Go to any educational technology conference or ed tech blog today and you are bound to encounter augmented reality and virtual reality products. They’re the hot topics of the day in the educational technology industry. Every week I answer questions from readers about AR and VR. One of the patterns I’ve discerned from answering those questions is that a lot of people aren’t clear on what AR and VR really are what is different about the two technologies. Here’s a concise overview of AR and VR.
What is Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality?
Augmented Reality (AR) displays digital content (video, picture, animation) in a physical world. This is digital content is typically displayed on your mobile phone or internet-connected tablet. The display of digital content is often triggered by location. Pokemon Go is a mainstream example of augmented reality displays triggered by location.
The other way the display of digital content can be triggered is by focusing the camera of your phone or tablet on an object. You’ll find examples of this in children’s books that have companion AR apps. Kids can read the book and scan the book’s pages with a companion app to see digital content.
Virtual Reality (VR) is a digital experience is typically displayed inside a virtual reality headset or viewer like Google Cardboard. The digital content that you see is not dependent on your current physical location, but it does require that you have a VR viewer. Fortunately, VR viewers are inexpensive. You can get ones that are suitable for classroom use for under ten dollars on Amazon and many other retailers. You can even make your own VR headset. A quick search on YouTube for “DIY Virtual Reality Headset” will lead you to lots of videos on how to make your own VR headset.
Apps to Quickly See How AR & VR Works
Like most things in educational technology, it’s better to try AR & VR than to just read about it. Here are a couple of apps that will let you quickly and easily experience AR & VR.
Plum’s Creaturizer from PBS Kids is a free iOS and Android app that lets students create fun cartoon creatures and then place them into outdoor settings through the use of augmented reality. The purpose of the app is to have students learn and show how the characteristics of an animal help it thrive in its environment.
Google Expeditions has AR and VR experiences. The AR content in Google Expeditions lets students view and manipulate digital content in a physical world context. The AR content can be used as components in science, math, geography, history, and art lessons. Some examples of the more than 100 AR experiences that you’ll find in the app include landforms, the skeletal system, dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, the brain, and the Space Race.
To use the AR content available through Google Expeditions you will need to print marker or trigger sheets that students scan with their phones or tablets. Once scanned the AR imagery appears on the screen. (You can actually preview some of the imagery without scanning a marker, but the imagery will not be interactive or 3D). Students don’t need to look through a Cardboard viewer in order to see the AR imagery. You can get the Google Expeditions Android app here and the iOS version here.
The Smithsonian has a neat VR app called VR Hangar. The app, available on iOS and Android devices, contains three virtual reality tours about landmark moments in aviation history. Those moments are the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Chuck Yeager’s record-breaking flight in the Bell X-1, and the Apollo 11 mission. You can use VR Hangar with or without a VR headset, but it is much better with a VR headset.
Come to the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp to learn more about AR and VR and how you can use it in your classroom.