augmented reality

Why our district is investing in AI, AR, VR, and MR

These new technologies give students life-skills practice and allow them to learn by doing

For most of our students, it’s hard to imagine communicating without email or text message. The number of ways our students learn, share, and communicate has grown exponentially in the last few years. Each generation has sought to make the transfer of information faster and more efficient than the generation before them, but the world today is changing at a faster and more immediate pace than at any time in our history.

New technologies like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Expeditions and Pioneer programs will be the next generation’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Voice technology allows for screen-free interactions and gives students much-needed life-skills practice in the areas of forming questions and focused listening. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) enables students to learn by doing, which increases student engagement, helps with retention, and enhances learning outcomes.

The power of Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI-powered, voice-controlled digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa have made their way into millions of living rooms but are just now being used in some classrooms. Unfortunately, a steady supply of misinformation and misunderstanding in the news media has made school leaders turn their backs on what may be the most cost-effective classroom technology of the last half-century.

A digital assistant can transform the classroom with real-time answers and built-in skills. A cohort of 31 Garnet Valley (PA) School District teachers has begun to leverage Amazon’s Alexa as a learning aid for lessons and student activities. Our district’s recent partnership with Dr. Aparna Ramanathan and her husband, Deepak Ramanathan, and their Alexa Skill called askMyClass has provided a bridge into this new educational frontier. Aparna is a medical doctor with over 11 years of international clinical experience and a passion for family health and well being. Deepak is an engineer and marketing executive in the technology industry, having worked for over 20 years at IBM, Google, and, most recently, Twitter.

Dr. Ramanathan initially developed the Amazon skill tool to help young children with emotional regulation skills but has expanded the tool to help teachers with other classroom needs. Their mission is to give teachers the convenience of voice technology to support their productivity and maximize learning for students in a new and engaging way.

Amazon’s Alexa and askMyClass allow our elementary school teachers to give students opportunities to solve problems, manage emotions, and communicate. It also allows our teachers to use the technology to set predetermined brain breaks, countdown clocks, randomizers, and review ELA and math standards.

As with all classroom technologies, protecting student information and privacy is paramount. Because of devices like Amazon’s Alexa being misconstrued in the media, our district notified parents of the program in advance and provided them with the ability to decline their child’s participation. Additionally, we developed guidelines beyond FERPA and COPPA, such as giving teachers full control over when the device is active, creating device-specific accounts using school district credentials, and limiting the type of information used.

Augmented, virtual, & mixed reality (MR)
Augmented and virtual learning is also beginning to see its way into our classrooms. Virtual field trips, virtual college tours, and simulations are most popular, but in time our students will be using AR, VR, and MR to create their own virtual worlds to build and explore. CoSpaces EDU, Figment AR, MERGE Cube, and the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program all promote more profound learning outcomes, increase student engagement, and allow for more authentic student learning.

Implementing AR, VR, and MR into the classroom is made easier with many ready-to-use resources. Vendors are increasingly releasing resources encoded with these possibilities making stress-free, engaging activities for teachers to use right out of the box.

In the past, many classroom AR and VR systems required a mobile device that limited its classroom use, but new technologies are becoming standalone, fully integrated, and classroom ready. These easy-to-use tools now embed educational resources to provide an exciting and reliable experience for all students.

We hope technology-rich classrooms will allow our student’s innate skills of creativity and innovation to shine bright and be the catalyst they need to become leaders for the generations to come.

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