Now what do those three things have in common?
I try to resist long posts, but here comes one. The nature of rich media is substantively changing. The scope and pace of that change will probably become astounding in the near future. Lets try to get our heads around some of what's happening and some of its implications from an educator's vantage point.
"Making Learning Irresistible" has been my mantra as an educator.
Conrad the Kat, the overweight beast that lives here in the house and tolerates my living here as well, is a curious creature. Even though he is your typically skittish "animaux sauvage," as all felines seem to be, curiosity always gets the best of him. His universe is irresistible. He wants to smell and touch everything. While jumping back with a bottle brush for a tail, he delights when something moves when he touches it, thinking: "It wants to play with me!!!"
For me, that's what learning is. The whole world wants to play, wants to be explored, wants learners of all ages to interact with it to find new meaning, new understanding. Learning isn't boring, isn't just worksheets and quizzes. It's engaging, interconnected, alive and thrilling. Its very nature is so irresistible that it often defies time, just gobbling it up. It's about novelty, motion, and possibility, is filled with "What if..."
I've been curious about augmented reality ever since I first saw it. But what actually is it? Imagine taking the real world in which we live, and adding a whole new layer of information over it. Now, I'm not talking about just labeling the world. What if the information overlay were 3D? What if it were interactive--you could move it, move through it, follow it, change it with a touch?
Learners of all ages, just like Conrad the Kat, want exploration to be tactile--we want to touch things. (Ironically, one of the first things we start teaching children is not to touch.) We want our lives and our learning to be filled with motion, connection, streaming continuity, perspective--just like life. We want to experience our universe in novel ways that show us things about it we had never imagined before, opening up new understandings and possibilities. This often feels more like play. When these experience stop, life quickly becomes dull and monotonous.
We don't just want to see a picture of the Eiffel Tower on a map. We want to be there and explore it, feel how cold the metal is to the touch, how large it is in scale, see the light show on its surface at night, smell and taste the glorious French cuisine in the restaurant near its top, feel and hear the roaring, blasting cold wind at its pinnacle. But most students can't go to Paris for this type of hands-on, sensory-rich, experiential learning.
In the Classroom
But what if, in our classrooms, our students could hold a virtual 3D model of the Eiffel Tower in their hands, could rotate it in 3D space? A friend of mine, Chris Swanson, an inspired science teacher and technology coach, recently introduced a teacher and her elementary students to this very thing through ARSights.
The students were transfixed. They looked at the printed marker in their hands--nothing but a piece of paper with a printed logo. But, with the USB camera which was pointed at that flat piece of paper in their hands, when they looked at the computer screen, a 3D Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge in London, Frederik's Church of Copenhagen, and on and on, were floating in 3D space right in their hands. Now they wanted to explore further, make it larger, smaller, see if from every angle, learn more. The real world had actually merged with the virtual world in the computer! These third graders were engulfed in augmented reality.
With augmented reality technology, learners can interact with things otherwise impossible: knowledge, information streams, 3D models, etc., giving new meaning to hands-on learning. A science teacher can have students manipulate virtual 3D models of molecules, have atomic particles spinning around in their hands. Elementary teachers teaching reading can have stories literally pop off of the page.
More from Chris Swanson:
I'm far more interested in the objects themselves no longer being static - imagine holding a molecule in each hand (adenine and thymine for example - two rungs on the DNA ladder) and having them form a bond when the two molecules are correctly rotated into place. Then you start adding some sugars and phosphates - pretty soon, you are constructing your own DNA molecule. The same could be done with atoms, cells, or any number of models that can not be accurately portrayed using traditional 2D models. Once you have constructed your DNA molecule, you can zoom in on it and see the electron clouds in motion or go on a hunt for the minuscule nucleus, giving you a perspective that is difficult for most students to comprehend."
Not only does this remove the obstacles of the current tools in our teaching methodology, authentically engaging students in their own learning has "irresistible" written all over it.
