By Stefanie Panke for Innovate Learning Review, April 6, 2016
Augmented reality (AR) offers a new way of seeing and interacting with the learner’s natural environment. Augmented reality describes the addition of a computer assisted contextual layer of information to the physical world, thereby creating an enhanced experience. One common application is the visualization of large datasets. Instead of exploring and manipulating the data via a computer interface, learners can control and interact in a real space, by moving material with their finger, hand, arm, or body.
Augmented reality used to require specialized equipment, none of which was widely accessible or easily portable. Today’s applications and mobile devices allow digital information to be overlaid anywhere, anytime, at low cost. This opens the door for creative educational scenarios. While most augmented reality applications target older students and adult learners, informal learning spaces such as museums have broadened the audience to various age groups, including younger children, even in the pre-K sphere.
It is my pleasure to talk to the implementors of such an application: NC State Researchers Dr. Robert Reed and Josh Mathis from the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology constructed an Augmented Reality Sandbox with funding from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Oliver Kreylos, a computer scientist studying 3D scientific visualizations and computational geosciences at UC Davis designed and programmed the AR Sandbox software, supported by a National Science Foundation grant. The Augmented Reality Sandbox allows learners to ‘move mountains’ in the sandbox and with the wave of a hand create rainfall and see how these interventions affect the resulting water flow, thereby fostering the understanding of watersheds and subsequently, our role in protecting water quality.