Reading through the 2010 Horizon Report, I learned about a few things I wasn’t too familiar with. I first heard about augmented reality a couple years ago from this article in THE Journal: http://thejournal.com/articles/2008/02/01/when-worlds-collide-an-augmented-reality-check.aspx. The idea of encouraging students to apply what they’ve learned in a real-world simulation really struck a chord with me, but I never had a chance to explore augmented reality on my own until now.  Many of the mobile AR apps mentioned in the report were for the iPhone, and I’m a die-hard BlackBerry user, so I switched to web-based tools and loaded up Unifeye.

This is really quite slick. I think augmented reality has great potential in the classroom. What’s more, it can lead to engaging hands-on activities that go beyond the two-dimensional computer screen most of us are used to. I watched a YouTube video one of my classmates posted about AR being used to teach chemistry: http://www.youtube.com/v/iT2ek8N0VlY. It actually reminds me of all the virtual reality hype back in the 1980s, and how the future would all be immersed in virtual reality. I don’t think we’re quite there yet (the current reality’s just fine), but this opens quite a few doors, especially if the simulations are done in 3d space. Imagine, for example, being able to teach medical students how to perform surgeries on a plastic cadaver, with AR showing all the incisions and sutures.

What I would like to see is an open source framework that makes it possible for K-12 teachers to easily create their own AR scenarios. It should be compatible with any PC or smart phone, and users should be able to select from a range of templates that have different features like GPS geocaching, setting up interactions with a simple graphical scripting engine, the ability to share AR programs with others through a central repository, and anything else that might be useful for educators.

I also tried out Google Sketchup, and I’m kind of shocked that I skipped over this until now, because it has enormous potential. I’ve seen the models in the 3d warehouse and plenty of Sketchup projects made by educators. I love how easy it is to import models directly into the program, though it doesn’t integrate very well with other applications like 3d Studio Max or Maya unless you have the Pro version. Student discounts are available, though: http://sketchup.google.com/industries/edu/students.html

All this particularly interests me because our district has been exploring the possibility of setting up our own virtual world server. The first time I heard about virtual worlds was in reference to Harvard’s “River City Project” cited, again, in an article in THE Journal: http://thejournal.com/articles/2006/09/01/educational-gaming–all-the-right-muves.aspx. Most teachers I find familiar with virtual worlds take exception to referring to them as “games” but I don’t think students know the difference. Right now, I see them as potential extensions of online learning systems, where teachers can interact directly with students in a secure space, but give them a lot more options. For example, drafting students could bring their blueprints to life and create architectures within the virtual world. Students could participate in virtual science fairs. What’s more, a school or district could have a public area showcasing the best work from their students.