VR and 3D Learning Worlds

Augmented Reality: Making Interactions Tangible

Dominic FehlingWuppertal, November 2016 - Digital media make new forms of teaching and learning in vocational education possible. In the context of the project entitled "Social Augmented Learning" (SAL) funded by Germany’s Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), augmented reality has established itself as a valuable tool for the expansion of digital educational offerings. At the LEARNTEC congress, Dominic Fehling of Wuppertal’s Bergische University will present an analysis of his experience.

You participated in a BMBF project for learning in an "extended reality". Can you tell us about it?

Dominic Fehling: In commercial-technical dual-study programs, e.g. the course for print-media technologists, the focus is frequently on complex machines whose operation, maintenance, and repair are components of the curriculum. These tasks are not only becoming increasingly complex due to the digital transformation, but state-of-the-art machines are simply no longer freely accessible to learners. In light of this, it was important for us to present interactions that are not readily accessible, to make them visible, and thus to make them useful for equipment-related learning activities without, for instance, having to interrupt ongoing production processes.

Augmented reality combines physical reality (e.g. the machines used in the instructional process in vocational schools) with digital virtuality (e.g. 3D visualization of components that are otherwise not readily visible) and thus allows an authentic and practical approach to the subject matter. Being “extended” in this way not only makes it possible for this equipment to be "explored" but also to be used in individual and group learning activities.

The development of teaching and learning applications was carried out using agile and iterative approaches and accompanied by numerous user studies. This made it possible to use constant feedback throughout all the steps in the adaptation and further development of an application - beyond its usability, scope of functions, and integration into existing teaching concepts. However, it was also important to be able to use these factors to discover links to the everyday reality of dual-studies education at an early stage.

Since the end of the government funding, the Social Augmented Learning project has run by a professional organization called the "Central Technical Committee for Professional Education in Print and Media" (in German, ZFA) and has become part of the curriculum for training media technologists. Based on the experience gained with SAL, a follow-up project, Social Virtual Learning, is currently being implemented. It expands the concept of learning in extended realities to include learning in virtual learning environments.

What special requirements do augmented and virtual reality have in regard to content design compared to traditional eLearning productions?

Dominic Fehling: In Social Augmented Learning, we discovered that many approaches to content design used in conventional eLearning productions were transferable. As a result, the steps of (target-group) analysis, design, and development of AR-based learning contents were employed in implementing the SAL learning modules and are now being used in SVL. One a critical factor of content design that was identified in regard to the visualization of machine components is 3D data and 3D models.

We are expanding, that is virtualizing, learning environments by making it possible to give instruction related to learning objects that are not available at the actual learning venue or are not accessible. Thanks to close cooperation with our partner, the Heidelberg Printing Machine Company (Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG), in our projects, we have access to original data sets, which we use to model authentic and relevant 3D models. This makes it possible to create objects that can run on common mobile devices, but are created from a media-learning perspective that ensures that the learning-module contents are well communicated. This factor is critical for two reasons: First, it is difficult to generate authentic models without cooperating with manufacturers and also, in many cases, it is still very time consuming and labor intensive.

In which learning scenarios does the use of AR and VR appear to make good sense and where are they rather "nice to have"?

Dominic Fehling: Our experience has demonstrated that augmented reality is useful, for example, when it is necessary to be able to experience the interactions that cannot be seen in real life due to a machine’s design, cost or risk factors, or other obstacles. Above all, it is well suited for interactive activities in the workplace on machines that can almost be described as black boxes, which can also have an instructive character.

In our view, augmented and virtual reality present a sensible complement to conventional teaching and learning forms because, as a new medium, they do more than provide access to learning content that would otherwise be unavailable. Teaching and learning tools in AR and VR make it possible to interact with learning objects and the learning world and also foster cooperation with other learners.

In order for the deployment of this technology to have an added value for the training and quality of education, one factor in particular should be taken into account: Without meaningful embedding of an overall media-didactic concept, even in the best case, positive effects will only be incidentally generated. AR and VR should not be used "for the sake of using technology", but as a medium for modern teaching. To meet this requirement, in the Social Virtual Learning project, we have created and published a didactic concept that we are currently expanding and extending.

Motivation psychology and didactic theory contend that augmented learning has the potential to optimize learning processes. What would this type of learning experience have to offer and how would it have to be designed to have a lasting impact?

Dominic Fehling: In my opinion, augmented learning - and here I am using the term coined by Eric Klopfer in the context of the methodological and didactic approaches used in the Social Augmented Learning and Social Virtual Learning projects - not only describes technologically expanded learning activities, but also the changing roles of teachers and learners involved in these activities. Learning, motivation and learner autonomy are essential aspects of design extended and virtual learning environments.

The focus here should be on interactive tutor-assisted learning activities. These should not only encourage learners and support them by means of additional visualizations possibilities, but also challenge the individual learner to come to terms with complex learning contents.

At the LEARNTEC congress on January 25, 2017, we will present the use of SAL and SVL in education and also demonstrate how easily and intuitively learning content can be generated and distributed with our learning tools.

"Content Design for Learning with Augmented and Virtual Reality", Auditorium, 25 Jan 2017, 11:30-12:00