Experimenting with AR and teaching

Recently I’ve been trying to make chemistry and biology sessions for my undergrads a little more interesting. I’ve started experimenting with the inclusion of some AR in my lectures to try and aid visual learners to see what I’m talking about, and kinesthetic learners a chance to ‘have a go’ and interact with an object. My first attempt came with my basics of chemistry session….

My students come to the programme from a mix of backgrounds. Science is only required at GCSE, and this could have been a long time ago. So I take the opportunity to brush up some of the basics over half a day to ensure the student at least has an awareness and direction to build their base knowledge. I took a look at what was available and found a great (free) app that uses AR to place atoms on the floor. The functions allow you to stop the electrons and walk up to the atomic nucleus for a closer look. A USB-C to HDMI adaptor later, and i was giving the students a tour of the components of water on a projector screen. I just had to remember to turn off my notifications first! This is a great app by Signal Garden, click the image to go to the android app Atom Visualizer for ARCore.

Atoms on my floor using augmented reality
Atoms projected in AR on my home office floor

My second object was introduced to me at a ‘meeting of geeks’ to discuss digital tech in teaching at my institution. I was given the chance to play with a black and silver cube. I soon found an app where you can take a look at a cartoonistic representation of a human body, where you can ‘zoom in’ and explore body parts. Although this may not be for higher-level anatomy, to add a bit of interaction to an introduction to human biology it was perfect. This Merge Cube and Mr. Body app were a great hit. I think my students found it a nice break to the lecture that gave them something to hold in their hand. For this first try, I found a printable copy of the cube, but this was in no way near as good as the real thing (so I’m not even going to link to it).

A student using an augmented reality merge cube to look at an anatomical model
Merge Cube and Mr. Body

My first couple of attempts at using AR as a teaching tool were a success. The students were engaged and they enjoyed something different. They found the chance to visualise what I was attempting to explain useful and, hopefully, enough to make their theoretical knowledge more accessible. Would i use AR more in sessions? Definitely. It takes a little research to find the right tool for the job, but finding something was an enjoyable process and the effect of using the tool was nothing but positive.

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