By Joe Parlier

A sneak peek from my new book, Convergence, How the World Will Be Painted With Data which will be launched at SXSW this month!


You’ve probably seen it on shows like Grey’s Anatomy. The scene where someone is using a computer, but instead of the body parts showing up on the computer screen, they float in the air in front of the doctor. This is a space where the physical and digital worlds intersect for the purpose of learning, and schools across the world are using it to teach concepts to students. This space provides users with the ability to collaborate while manipulating variables that range from gravity and force in the physical sciences to color and texture in art.

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Anatomy on the zSpace. The company has developed a robust curriculum compliant app ecosystem.

Since the introduction of calculators and computers in the 1970s and 1980s, hardware and software developers and educators have sought ways to integrate technology into the instructional process. Technological advancements now allow our 2D devices to become 3D devices with Augmented Reality. Educators who see the technology in action immediately recognize its potential to engage, educate, and entertain.

Many of us are entertained by Snapchat, an application that allows users to share and add digital content on top of images. This includes Pokémon GO, a game that overlays digital content on a user’s surroundings with mobile AR. These AR applications allow users to observe what is actually around them while supplementing the environment with digital content. Now, the use of these applications originally developed for entertainment has translated into different applications for the purpose of learning.

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zSpace reaches has reached a million students around the world.

In Liberty County, Georgia, high school student Keinen Johnson had the opportunity to learn biology using the VIVED Science software application on a zSpace XR device. Reflecting on his experience, Keinen said, “With the zSpace, I was able to view the organism to see in detail what I was looking at instead of just a 2D picture. You are actually able to use your hands and to use your head to get that hands-on experience.” Johnson’s teacher, Pamela Donald, noted that her students can experience things in XR that they cannot otherwise a textbook.

XR in Class

Today, the use of AR has moved beyond entertainment and into the classroom. The 2017 United States Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan states: “The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures.”

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zSapce laptops are not much more expensive than a conventional windows laptop.

Virtual and Augmented Reality applications are being introduced to the education space for a variety of purposes and in most curriculum areas, including the sciences, mathematics, social studies, and arts. AR in the classroom increases student engagement in, understanding of, and access to content, according to a recent report by Scientix, the community for science education in Europe. Additionally, a review of dozens of studies on AR in education revealed that AR has improved learning performance, learning motivation, student engagement and attitude.

In studies of middle and high school students, engagement in the learning environment begins to decline in upper elementary school and this continues through middle and high school years, where it reaches its lowest level of engagement. A Gallup Poll found that just 74% of 5th-grade students and 32% of 12th-grade students felt engaged in school. Additionally, 88% of school superintendents indicated that engaged students are a key element of effective schools. Unsurprisingly, studies have found that students who are engaged tend to perform better on academic assessments and go on to graduate from high school.

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Teachers have identified effective strategies, such as making learning more meaningful, to motivate students to engage in the learning process. Students who are engaged in their work generally exhibit three characteristics: they are attracted to their work, persist when there are challenges and obstacles and are excited by their accomplishments. Most teachers have observed student engagement when students are involved in activities, such as field trips, projects, experiments, art activities, or educational games and software applications. Teachers seek methods similar to these to bring out a high level of engagement in students.

Educational technology researcher Filippos Tzortzoglou, Ph.D., found that integrating VR/AR activities into the curriculum made students more engaged in the content and in STEM careers. In a districtwide implementation of the zSpace XR technology solution, Liberty County Schools in Hinesville, Georgia, provided a zSpace lab in each elementary, middle, and high school. These zSpace labs include computers incorporating a stereoscopic display, head tracking, 3D stylus, and custom content. Teachers began implementing zSpace in their science and other STEM courses. Dr. Valya Lee, former Liberty County Superintendent, reflected on the first six months of the implementation and indicated “that there’s no way a student will come into a zSpace lab and not be engaged, if not engrossed, in the learning.”

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zSpace in action. Note the 6 DOF mouse/pen in the student’s right hand.

At the Bradwell Institute, Pamela Donald integrated XR through zSpace into her environmental science classes. When students were learning about biomes and ecosystems, she began the unit by teaching the concepts using traditional strategies, such as the textbook and lectures. She specifically discussed a lack of engagement in the content using traditional means, but when she took the students to the zSpace lab, the classroom atmosphere changed. Previously disengaged students “took the lead” and began explaining science concepts to others. Donald says that when learning lessons through XR, students are “receptive, more energetic, and engaged.”

Google Expeditions is another example of AR technology that improves student engagement. Students are able to travel to the edge of the Earth with an explorer through a National Geographic Expedition and learn more about art and architecture in New York City’s Guggenheim Museum of Art. Students are also able to use Google 360º images to create their own Expeditions. “The most frequent comment [from students] was that it was the best thing they had ever experienced. The staff agreed as well. They were amazed at the things they could do and the places they could see,” said middle school teacher Michelle Guzman.

In addition to engaging students in content, integration of XR allows teachers to develop an understanding of content in new ways. One of the killer apps for immersive technology is training and simulation. Schools are the place where much of our training takes place. Research firm Gartner projects that 60% of all higher education institutions in America will be using VR in the classroom by 2021. Goldman Sachs estimates that roughly $700 million will be invested in XR applications in education by 2025.

In a study of high school and college students learning biology concepts, a 76% increase in learning outcomes was realized by using a gamified laboratory simulation, called Labster, when compared to traditional teaching methods. Combining simulation and traditional teaching methods was even more powerful. Virtual laboratories offer the advantage of allowing students to explore usually unobservable phenomena, enabling learners to conduct a number of experiments in a short period of time and providing adaptive guidance based on a student’s learning capabilities (Zacharia, et al, 2014). The result is a deeper conceptual understanding of the material.

Similarly, Lincoln Spence, principal at Kentucky’s Owsley County High School, describes how students are using XR to dissect animals, cars, and the human body. When students manipulate the content, their learning is enriched, he said. Beyond the classroom, Lockport Township, Illinois, shared zSpace XR with senior citizens who were also able to benefit from augmented, dimensional education.

Equity & Access

Schools work aggressively to close gaps in equity and access to education for students. VR has the ability to democratize education by bringing travel and educational opportunities to those who otherwise couldn’t access them. That’s the conclusion reached by Jeremy Bailenson, professor of communications at Stanford University and founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab in his book Experience on Demand.

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Paul Kellenberger, co-founder and CEO of zSpace.

Jennifer Hall, a high school science teacher in Kentucky’s Owsley County High School, understands Bailenson’s assertion. Owsley County implemented the use of the zSpace XR solution “to remove barriers from education and provide students with opportunities that they would not have ever had.” The county is considered America’s poorest majority Caucasian county, per 2010 United States census data. Hall shared that XR provides students with “opportunities that they could not have in a regular classroom setting.”

The use of XR in education is already making a difference in student engagement, learning, and access to content. For most districts, integrating XR is no longer a question of if, but when, XR will make its way into the curriculum.

Suggested Reading

Suggested reading: Bacca, J., Baldiris, S., Fabregat, R., Graf, S., & Kinshuk. (2014). Augmented Reality Trends in Education: A Systematic Review of Research and Applications. Educational Technology & Society.

AR/VR Consultant, Columnist, Author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse, A Guide to VR & AR” (2018) & “Convergence” (2019).

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