenario, the tool that is AR must not be mistaken for the underlying educational process, and such a rational view overcomes the barrier of societal antipathy or mistrust as hindering AR.
A significant barrier to implementing AR in the schools lies in the inevitable factor of cost.
As is generally known, public schools, and even prestigious universities, face critical shortages of funds. This is, in fact, a situation that has plagued the public school system since its inception; the public demands high levels of performance, yet the schools typically receive funds only barely accommodating basic expenses. Then, and in plain terms, schools are traditionally particularly costly to maintain because they are labor-intensive; for most schools, and ranging from elementary to university levels, it is established that more than half of the annual budgets goes to instructor salaries and benefits (West, 2012, p. 109). As has been determined through studies, the outlook for school funding is not promising, and schools must increasingly devise ways to employ existing resources more efficiently. When it is then urged upon these schools to purchase systems frequently costing thousands of dollars, there is an understandable reluctance, particularly when the school perceives the AR technologies as merely expanding learning processes already in place. It is inevitable that the AR takes on the aspect of a “luxury” item, and one perhaps best left to those schools with more discretionary income.
This barrier is significant, certainly. No account of current AR costs may be reasonably made, because the prices fluctuate and decrease so rapidly as the technology advances, but implements ranging from individual, interactive desktops to the essential CPU providing the database are usually well beyond the average school’s budget. Moreover, it is understandable that schools would be disinclined to spend on items never before viewed as integral to education, and there is as well the inevitable accountability of the school to address; in climates wherein censure accompanies decisions made not in keeping with traditional agendas of performance, schools face severe criticism from their communities if they redirect already lean resources to untried measures. This is, however, a unique dilemma, in that the factors predominantly creating the barrier of cost may be dealt with by the actual purchase and implementation of AR technology. For example, and as noted, schools spend a great deal on maintaining instructor staff. With AR to assist the teachers, then, it is likely that instructors are enabled to perform more efficiently, and accomplish more teaching than they otherwise could. On one level alone, the infusion of IT technology may promote assistance for teaching staff far more conveniently, in the form of community individuals wishing to assist in the processes. Parents, mentors, and tutors seeking to volunteer then have social engineering tools to interact directly with both teacher and students, or AR systems permitting their integration into the classroom activity. With the AR employed wisely, then, the school saves in increased productivity from an existing workforce.
Added to this is the benefit of information storage as conducted through cloud systems, freeing the school from the financial burden of maintaining an IT department specifically for such a purpose. Migrating and sharing AR systems from and between schools has been shown to offer significant savings over even recent methods of data storage (West, 2012, p. 111).
That so many students today, and even of very young ages, attend class with their own smartphones provides yet another benefit, if one requiring greater cooperation between school and community. The students themselves, essentially, are bringing the technology to school with them; consequently, arrangements whereby educational applications are paid for by the school, and then incorporated into these devices, spares the school considerable expense. Such a process is also likely to generate higher levels of family and community participation in education, as adults would be entitled to approve any such transfer of data into the devices of the minors. Additionally, and as commercial history of the past two decades has amply demonstrated, even the most sophisticated IT and AR systems decrease dramatically in price, as evolutions in the technology streamline production and subsequently reduce manufacturing costs. While it is true that much AR technology is by no means inexpensive, the larger reality is that it is for the school not an indulgence, but an investment. A planned and carefully conducted introduction of AR systems in schools may well accomplish what traditional operations have largely failed in achieving: an efficient and cost-productive educational facility, and one in which state-of-the-art technology consistently assists in personal instruction.
