26 Oct Augmented reality brings a new dimension to learning
Madison, Wis. – Kurt Squire, an assistant professor at the UW-Madison School of Education, hopes to bring a new dimension to education and learning with “augmented reality” games, which combine aspects of physical activity, traditional reading and math problems, and video-game simulations.
Squire, working through the UW System and the Academic ADL Co-Lab Games And Professional Practice Simulations Group, is the principal coordinator of the Star School project, seeking to deliver augmented reality educational games to urban middle-school students in Milwaukee and Madison. The project recently received a $1.49 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, to aid in game development and testing.
As the lead investigator on the project, Squire will also be working with two colleagues from his past experiences at MIT: Chris Dede, Wirth Professor of learning technologies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and Eric Klopfer, associate professor and director of teacher education at MIT, as well as a UW-Madison alumnus. The three have worked together before; one project in particular was a simulation game, Environmental Detectives.
“This is a continuation of work that we’ve been doing for some time, but it’s the first substantial chunk of funding that we’ve gotten to really try to do some careful design and research on this project,” Dede said.
The project will involve games that combine physical action with virtual interactivity. Players will start out with GPS-equipped PDA devices and walk around an outdoor site, such as a schoolyard or a public park. They then interact with imaginary goal points on the map and virtual experts at set locations, identifying a problem—one example Squire gave was of a chemical spill—and tracking its progress over time.
“What we’ve found is that the kids that we’ve worked with so far in some of our pilot projects, many of them tend to be largely unmotivated by school,” Squire said, “and one of their biggest problems with school is they’re expected to sit around and listen to what the teacher says for five to six hours a day.”
Instead, Squire and his collaborators hope to re-invigorate the educational process for students by giving them that physical context and encouraging them to read complex texts and understand new subjects with an immediate purpose in mind.
“Potentially, and we’ll be exploring it a little bit in this, it’s kind of bridging the ideas of informal learning and formal learning,” said Klopfer. “Formal learning is something we do within the four walls of our classroom, and informal learning is anything you do outside of that. This kind of bridges that gap by putting it somewhere in between.”
The project has a three-year timeline, starting with the development of teacher training material in January 2006. Teacher training sessions could then begin in June, helping them to build their own programs. Squire hopes the project could then see in-class use by January 2007 at the latest, and teachers independently creating their own programs by 2008.
Class performance and any improvements in standardized test scores will then be monitored by Dede, comparing different class sections under the same teachers, measuring those with the special courses against control groups kept on standard pen-and-paper classroom technologies.
“What we’ll end up with is a picture along a number of dimensions of what students are learning, and then through more qualitative kinds of studies, doing interviews and students focus groups and classroom observations, we can try to understand why we’re getting those findings,” Dede said. “What it is about the curriculum, if anything that promotes increased engagement or increased self-efficacy or increased learning?”