How to Get the Next Generation Hooked on Augmented Reality – Today

Our belief:

…in 10-15 years everyone will use Augmented Reality to experience the world in a more meaningful way.

Our collective mission:

…nurture a healthy industry that will drive the adoption sooner than later.

So where do we start?

…by educating the youngest “digital natives”.

That generation is ripe and eager to try new experiences that speak their language. And that same generation will carry the AR movement to its glory.

The challenge is how to give them something they like, and at the same time offer value to those who hold the buying power  – their parents, guardians, or teachers.

Tech savvy parents and teachers tend to recognize the value of PCs and video games in educating their kids – but they hate the isolation resulting in too many hours in front of the screen.

Eric Klopfer argues in his excellent book, Augmented Learning, that we should give them mobile learning games:

These games use social dynamics and real world contexts to enhance game play…and can create compelling educational and engaging environments for learners…help develop 21 century skills…tackle complex problems…and acquire information in just-in-time fashion”

Eric doesn’t stop at arguing, he actually does what he preaches. Together with colleagues at MIT Teacher education program & the Education Arcade and in collaboration with Madison-Wisconsin and Harvard, they developed multiple mobile games (see below) – and experimented and improved them – with kids.

And they’re not alone. Researchers around the world have studied this huge opportunity and wrote about it extensively.

Future Lab in the UK is passionate about transforming the way people learn, and develop new approaches to learning for the 21st century (see games below).

Mark Billinghurst, an AR god from New Zealand’s HIT Lab, published this guide about Augmented Reality in Education.

Mike Adams ranted in 2004 about the prospects and dangers of augmented reality games in his passionate  The Top Ten Technologies: #3 Augmented Reality

Cathy Cavanaugh wrote the essay  “Augmented Reality Gaming in Education for Engaged Learning”  as the fifth chapter of a massive hand book dubbed Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. (You can get it for $695.00 at Information Science Reference.)

Cavanaugh explores a (surprisingly large) number of educational games developed in the last 4 years:

Most were designed to teach concepts in scientific systems, and the remaining AR games focus on the difficult-to-master, ill- defined domains of communication, managing data collected in the field, problem solving, and understanding cultural and historic foundations of a region.

Based on that list, here is an (alphabetical) culmination of mobile educational games in recent history:

Big Fish Little Fish (MIT)

Concepts including predator-prey dynamics, over fishing, biodiversity, evolution for school-age children.

Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate fish feeding behavior.

Charles River City (MIT)

Outdoor GPS-based Augmented Reality game for teenagers. Players team up as experts including scientists, public health experts, and environmental specialists to analyze and solve an outbreak of illness coinciding with a major event in the Boston Metro Area.

Create-a-Scape (Future Lab)

Mediascapes are a powerful way of engaging with the world around us. Using PDAs they offer new opportunities to explore and interact with the landscape in exciting and varied ways.

Eduventure Middle Rhine (Institute for Knowledge Media)

Learning the cultural history of the Middle Rhine Valley for adults. Learners alternate between problem solving using video of the castle setting and problem exploration using mobile devices in the real castle.

Environmental Detectives (MIT)

Collaborative understanding of scientific and social aspects of threats to the environment and public health for adults. Participants role-play as teams of scientists investigating contaminated water using networked handheld devices in a field setting.

Epidemic Menace (Fraunhofer Institute)

Collaborative problem solving and experiences with learning arts for adults. Teams assume the roles of medical experts to battle a threatening virus using gaming and communication devices in a room and outdoors.

HandLeR (U. of Birmingham)

Support for field-based learning of children ages 9-11. Groups of children respond to scenarios in the field using a portable data collection and communication device.

Live Long and Prosper (MIT)

Concepts including genetics and experimental design for school-age children. Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate the genetic actions of reproduction.

Mobi Mission (Future Lab)

Communication and reflection activities for teenagers.

Groups of students write verbal missions and respond to the missions of others using cell phones.

Mystery @ the Museum (MIT)

Collaborative thinking skills for adults and youngsters. Teams consisting of a Biologist, a Technologist and a Detective must work together to solve a crime at the Museum of Science.

Newtoon (Future Lab)

Physics principles for adolescents. Students use mobile phones and Web sites to play, create, and share games that demonstrate physics principles.

Outbreak @ MIT (MIT)

Experience with the complexities of responding to an avian flu outbreak, for young adults.

Players are brought in to investigate a potential epidemic on campus with hand-held networked Pocket PCs.

Savannah (Future Lab)

The science of living things interacting within an ecosystem, for ages 11-12. Children, acting as lions, navigate the savannah using mobile handheld devices.

Sugar and Spice (MIT)

Concepts including population economics and mathematics for school-age children. Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate interactions between populations and resources

Virus (MIT)

Concepts including epidemics, scientific method, population growth for school-age children. Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate the spread of disease

So what’s next?

These old games have built-in educational value, they strive to be more fun than traditional classroom lessons, and most importantly – they achieve it while detaching children from the screen.

However, none of these games has really made it to the mass market.

In order to break into the mainstream, games will have to be

  • more visual (see what you mean),
  • more intuitive (touchscreen and accelerometers – drop the Pocket PC look & feel),
  • more ubiquitous (play anywhere, anytime),
  • and they will have to run on devices that look more like an iPhone than a Newton.

Devices for education is in fact the main topic for the second part of this post.

Stay tuned. Or better yet – tell us what you think.