Welcome to the new age of education, teachers and students that have enhanced learning experiences through the use of augmented reality. Augmented reality (AR) is described as an “amalgamation of computer graphics, vision and multimedia” (Liarokapis & Anderson, 2010, p. 10) which offer an elevated version of our real-world experience. Categorised under the broader terminology of mixed reality, AR is often grouped with virtual reality (VR). Unlike AR which involves the intermingling of real and augmented spaces, the focus of VR is placing the user in a virtual environment. Historical representations of mixed reality within media are often limited to the scope of gaming and entertainment purposes. Such AR games include the development of Pokémon Go during 2016, which amassed 10 million downloads within the first week (Pesce, 2020). Within this article I will unpack how these digital technologies are being implemented as learning tools. Confirmed by a report from technology company Greenlight VR, “desire for education outweighs desire for gaming content – 63.9 percent vs. 61 percent” (Babich, 2019). Programs such as Google Arts and Culture (GAC) are paving the way for the use of mixed reality to innovate pedagogical methods. GAC functions primarily to preserve arts and culture through an augmented reality, thus harnessing the potential for facilitating learning environments.
The innovation of mixed realities has existed as a pedagogical tool since as early as 1997. Radiography students at the University of North Carolina were enabled to superimpose bone structures on moving subjects (Hoffman, 1997, p. 1078). These early days of mixed reality were equipped by the use of head mounted displays. Whilst these original displays were bulky and impractical, they placed education in the form of easily understood visual graphics (Pesce, 2017). Since then, the arrival of mobile phones has revolutionised AR and VR capabilities. Applications such as Pokémon Go, the collaboration between technology giants Google and Niantic paved the way for the future of mixed realities. Allowing the gaming community to bridge the gap between real world and the virtual, Pokémon Go now boasts over 1 Billion downloads.
The potential for mixed realities in enhancing gameplay was evident. Touchscreen technology utilised in mobile phones removed the cognitive gap that existed in earlier head mounted devices, offering a seamless blend of real and virtual space (Jones, 2020). The early days of mixed realities in mainstream media were seen in the cinematic form. The projection of mixed reality in mainstream film offered audiences a taste of the future; placing the user within a world of data (Jones, 2020).
Why Should I Give a Damn About my Data?
By placing AR and VR into the hands of the user, these applications began to map the world of their users (Pesce, 2020). This multifaceted collection of data is now the new norm for users of mobile phones. So why should you give a damn about this data collection? Given the need for mobile devices in mixed reality programs such as Pokémon Go and GAC, turn users into data census (Pesce, 2020). This means that users using photographic components on their mobile device are constantly collecting data for these companies. Thus we have to understand the potential for these companies to control and exploit your data.
The current major gatekeepers that forefront mixed reality technologies are Facebook, Google Apple. It is these companies that we are negotiating our everyday data with. Given the increasing use of social media to control political gains, we are just one step away from political powers using this everyday data against us. Niantic’s Pokémon Go was able to inscribe meaning into spaces and thus change the behaviour within that space. What is stopping political parties of the future from changing the way people perceive their surroundings? AR applications have the potential to polarise oppressed groups by highlighting the number of immigrants in a certain location. This inherently disadvantages these oppressed groups, some of which may not have access to the highly priced mobile devices necessary to view mixed reality. 91 percent of Australians have access to mixed reality and information through mobile devices (Deloitte, 2019). The remaining 9 percent of the population is at a significant disadvantage, with little to no access to mixed reality.
Is Gaming Really the Limit of Mixed Realities?
When thinking about the future of mixed realities, the last thing that might come to mind is education. Impacting the everyday life of students and teachers alike, AR and VR are increasingly being used to transcend the traditional learning experience (Galés & Gallon, 2020). Given the handheld future of mixed realities on mobile phones, this technology offers opportunities for autonomous learning. This is contextually beneficial to students given the current distanced learning conditions as a result of COVID-19.
During 2011, Google began the launch of Google Arts and Culture (GAC) the world-first virtual gallery platform, which uses metadata and machine learning to catalogue work from over 2000 museums and galleries (Sood, 2016). GAC allows students to use mixed reality to virtually visit institutions globally and view artwork in high definition. Google’s innovative program offers access to global arts and culture to students geographically unable to do so. Sood (2016) unpacks the program’s ability to utilise mixed realities to catalogue over 40,000 portraits in the video below.
The mixed reality experiments of GAC include:
- Weird Cuts: Utilises AR through photography to create collages and assemblages, encouraging users to walk around and collect materials via their mobile devices.
- Big Bang: Creates an interactive mixed reality experience by adding a camera filter over the user’s mobile device, transporting the user throughout space.
- Virtual Art Sessions: Uses VR and Google’s own Tilt Brush technology the draw and sculpt using VR controllers and cloud data (see image below).
The incorporation of GAC in a learning environment seems to be the natural next step for the evolution of education (Babich, 2019). As a student of Art History, this program has revolutionised the way I personally view artworks. In comparison to black and white print outs from textbooks, GAC allows me to fully immerse myself in the depth of arts and culture. Australian students will no longer have to fork out thousands of dollars on a European trip to immerse themselves in artworks and explore cultural artefacts.
This revolutionary mixed reality technology is the future of our everyday lives. From the cinema, to gameplay to the classroom, the capabilities of AR and VR are limitless. As users, we are tasked with the challenge of monitoring our uses of these technologies to ensure our data is not compromised. Influencing the social, political and cultural outcomes of our everyday lives, it is up to the tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple to act ethically.
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