Students across the U.S. are learning how the body works by studying the anatomy of a frog, a vertebrate with an organ system similar to that of humans. But unlike traditional education lab work that uses real specimens or images of a virtual frog on a screen, a new approach to this standard experiment is taking the act of learning to a unique interactive level, thanks to the use of technology known as blended reality.

What is Blended Reality?

Blended reality combines the physical and digital with augmented reality that takes sensory inputs – sounds, scents, sites and haptic or “touch” feedback–to blur the lines between the real and virtual worlds. By replacing a keyboard and mouse with a touch mat and 2D and 3D scanners, blended reality computers enable students to take actual or printed objects and “put” them right into the computer to create a 3D animated image they can rotate and manipulate. In a blended reality lab dissection, for example, students can scan images of individual frog organs and assemble them with the touch of a keystroke–giving them an in-depth understanding of how each part works and how they work together as a system.

A Video Description of Blended Reality

Blended reality can be used in other ways. On the touch mat below the scanner, a teacher can place educational materials about a frog that carry embedded markers that come to life. Next they can display a video of the amphibian on the monitor. Using the computer as a projector, the teacher can display the frog, annotated notes and other background material onto a digital whiteboard for the entire class to view.

Multimedia Matters–But Not Enough

The use of multimedia in the classroom has proven to enhance learning because it helps present situations that are more “true to life” through video simulations and animations.  And it turns out multimedia may also help with student retention. Students can better recall what they saw and touched over what they heard, as evidenced by a University of Iowa experiment in which 100 undergraduate students were exposed to a variety of sounds, visuals and things they could feel.

Video of One Blended Learning Technology

However, while multimedia technology–whether a podcast, video or some combination of text, audio and video–may make classroom instruction more memorable, it has not provided a transformative educational experience. Students remain passive consumers of content in a 2D world, but blended reality makes learning active, enabling students to interact with content in real-time through instruction that is self-directed, inquiry-based and personalized. Blended reality helps achieve the potential of technology to foster creativity, imagination and new ways of thinking.

(Next page: How blended reality is changing the role of the teacher)


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