The Handheld Augmented Reality Project (HARP) has developed an "augmented reality" game designed to teach math and science literacy skills to middle school students. The game is played on a Dell Axim handheld computer and uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to correlate the students' real world location to their virtual location in the game's digital world.
What is augmented reality? AR is an environment in which virtual images have been layered on top of those in the real world. So while students are moving in a real physical location - playground, sports field, parking lot - a map on their handheld displays digital objects and virtual people who exist only in the AR world superimposed on the real map.
There are two kinds of augmented reality: place-dependent and place-independent. HARP is working with place-independent augmented reality. The former type would require students doing a game based on walking on the Gettysburg battlefield to actually be on the battlefield while the objects, buildings etc. would be created digitally. Since field trips are very prohibitive, place-independent AR allows you to walk the battlefield on your soccer field.
These types of AR simulation "games" played in a real world environment have students taking on the roles of professionals who use scientific and math literacies. Teams generally have 4 roles: chemist, linguist, computer expert, and FBI agent. Depending on your role, you will see different pieces of evidence.
To make it through the augmented-reality environment and solve various problems, students must share information and collaborate within and among the teams. At the close, they form hypotheses based on their data and present their findings.
Students develop math and literacy skills with both reality-based problems (causes of toxic spills, outbreaks of disease, the cultural history of their neighborhood) and fantasy-based problems. A fantasy-based scenario might be that aliens have landed on Earth and seem to be preparing for one of several possible actions: peaceful contact, invasion, plundering, or simply returning to their home planet. The teams explore the augmented-reality world, "interviewing" virtual characters, collecting digital items, and solving math and literacy puzzles to figure out what the aliens are planning.
One of the main goals the project states is:
"...to determine what effects, if any, AR simulations have on student learning when compared to a â€œstandardâ€ curriculum. Augmented Reality is an emerging technology with little experimental research supporting or disputing its effectiveness in K-12 classrooms. We hope to be among the first in the world to conduct experimental research on AR and publish results that will help schools and teachers make informed decisions when considering this technology. Specifically, during Year 1 we will collect data that centers on the experience of using AR technology in your classrooms. We will interview, observe, and survey both you and your students as well as administer and analyze pre- and post-tests that target specific content standards."
The project has funding from a U.S. Department of Education Star Schools Program grant aimed at enhancing math and literacy skills in urban school populations, researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the Teacher Education Program at MIT
Chris Dede (Harvard's Graduate School of Education) and postdoctoral fellow and colleague Matt Dunleavy say that the project arose from "trying to think about where society is going, what students will need, what the educational properties of these devices are, and how we can design something interesting with these devices."
Here's a video link (RealPlayer required) about the project.