by Emily Freehling
With big-name tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google investing heavily in educational technology, it’s a given that tech will transform the classroom experience in the coming years. But what does technology really mean for learning outcomes? Our November expert, Fredericksburg Academy, set out with two local partners to find out. In partnership with the University of Mary Washington College of Education and Fredericksburg-based Reclaim Hosting, a pilot program launched this year to study the use of augmented reality (AR) apps throughout various areas of FA’s K-5 curriculum. This month, FA educators talk to us about what they’ve learned from the program, and how technology enhances learning at the Fredericksburg independent school.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world through a device like a tablet or smartphone, thus providing a composite view. Digital elements are often added to a live view by using the camera on a smartphone. Some better-known examples of augmented reality experiences include Snapchat lenses and the game Pokémon GO.
How did the partnership with the UMW College of Education and Reclaim Hosting come about?
The three of us have synergy in a number of areas and began meeting to explore the best collaboration niche. After about the third or fourth meeting, it became obvious that AR was the way to go.
What is the pilot program, and what grade levels and classes at FA are involved?
This pilot program is a way to study the impact of augmented reality on education for grades K-5, initially. Schools are beginning to use AR, but seldom strategically or with outcomes in mind. The pilot focuses on both instruction—by identifying units of study within the curriculum and pairing those units with specific AR tools—and learning, by tracking student engagement and measuring academic success as a result of incorporating AR into the experience.
What are some of the classroom experiences that have happened because of this program?
Our second graders got to enhance their study of the layers of the earth using a device called a MERGE Cube, which lets you hold virtual objects in your hand. They were excited to take this three-dimensional journey to the earth’s core.
Our Lower School French teacher brought lessons about animals to life with an app that projected very realistic images of various animals into the camera view of the classroom. Some students thought it was so real, they insisted they could feel the animal “under” the iPad! Switching this app to French language mode made it an engaging way to introduce lots of new vocabulary. And we could not believe the level of detail on the virtual megalodon that swam right out of the book our fourth graders were reading about this giant prehistoric shark. It was a great way for them to start their marine biology unit.
What’s next for the pilot program, and how can we learn more about it?
We’re looking at expanding into our preschool and middle and upper schools. We’re exploring incorporating virtual and mixed realities, with the older grades in particular. As word regarding the pilot has spread, we’ve received many collaboration requests, so our network is growing. A website will be made public in the coming months, but for now, you can e-mail questions regarding the pilot program to ARineducation@fredericksburgacademy.org.
What is the most unexpected thing you’ve learned about AR in the classroom?
It was difficult to imagine how easily the children would master the use of the various AR apps and technologies. Although they are “naturals” and have quite a bit of experience with gaming and other technology, they are still very interested, excited, and delighted by the AR experiences in the classroom.
What’s the FA philosophy on technology in the classroom—what are you looking for in a tech-based learning experience when you consider bringing it to your students?
We’re mostly looking for something that dovetails with things we are already doing. Will the technology enhance the learning experience or engage the learner in a way that would not be possible otherwise? Will the technology allow students to engage with the material they are learning about differently? Does it support cross-curricular instruction by integrating multiple areas of study? Ultimately, we want to ensure it will help them better understand content and transfer knowledge into other areas of the curriculum. These are some of the questions we ask of any potential new technology.
What about the FA experience makes it a good fit for projects like this, that explore new ways to approach learning?
The first thing that stands out is that with our class size, all students are able to use the technology frequently during these projects. They are not waiting for turns or simply watching the teacher use the technology. It is in their hands, and they are manipulating, investigating, and leading throughout the process. Also, when you start projects like this, you invariably find new ways to use the technology and you can quickly tie it to other areas of the curriculum. We have the flexibility and freedom to explore all the avenues presented to us during a lesson—these change from year to year based on the students in a class and what piques their interest. We can simply go with that because we know that without having to move quickly to cover material for a state-mandated test, we can absorb and engage with material for longer periods of time to provide a more meaningful and deeper learning experience.
If you had to predict one thing that would be vastly different about the K-12 classroom experience 10 years from now, what would it be?
Wow…. with the way technology rapidly changes, there are really endless possibilities. I think that we are going to see more fine-tuning and personalizing of the educational experience for each individual student. As we look to develop skills that prepare students for the next level (grade level, school level, college/workforce) I believe we’ll see more choices offered to students about what they are studying and for how long. The current curriculum structure will need to change.
Learn more about Fredericksburg Academy at www.fredericksburgacademy.org. Stay tuned to the Fredericksburg Parent and Family Facebook page during the month of November for a video where FA leaders will talk more about how they are studying AR in education.