30 Smart Phones and 5 Weeks: An Augmented Reality Classroom Experiment

30 Smart Phones and 5 Weeks: An Augmented Reality Classroom Experiment
     This is the first post in a series that I am going to do on Augmented Reality learning environments.  Over the past two years I have been working on my district to allow me to use smart phones in my room to develop Augmented Reality learning environments.  Augmented Reality is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery Wikipedia.  As you would expect, this has met with some concern about how students would be using these devices in class.  So I have been creating programs that create environments in which students interact in the real world, mainly on our back football field, where students interact with virtual characters and situations to solve a mystery or puzzle in the real world.  I have piloted this with a few kids with great success using my personal phone and some of the students phonesSeeing the success I had, the district decided to allow me a chance to pilot 30 HTC Touch Pro smart phones to develop more of these Augmented Reality learning environments.  So I thought I would share what software I have found to use to make these environments. 


     I have found two different types of free software to be very easy to use to develop these types of environments.  The first is MSCAPE: http://www.mscapers.com/.  This was created by HP as a pilot for their PDA’s.  This software is great to use and has a variety of games and a small community of developers behind it; however, they are closing down their site next March.  You will still be able to download their programs and games, but they will no longer be supporting the software.  I created “History Detectives”, which is a game that I used with a small group of students quite successfully last year and am gearing up for a full class pilot of this game next month.  A copy History Detectives can be found at this address. http://www.mscapers.com/msin/ABA0000579
     Another software program that I am using is called MITAR.  This was created by MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program, and they have been actively working on this since 2003.  This is a simple to use editor that allows you to embed virtual characters and objects in a real world environment to create unique learning opportunities.  A copy of this software is also free and can be found at: http://education.mit.edu/drupal/ar.  There is a good user manual, but no community behind this program.  The interface like MSCAPE is simple and intuitive.  You must register with MIT at that website to obtain a copy of the software.  Also, be sure to read their use policy. They are very specific on how you are able to use their software.
     I have found these types of environments to be exceptionally engaging for students. Often, have had to beg students to go to their next class.  It is amazing how they get into learning a topic and don’t seem to even realize that they are learning.  I also follow each of these exercises up with a discussion. I have found that everyone participates in the discussion, since they have a vested interest in the topic thus creating another great learning environment.  Setting the game up does take time and some planning but is well worth the effort.  Having created a couple of games for students and now that I have enough phones for an entire class, I am very excited about the last few weeks of school.
     This post is part of EdTech Blog Swap and was written by guest blogger, Michael Alfred.  You can find me on Twitter at  Mreduhowto or on my blogs at the Eduhowto Blog.


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