The issue of establishing security for the school’s AR and IT systems is by no means easily dismissed. This is a barrier especially daunting, if only in that the average instructor, like the average business person, has at best a vague understanding of what the subject entails. Then, there is a great deal at stake if the proper precautions are neglected. On a relatively obvious level, the school must be able to protect its information against intruder threats, just as any commercial concern must; a school is both a public institution and a business itself, so its assets are perhaps doubly vulnerable. Just as there is sensitive personnel and student information to secure, so too must it safeguard its financial statements and information. Then, there is a unique issue of liability, as students are typically underage and not legally responsible for inappropriate activity in online venues. They are as well less inclined to exercise care in these regards (Winder, 2010). While a great deal of educational AR is not actually reliant on Internet usage, the technology itself usually enables it, and consequently the risks are created. These are risks no school can afford to ignore, yet they do not constitute an insuperable barrier.
To address these challenges, it is recommended that schools develop policies of network security tailored to meet their own needs. Even so, there are guidelines applicable to all, and chief among these is a CPU with a continually upgraded antivirus program. Such software should also be employed at all end points and servers, chiefly because schools are highly vulnerable to external attacks in the form of email transfers from personal accounts through the school’s network (Winder, 2010). Along these lines, third-party plug-ins must be tightly monitored, as even the downloading of an antiquated program may create severe damage. Then, wireless devices and accesses present other challenges, but these may be thwarted by adopting a Unified Threat Management approach. In simpler terms, and with minimal investment, schools are cautioned to err on the side of excessive security. As noted, AR systems will often link to or enable Internet interaction. Even without AR, schools today anticipate, if not rely upon, students using the Internet to retrieve information and conduct research. This leads to schools dealing with a further dilemma, that of filtering content to such an extent that students seek to employ proxy servers of their own. Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for the student, frustrated by blocked levels of access on the school’s system, simply turns to their smartphone to enjoy unfiltered access (Marquardt, Oberg, 2011, p. 223). If such scenarios are both troubling and regrettable, it is nonetheless critical that the school adhere to more confined modes of access, simply because the school’s responsibilities are so enormous.
Further Argument for Utilizing AR
While the challenges to AR in education have been addressed individually in the preceding pages, it is perhaps more valuable to deal with all such barriers through an examination of how impactful AR has thus far been. Some examples of this have been remarked upon but, as the subject is both relatively new and vulnerable to criticism, a more expansive presentation of the advantages of educational AR seems called for. It was noted earlier, for example, that MagicBooks permit interactive experience through the traditional act of reading. This single instance of AR technology, however, illustrates how intrinsically exponential such an action may be, and with advantages to the reader limited only by their own potentials to learn and explore. These books provide multiple environments, in that the reader may, through employing the AR display options, expand an illustrated environment beyond what is immediately apparent. Similarly, a variety of interfaces offer further opportunities to “open” the book; gaze input, for example, is a feature that creates an interactive process merely through the reader’s focus, while gesture input permits highlighting, virtual editing, and animations (Billinghurst, Dunser, 2012, p. 57). Such enhancements do not curtail the student’s imagination, but promote it, as the new scenarios explored in the text invite fresh perspectives and ambitions, both cognitively and creatively.
Equally importantly, such books serve to underscore the inherent value of AR in education in terms of the immersion process. This, essentially, is the great strength of AR, whether in the form of an interactive textbook or a holographic display permitting students to virtually visit a past era. In a study involving 290 fifth-grade students in Asia, three AR sessions were conducted, all dealing with climate: “How It Rains,” “Fog and Clouds,” and “How Water Travels.” These programs were created to allow students to actually work with water in a virtual manner and through tangible manipulation, and the performances were assessed in regard to presence and flow. The former is defined as the degree of involvement or commitment the student invests in the learning process, as the latter refers to the state of immersion in which the presence is continually absorbed in the experience. The results incontrovertibly indicated that learning was not merely achieved, but to high degree of personal satisfaction (Kye, Kim, 2008, p. 12). Here, then, is evidence of the exponential benefits deriving from AR; as most teachers profess, students achieve more when the educational process has a meaningful influence on them personally, and the students employed in this study uniformly expressed that influence. The AR, simply, enhanced the education and generated a desire for more.
