What we called reality all this while is not reality anymore. The virtual is the new reality. The reality of our world is defined by the ways in which we can sense it using our basic senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste). With advancements in modern interaction technologies, the sense of touch, sight, and hearing has been simulated with high fidelity. Some experiences in the virtual world feel “more” real than the physical world in the sense that it excites our senses in ways that has not been possible before. We can sometimes do things in the virtual world without the consequences of the physical world. This has resulted in the blurring of the boundaries of the virtual and physical world. The virtual feels increasingly real and vice-versa.
Technologies such as tangible interactions, augmented reality, virtual reality, haptics etc have allowed us to “feel” the virtual world. One can now imagine numerous possibilities of how to create new experiences that are increasingly real. With the advent of mobile devices which are highly portable and loaded with different types of sensors, the sensing of real world by machines and the resulting seamless fusion of the output with our natural surroundings has become an everyday reality. One area where such technologies have a huge potential is education. What better way to make a child learn than with the sense of touch, sight, and hearing. It has also been found in many research studies that perceptual learning is far more superior to the learning that is only based on text and purely didactic in nature. Recent explosion of digital content and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have resulted in the loss of “touch and feel” nature of learning. Students can spend a long time reading text books without getting a sense of the reality.
Chemistry laboratory has been a place where there is a lot of excitement for young students as it involves the feeling of doing something “real” than just reading books. However, a chemistry laboratory is sometimes too expensive to set up which is a reason why most schools in developing countries cannot even afford one. Chemistry laboratory is also a very dangerous place with so many chemicals which can result in accidents if used in a wrong way. Since there is typically only one chemistry laboratory in a school, the share time that each student gets to explore and learn is very limited. All these problems can be addressed by exploiting the power of tangible interactions using off the shelf mobile devices. The mobile devices work as tangibles (something that is a metaphor for a real-life objects which one can hold, touch, and manipulate) as they have a variety of sensors in them. Imagine each mobile device representing a test tube where different chemicals can be loaded, and the chemicals can be “poured” into each other by actually tilting one tangible towards the other. Reactions can be effected by shaking the device which is sensed by the device accelerometer. Photo-sensitive reactions can be simulated by shining a light on the device after mixing the chemicals which is triggered by the light-sensor on the device. Since it requires multiple tangibles to conduct an experiment, the learning is very collaborative in nature. All of this results in a very engaging, exploratory, cost-effective, and fun-filled experience without the dangers of an accident.
Augmented reality is another technology which has and will dramatically change the way students learn. It very nicely blends the affordances of the physical and digital world to create an entirely new experience that was not possible before in the reality. “Live” books are a great example of how these technologies can make an otherwise bland text-filled book into an engaging and fun-filled learning experience. Textbook contents propped with augmented reality help augment the learning of a student with “multiple representations” which have been found to result in better learning outcomes. More specifically, augmented reality using mobile devices has been tried in schools to teach abstract concepts in earth science with overwhelming student engagement and better concept understanding.
In conclusion, these “reality” technologies can greatly improve our interaction with the world around us and its understanding. Mobile devices have changed the whole landscape with the availability of numerous sensors in them which can sense and feel the world around us in the same way we do. These devices can act as proxy for our senses and bring the world alive in them. We have seen some examples from education where it has huge potential to increase student engagement and improve learning outcomes. These new interaction technologies will impact almost every sphere of our everyday life such as health care, education, retail, transportation, etc. This truly is the reality of things to come.
- By Prasenjit Dey, Research Staff Member, IBM Research-India
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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