Textbooks remain dominate in schools, but emergent technologies like augmented reality (AR) present opportunities to transform education. BIO-AR, an educational toolkit, introduces a mixed-methods approach that transforms existing learning and teaching experiences, allowing learners to interact with invisible spatial structures and configurations. What once laid flat on a page emerges in full, three-dimensional glory with the click of a button.
AR would bring significant value to science education in particular, where biology is traditionally taught via textbooks of two-dimensional images. This means that students currently build two-dimensional mental images of three-dimensional concepts throughout their primary education. Yet the ability to understand abstract concepts and construct three-dimensional images of biological systems and components is critical to problem-solving and designing solutions in the bioengineering space.
BIO-AR is accessible with a smartphone, and the focus on a mobile application that pairs with textbooks was intentional since many public schools have limited funding. Over the past few decades, AR applications have become more widely used on mobile devices, and therefore more portable and less expensive (Yuen, S.; Yaoyuneyong, G.;& Johnson, E., 2011). BIO-AR requires no additional equipment and enables students to read their textbooks interactively, whenever or wherever they are, without burdening school budgets.
- Deliver 3D content, including real data
- Make this information mobile and accessible
- Promote active learning, engaging students to move physically rather than sitting in front of their textbooks
BIO-AR is based on AR and developed through Unity 3D with a Vuforia plug-in. The API has high accessibility to mobile platforms, including Android and iOS, which makes the product easy to download, test, and implement. The development of BIO-AR consisted of three steps and focused on a neuron as its design and testing material.
Industrial implementation would include establishing partnerships with leading textbook publishers and building an open-source, 3D-model platform. Ann West, a domain expert in the textbook industry, cautioned the BIO-AR team that approving content for textbooks can be time and effort consuming for textbook publishers. As such, the team identified an opportunity in offering unique, tailored, AR learning experiences to publishers as a means of improving their market competitiveness. Also, individual 3D-model contributors could utilize an open source platform to contribute work, which would not just contribute to the application, but promote the future development of augmented reality in education.
Ultimately, the educational toolkit developed for BIO-AR has potential application across a number of fields that require an understanding of complex, 3D systems.