Now's the Time for Educators to Start Dabbling
Immersive technologies are really just getting started; so, there's no better time to begin learning about them as an educator, because the implications for exploration, participation, immersive learning, "hands on" exploration in otherwise impossible or implausible situations are huge. You can start your exploration easily, right now, by exploring a simple augmented reality version of my business card.
Go to the link at the end of this paragraph. Watch the video to see how it works. Download and print the PDF of my business card. Click the link that activates you computer's USB camera. Move the printed business card around in front of the camera. Look what pops up out of thin air: augmented reality! Here's the link.
Going to Explode Soon
Several trend watchers are predicting that immersive technologies like augmented reality, 360º video, 3D TV and movies are going to experience explosive growth in sophistication and practical application during this decade. Here are some interesting introductory examples.
Augmented Reality by Hitlab (includes a segment on education)
BMW Technician Training Series
Interactive Avatar 3D Augmented Reality Toys
The presenter's voice is a little dull, but the implications for learning are anything but.
Toyota's iQ Exploded 3D Model
MINI Cooper- An Augmented Reality Ad
Augmented Reality GPS Tour (A bit cumbersome at the moment, but with the portability of an iPhone???)
Imagine buildings with markers on them that, when viewed through your iPhone-type device, project interactive 3D floor plans of the interior, information streams about services, sales, the history of the location. (Whose school will be the first?! I'm confident that any number of bright high school students would love to build out this type of technology: stream video of the football game, the marching band, the special speaker in an assembly right out of the front of the building in real time.) Below is a 1st and 2nd generation example of initial efforts.
Unsure at the time if this really existed (It does!), I've blogged about this before. Here, using the iPhone to control the real flying craft, the user sees, on the iPhone, the video feed from the flying drone's camera. The camera can see augmented reality markers that project 3D virtual interactive graphics into the video stream on the iPhone. Real flying drones can shoot one another with 3D augmented reality rocket fire. Sensors know when your drone is "hit." Just imagine all of the trouble kids will be able to get themselves into with this!
360º Video, 3D IMAX Movies
CNN has posted several 360º videos, another emerging immersive technology, from their coverage of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Using your mouse, you can look all around in the 360º video space while it plays. It's just like turning your head and body to look all around as if you were there.
Avatar in 3D IMAX has forever changed what the movie-goer will expect from watching a movie. Having seen 3D movies years ago, I wasn't prepared for the movie experience I had with Avatar. (And what a brilliant title: blurring the lines between the real world and the virtual experience.) In the not-too-distant future, teachers will no longer be able to show DVD movies in class because students will demand a 3D IMAX immersive experience in Dolby digital surround sound that blasts them against the classroom's back wall.
How many more years before we will be able to virtually walk or drive or fly around in Google Earth? I suspect that could well happen. In some of the augmented reality examples I've seen, objects in the virtual world can actually interact "physically" with objects in the real world. It's a bit shocking, really.
3D Interactive "Print Media," and the Human Body As An Avatar Controller
New 3D camera technology and devices like the Wii now allow a user the ability to capture his/her physical body movement data in the real world and transfer it in real time into a virtual world avatar (sound familiar?). I suspect that immersive worlds like Second Life may become even more popular as such interfaces create a more seamless, natural controller for the virtual world, providing more realistic movement and allowing for more sophisticated real-world application.
With new tablet-based technology for newspapers/magazines/textbooks I suspect that "print media" is about to become augmented with 3D interactives and live interactive information streams as well. The "textbook" of the future may well be a collection of immersive, interactive, hands-on, augmented reality experiences.
Wallpaper Magazine's Augmented Reality issue
All of this immersive technology will be a game changer, blurring the line between what is real and what is virtual, what is impossible and what is now possible. This technology may well extend the very definition of literacy.
For me, as an educator, it's never been about technology: about making movies or podcasts or interacting with augmented reality. Teaching and learning are about finding ways to empower learners to grab hold of information, to touch, grasp, manipulate it into knowledge and understanding, to fashion it into solutions for significant problems, and to create extraordinary displays of beauty in our world, to bring people closer to one another and to the world we all share.
The true nature of the very heart and soul of learning is so compelling as to be irresistible. Our teaching practice can be as well.