blended reality

A new technology is fundamentally changing learning–here’s how

Find out how blended reality is leapfrogging today’s classroom technology to transform learning.

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)

The Evolving Role of the Teacher

Some 30-40 years ago, classroom teachers relied on traditional teaching methods, which included lectures, reading from textbooks and watching movies or filmstrips. As technology began to permeate into classrooms over the past decade, many educators merely applied older teaching methods to the new technology.

Today, interactive whiteboards are replacing chalkboards; digital textbooks are emerging as a replacement for printed textbooks and streaming video content assume the fomer role of VHS or DVD content. Although these strategies represented a step forward, they still employ older, more passive learning models, which according to Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Experience” fail to deliver meaningful results for students.

As education becomes more personalized through blended reality, teachers also take on a new role. No longer the “sage on the stage,” teachers take on more of a coaching role, guiding students as they embark on a journey of self-learningBy leveraging a mixture of tactile, visual, and sonic sensory engagement, educators have a powerful way to differentiate instruction for each student in the classroom

By adopting more immersive technologies in the blended and virtual reality spaces, students become more active participants in their learning. Rather than read about concepts, they can roll up their sleeves and actually “do” the tasks first-hand through project-based learning, games and simulations. As Dale’s study pointed out in the 1960s, this active role of learning produces far greater instructional outcomes for students.

Einstein said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” This explains why teachers seek opportunities to provide as much personalized learning as possible. By awakening the creative spirit in students and sending them on a path of self-discovery, blended reality gets them much closer to this goal.

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