Living in a Mixed Reality

Mr David Watson
Educational Development Centre
Living in Mixed Reality
Image credit: flickr photo by turkletom shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
Living in a mixed reality
So 2016 is the year in which Virtual Reality (VR) finally takes off, and that potentially could have a pretty exciting impact on education at all levels.  From Quick Reference (QR) Codes to Second Life and 3D Virtual Worlds we now arrive at the anticipated launch of Oculus Rift and the like, promising that ‘you’ve never experienced immersion like this,’ but haven’t we heard that before?  Rewinding a little bit, the 2011 New Media Consortium Horizon Report predicted the adoption of Augmented Reality (AR) to be 2-3 years, making 2014 a safe bet for us to be walking around our campuses with our devices held high, however that’s not quite what happened.  With Lucking & Fraser (2011) claiming that Augmented Reality can “bridge the learning gap between abstract descriptions and the real world phenomena,” I am intrigued as to why AR isn’t seen more widely in Teaching & Learning.
AR is a platform to redefine learning
I have always been fascinated with the ‘lean forward experience,’ students and academics alike actively engaging with content, after-all I’m sure I am not alone in saying that I have sat through enough boring lectures in my time, yearning for some excitement in my learning that chances are I would have not bothered going to the next one. It seems that Puentedura (2009) felt the same way “…no real challenge or change; little advantage is taken of the possibilities for technology to transform the act of learning.”  Think of it from the students point of view, they have their iPhones, iPads and Laptops with them at all times and waiting for them at home they have their PlayStations and Xbox – shouldn’t our aim as instructors to be to at least try to surpass that cognitive stimulation?  I know it seems an exhaustive if not impossible proposition, but the learning experience is a different game now.
I began looking into AR at my previous HE institution in the UK and embarked on a project to incorporate it into clinical skills, before which the usual trawl through our beloved ‘white papers’ found some interesting points regarding the pedagogy and impact of AR:
  • By overlaying information onto real world situations, it can link higher level, abstract concepts with tangible, real world environments
  • AR fits with constructivist learning and acts as scaffolding for learners
  • Stimulates sensory feedback and audio-visual and kinaesthetic appeal
  • Offers the potential for ‘frictionless learning’ – reducing the cognitive load of the learner
  • Does not involve URL bars – this reduces the risk of users ‘roaming’
  • Utilises ‘curiosity, mystery & intrigue’ to draw even reluctant learners into an activity

Future reality
With Google and Facebook investing heavily in AR & VR technology we can assume that the future we were sold is arriving, with companies such as Magic Leap “…focusing on something different: ‘Mixed Reality’…to seamlessly layer in computer-generated objects,” there is endless opportunity to harness AR (& VR) and help shape it so it is recognised as a valuable educational tool, yet according to the 2016 NMC Horizon Report we may need to wait ‘two to three’ years more as “recent advancements (in VR tech) are bringing about fresh perspectives.”
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Hall, C. (2016). NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium
Luckin, R and Stanton Fraser, D. (2011) ‘Limitless or Pointless? An Evaluation of Augmented Technology in the School and Home,’ International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, vol. 3, no.5, pp. 510-524 [online]. Available at here.
Puentedura, R. (2009) ‘TPCK and SAMR Models for Enhancing Technology Integration (Transcript)’, As We May Teach: Educational Technology, from Theory to Practice. [Online]. Available at here.