Turning to a more advanced form of assessment, another study sought to identify benefits in instruction in the subjects of digital electronics and microcontrollers, through the utilization of interactive animations. Over a three-year period, 441 undergraduate and graduate students from the Subotica Tech College of Applied Sciences, in the Computer Sciences curriculum, were divided into control and experimental groups. All students were exposed to the same materials, the difference lying in the access to the interactive simulations/animations, and of several types and qualities, for the experimental group. The results, based on both academic performance and student responses, strongly indicated value from the AR system. Those participants who were exposed to it reported high levels of satisfaction, and greater degrees of comprehension of concepts. It is interesting, and important, to note as well that these results were confined to the interactive animations that were more carefully constructed (Pinter, Rodasav, & Cisar, 2012, p. 160). Certain AR programs were deliberately less interactive and/or well-crafted, and this clearly had a significant effect on the achievement levels of those students. What is especially noteworthy here, then, is that AR, just as with any mode or means of education, relies on quality or the educational purpose is defeated.
In more general terms, evidence also supports that AR may enhance learning through an activation of cognitive processes not called into play through text-based education (Billinghurst, Dunser, 2012, p. 61). Specifically, multimodality and interaction appear to stimulate learning, and have been seen as effective with students experiencing difficulty with traditional methods. This is hardly surprising; interactivity places new demands on cognitive processes, so the student is called upon to summon knowledge otherwise left to long-term memory storage. The key appears to be the “activity” component itself, and this may define AR as effectively as enhancement. Learning, in plain terms, has long been a completely passive experience, notwithstanding variations in student enthusiasm or commitment. Information has been presented, then taken in insofar as the student is prepared to accommodate it. When the process requires mutual exchange, however, and the student shapes the learning to an extent as it occurs, it is inevitable that the mind is more engaged. Consequently, research indicating the triggering of otherwise dormant cognitive functions seems logical.
These benefits notwithstanding, it is equally acknowledged that, as AR in education is a relatively new approach, development is critical. As IT capabilities have expanded, most are geared to the commercial sector, or for industrial or military purposes, and the presence of AR in education is largely a matter of ongoing trial and error. Developers of the technology have little background in education, as those invested in education have little to no understanding of the technology (Billinghurst, Dunser, 2012, p. 62). This, in fact, may be classified as the final barrier to Ar in education discussed in these pages. Like the others, however, it is far from insurmountable. It is, in fact, a measure f the revolutionary nature of the subject itself. It may even be argued that there is something of an organic process in play, as the AR technology has gradually entered into the arena wherein it may provide the greatest value to humanity: education. If initially created for other reasons, its implementation as an enhancement to learning, and one with boundless possibilities, must certainly encourage greater focus in this area.
The presence of AR in the classroom is both recent and highly subject to controversy. On one level, research potently indicates it as an extraordinarily valuable asset in education, one that both facilitates learning and generates greater interest in it. On another, a variety of barriers at least temporarily halt its progress. Schools are historically resistant to change, as they must face intense public scrutiny in regard to how they fulfill the expectations made of them. Expense is a factor, even as technology reduces costs, because schools are also notoriously underfunded. These institutions must also devise and maintain effective security measures, as AR involves some risk in regard to data protection and student vulnerabilities when the Internet is in play. Lastly, there are related elements of skepticism, external and within the schools, and a bias based on assumptions that technology is somehow meant to replace traditional learning, and will fail in doing so. People, above all, seem to fear an abnegation of scholastic responsibility as promoted by an embracing of the AR technology. These are not concerns to be lightly brushed aside or dismissed, but neither may they be permitted to eclipse an unprecedented opportunity in the realm of education. Above all, AR in the classroom is not a substitute for education, but merely a complex and proven means of facilitating it, and no barrier should be allowed to deny this extraordinary potential. With development based on actual, educational agendas, there is no foreseeing just how effective AR may be. Ultimately, augment reality is poised to provide advantages to education which are nothing less than revolutionary and, while the obstacles to this occurring may be formidable, they should not be permitted to undermine what must be a wealth of potential benefits.
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