Extended Reality (XR)is an umbrella term used to describe a wide spectrum of different types of environments and experiences that combine both real-life and computer-generated elements. This XR spectrum ranges from "completely real" physical environments to "completely virtual" computer-generated environments and encompasses other more specific terms such as augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality. The primary goal of XR and XR technologies is to use computers in order to augment human perception and experiences; this could include creating virtual environments for exploration and gameplay, creating virtual objects that can be interacted with, or augmenting objects in the real world to benefit learning or productivity.
Extended Reality for Education
For more information about extended reality, watch this video recording of the Cline Library's "Extended Reality for Education" workshop.
Forms of Extended Reality
Augmented reality is a variety of human interactions with physical spaces or objects that are augmented in some way by electronic devices, most often smartphones and tablets. When experiencing AR you start with something physical – like a 2D image in a book, a 3D image of your surroundings, or even something simple like a QR code. Your mobile device – whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, or augment reality headset – scans that physical object with its camera and then augments the object with digital elements on its screen; this could be text, images, audio, video, or even 3D graphics. This creates an immersive experience where you can connect real-life to context-specific information or graphics. A popular example of augmented reality is the Pokemon Go! mobile app that uses your smartphone's camera and screen to overlay digital creatures (Pokemon) onto the physical environment around you.
Mixed reality are environments and visualizations that are created by mixing real and virtual elements that co-exist and interact with each other, using electronic devices as mediators. A simple example of mixed reality would be to use a motion-sensing device to interact with a digital environment, such as using a Microsoft Wii controller to manipulate a character in a game.
Virtual reality represents completely virtual, 100% computer-generated environments. Virtual reality removes the need for you to see your physical environment and instead replaces it with a a completely digital environment that you can see and interact with, but is distinct and separate from the physical environment around you. In order to experience most virtual reality applications a VR headset is the most practical approach. VR headsets allow you to look around the virtual environment and in some cases hear, move-in, or interact with your surroundings. There are also a number of more advanced VR experience technologies such as high-end projector rooms, treadmills, and even motion-sensing body suits.
Why Use Extended Reality?
Harness the Impossible
With VR and AR your students can interact with objects in ways that would be impossible to do in the physical world. They could holding a beating heart, manipulate microscopic atoms, explore the surface of Mars, or even walk with dinosaurs. With some examples of VR and AR students can even look inside objects to see what they are made of, learn about their inner workings, or even manipulate them. This allows students to explore human anatomy, see how jet engines work, or even unwrap Egyptian mummies.
Increase Student Engagement
VR and AR are new technologies that are both exciting and fun, so they can instantly add entertainment value to any lesson or assignment. The novelty of XR can also peak the interest of your students and increase their engagement with both the topic and with their classmates. Studies have even suggested that XR can promote social interaction in class, help motivate independent learning, and benefit the mental health of students by promoting physical activity, teamwork, and communication.
Add Immersive Interactivity
XR allows your students to engage in multi-sensory learning experiences and keep them active and moving. Beyond that, XR allows students to experience lessons and narratives in new, much more immersive ways where they can actually interact with and even transform the subject or story. This includes new possibilities for digital story telling and VR filmography. XR can also be used to design, create, and experience works of art in ways that are impossible in a real environment.
Enhance Learning and Memory
What makes XR such a vital tool for education is how it enhances learning and memory recall. Immersing students in virtual locations helps them better organize and remember information spatially; It's much easier to understand size and distance when viewing them in your environment (even virtually) as opposed to looking a images or videos. Humans also require less cognitive load to process learning through visual means. As such, XR is used by medical schools to help students practice procedures on virtual patients in a consequence free environment and by the US military to simulate combat conditions in different environments and under extreme conditions.
Promote Digital Social Interaction
A number of XR experiences can simulate presence with others in a 3D environment and can be used for communication, teamwork, group activities. Students can attend a lesson, concert, film, or social gather together in a safe and controlled VR environment. This can also help develop social skills and build social connections.
Implementing XR Can be Easy
Most students – or their families – already have access to mobile devices which can be used for AR and VR experiences. On top of that, there are dozens of free AR and VR experiences and creation apps that are already available on the app stores for those devices. But even in the case of even more advanced VR equipment – like VR headsets – these are increasingly becoming cheaper and easier to use. Of course, the Cline Library also has you covered with a number of free resources you can use to implement XR in your classrooms.