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Enhancing Classroom Learning with Augmented Reality (AR)


Imagine a classroom where students don’t just read about historical figures or distant places, but they interact with them. This classroom is not a far-off dream; it’s the incredible potential of Augmented Reality (AR) in education, which offers a transformative and engaging learning experience for learners of all ages. 

AR is more than just a buzzword. It’s a technology that overlays digital elements onto the real world environment, allowing users to experience a world enhanced by things that are digitally there. It’s made possible with devices like smartphones, tablets, AR glasses, or headsets.

From K-12 classrooms to higher education, AR has the power to revolutionize traditional teaching methods, making learning more accessible, immersive, and interactive. Whether it’s exploring 3D models of complex biological systems or taking virtual field trips back in time, AR opens up a new world for educators and learners alike. 

Proven Impact 

Research from McGraw Hill shows that nearly a third (29%) of K-12 teachers currently use AR technology as part of their curriculums. More compelling: 74% of teachers who do use AR report use it at least once a week.

Even more exciting, according to surveys, 78% of respondents reported increased student engagement, while 65% noted improvements in student motivation and 54% in student focus. 65% found AR to accommodate different learning styles. Notably, half of these educators praised AR for its specific impact on students with learning disabilities. None of this likely comes as a surprise to folks who have spent time in classrooms or crafting experiences designed to promote critical thinking and connection-making. What better way to promote global understanding of content or concepts than through learning goals that are translated into digestible visual representations? 

Students of all ages need bridges to understanding when it comes to grasping big or difficult concepts. In the neurological phenomenon called "patterning," the brain utilizes existing knowledge to sort incoming stimuli into familiar or new concepts. Young learners usually crave experiences that use devices and technologies they are already familiar with. AR available on smartphones and tablets specifically provides both exploratory potential and engagement that drives student participation and creates deeper levels of understanding. This is the case even when content and materials are abstract and hard-to-grasp. On top of these benefits, students can participate in AR activities collaboratively, fostering group learning experiences that help students become stronger and more active as a cohort.

These advantages make AR a tempting proposition, especially for teachers and school systems looking for new ways to lift student engagement and performance. Below are 5 of the most promising applications of AR, pointing the way towards a classroom that's more fun, more immersive, more accessible and more accommodating of transformative learning experiences. 

1. Virtual & Enhanced Field Trips

Using the power of AR, instructors can treat learners to enhanced field trips or bring exhibits right into the classroom, or to nearby public spaces. 

Kinfolk's virtual monuments to Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Queer historical figures like Frederick Douglass, Pauli Murray and Fannie Lou Hamer to life! Some monuments feature scenes or portals that provide historical glimpses into places like Zora Neale Hurston’s Eatonville and speculative peeks into NYC’s 17th century Land of the Blacks. These AR monuments and scenes can be placed anywhere, including student desks, living rooms, the walls of museums, or public spaces and parks. 

When you interact with them, the Kinfolk app brings artifacts like Palante periodicals and excavation reports of Black pre-civil war communities for students to get an up-close and personal look. The Kinfolk app's exploratory learning can be self-guided or with the benefit of a teacher guide. 

This capability has been used to provide informational overlays for students at places like the exhibition halls of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When using AR outside of the classroom, students can access the information they are most curious about while using interactivity to promote engagement, enhanced learning, and a heightened sense of fun.

No transportation for a field trip? Set up an exciting, interactive, and conducive to learning experience on the playground…or in the gym. 

2. Interactive Lessons and Textbooks

Virtual spaces enable us to interact with objects, environments, and other representations of important knowledge in unique and accessible ways. Instead of just reading the words of scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, for instance, students can sit down for lunch with him to take in early 20th century Philadelphia. 

The result is something closer to lived experience, using multimodal content to engage multiple senses, facilitating different types of connections that accommodate different types of learners. 

Not only can information retention be improved through this experience, but it can also plug students into different types of understanding, allowing them to draw context from the stories they experience to other knowledge, including modern issues we face — all in ways that textbook passages can't always adequately communicate alone.

We often talk about what’s not covered in the standards and the textbooks. Use AR as a necessary supplement with AR historical walking tours and scavenger hunts.

3. STEM Education: 3D Models, Simulations, Experiments  

AR shows great promise in education for medicine and biology. 3D models of human anatomy or cellular systems help students explore and understand the functioning of the subject in question through both three-dimensional space and fourth-dimensional time-lapse simulations.

But 3D models are not limited to the sciences. Think geometric representations and engineering prototypes as well! 

STEM concepts related to physics, geometry, biology, chemistry, environmental science, and a host of other subjects can be made more interactive and accessible through AR experiences. Virtual models of molecules, for example, can be coupled by simulations of their interactivity, showing how gasses behave in restricted spaces, or what happens in real-time when two chemicals react.

The potential is also there for scientific learning to crossover with historical understanding — imagine an experience where students learn about WIllie Morrow's study of the structure of Black hair follicles while simultaneously learning about his life and his contributions to scientific understanding.

4. Language Learning

Using technology like tablets, smartphones, or AR glasses, language learning AR programs can automatically label objects with virtual text, helping learners gain familiarity with the language within their own environment. Google has also been experimenting with glasses capable of automatically translating speech to text, displaying the translation in real-time to facilitate greater understanding and simultaneous audio/visual learning within conversations.

Some AR language learning apps can also provide instant feedback and personalized guidance, facilitating self-paced learning and fostering proficiency through repetition and reinforcement.

5. Collaborative Learning

As a shared experience with the potential to accommodate multiple participants simultaneously, AR technology invites participative and collaborative learning among students. UNSUNG enables multiple students to engage with an early 20th century historical scene at once, dividing up the work of finding the right people and clues to advance to the next scene. Students learn collectively and can round out each other's learning experiences through their unique encounters, perspectives, and learning styles. These experiences not only enhance student understanding but promote cooperation and teamwork, strengthening students' abilities to engage in collaborative projects in academia and, ultimately, the professional world.

Augmented Reality Is Both Mind-Bending and Relatively Accessible, Making It a Uniquely Tempting Opportunity for Teachers and Students Alike

Investment and spending on virtual reality and augmented reality, collectively, is skyrocketing at the moment. Industry projections estimated $13.8 billion worth of VR/AR spending in 2022, with levels predicted to reach $50.9 billion annually by 2026.

While both technologies offer promise, AR uniquely requires lower levels of investment, thanks to its ability to operate with minimal equipment the school may already have. Data from McGraw Hill shows that two-thirds of schools provide AR instruction using laptops, while just over half use tablets.

VR researcher and head of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) Jeremy Bailenson suggests using VR where things feel too dangerous, impossible, counterproductive, and/or expensive — D.I.C.E. situations. 

Kinfolk’s Jasmine Maze, Chief of Eduation and Learning, believes that A.R. can provide similar utility in D.I.C.E. situations, but also in H.I.T. situations where the intention is to:

  • Highlight interaction between worlds
  • Influence human-decision making: delivering real time info
  • Transition folks from VR into the physical world

In any application, AR is sure to be a big HIT with students and teachers alike! 

Kinfolk is expanding what's possible while building out new repositories of knowledge that can be accessed and interacted with in transformative ways. Check out our Kinfolk BIPOC virtual historical monument map for everyone, or our UNSUNG app for K-12 educators to begin seeing the power and potential of bringing Black and Brown history to life!