High-Tech Tools Are Being Introduced In the Classroom

Google Cardboard and Microsoft HoloLens are being used as teaching and study aids

15 September 2016

Technology will undoubtedly play an important role in educating the next generation of students. After all, many of today’s gadgets are already second nature to kids. Here are several technologies being used now in preuniversity and college classrooms.

  • AUGMENTING EDUCATION

    Augmented reality and its applications for learning provide an interactive experience for students. Take the Microsoft HoloLens, for example. The headset blends the digital realm with the real world by superimposing 3-D images, from holograms, in front of the user.

    A camera in the headset tracks the position of the wearer’s hand, letting the person manipulate holographic images placed in front of her. A student looking at a 3-D hologram of the solar system in class, for example, could reorder the planets by “grasping” their images and moving them.

    Some classrooms are starting to test the HoloLens, which went on sale in March. Anatomy students at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, are using it to view the human body as a life-size hologram. They can see a body with or without muscles, and they can zoom in on parts they’re studying, like blood vessels, ligaments, organs, or the nervous system. The AR tool can help students simulate medical procedures, too, such as identifying and removing a tumor.

    Budding mechanics enrolled in the automotive repair program at Clackamas Community College, in Oregon City, Ore., are applying the HoloLens starting this month. The device can superimpose holographic images onto car parts so that students can learn to identify and repair them. The auto repair program partnered with Intel and Oregon Story Board—a Portland nonprofit specializing in digital tools for storytelling—to help align the AR application with the college’s curriculum.

  • FULLY IMMERSED

    The Google Cardboard platform is bringing the full immersion of virtual reality to the classroom. You fold a cardboard viewer into goggles so that it suspends a smartphone about 5 centimeters in front of your eyes. Plastic lenses on the viewer bend light to create 3-D images from what is displayed on the phone’s screen.

    The Google headsets can display a host of mobile VR apps and provide a virtual experience of places being studied in the classroom. Discovery VR, for example, can supply 360-degree views of the Grand Canyon or a view of Earth from a suborbital spacecraft.

    The InMind VR app takes students inside a generic human brain to better understand neural anatomy. Students can use the app to hunt down neurons that cause psychological disorders.

    At last year’s International Society for Technology in Education conference, keynote speaker Soledad O’Brien said Google Cardboard and other VR tools can expand students’ horizons by immersing them in environments that simulate different careers. They can see what it would be like to be, say, a firefighter or police officer, or a veterinarian. O’Brien is a broadcast journalist who founded the Starfish Foundation, which helps underprivileged students get to college and graduate through financial assistance and mentoring.

    Unimersiv, which offers a platform for VR educational experiences, says students are more likely to remember information by experiencing it than by reading about it. The platform can help students of all ages learn through VR, according to the company’s website.

    But VR technology does have drawbacks. The constant motion on the screen can cause motion sickness. And the experience might make some students feel vulnerable, as if they’ve been removed from their surroundings.

  • MAKE IT YOURSELF

    One of the fastest-growing technological trends in preuniversity education is 3-D printing, according to the New Media Consortium’s 2015 Horizon Report: K–12 Edition.

    In an interview with EdTech: Focus on Higher Education, Jordan Brehove, MakerBot’s vice president of solutions, says the power of 3-D printing in education isn’t merely replicating existing ideas but giving students the ability to imagine new products and designs and then to build them. A manufacturer of 3-D printers, the company is partnering with universities to set up MakerBot Innovation Centers. Hong Kong Polytechnic University opened the first such center in May to teach digital design and 3-D printing skills.

    Starbase, a nonprofit program in Minnesota, aims to get inner-city students interested in the sciences with an aerospace-themed curriculum in which students plan an imaginary mission to Mars. Students use 3-D printers to design and print a working rocket made from plastic that they launch on the program’s final day.

    In Australia, students at Darwin High School who create products with 3-D printers practice entrepreneurial concepts involving design, prototyping, and marketing.

  • USES FOR WEARABLES

    Students can use wearable devices for more than counting steps or tracking sleep patterns. The brain-sensing headband Muse can help students understand how the brain reacts to various stimuli—which can lead to interesting experiments in the classroom. Data collected from the headband about the wearer’s brain activity, displayed on a smartphone or tablet, can help students determine when they’re most focused and where they should do their studying.

    Several organizations are teaching students to create their own wearables. The IEEE Women in Engineering group has held workshops for students on how to design and sew wearables into garments. And companies including AdaFruit Industries and JewelBots teach students how to program jewelry to alert them when important text messages are received, say, or when friends are nearby.

This article appears in the September 2016 print issue as “Wiring Students to Succeed.”

This article is part of our September 2016 special issue on The State of Engineering Education.

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