Exploring Prospects for Digital Depth Technologies in Education

Topics: Future of Learning

To help COSN attendees think through potential uses and implications of of wearables, augmented reality and virtual reality in education, we invited them to explore five future vignettes describing possible ways in which these technologies might be used in ten years’ time.At CoSN’s 2018 conference, “Exponential Change: Designing Learning in the 4th Industrial Revolution,” Jason Swanson and I led a session exploring potential uses of wearables, augmented reality and virtual reality in education. We think that these emerging digital depth technologies could support the creation of responsive learning environments, increasing student engagement, personalization, understanding of others’ experiences and perspectives, self-awareness, critical thinking and student agency. But we know from previous technology cycles that such benefits are not a given.

To help session participants think through potential uses and implications, we invited them to explore five future vignettes describing possible ways in which wearables, augmented reality and virtual reality might be used in ten years’ time.

1. MentorConnect: Responsive assistance for learners

Information collected from a wearable device helps to deliver just-in-time supports for a fourth-grade student having difficulty approaching a homework assignment. A linked app reminds her that she can ask for help and helps connect her with the relevant educator when she needs support.

2. Learning Matrix: Digital build out closes resource gaps

Using digital tools, educators have turned unproductive or abandoned buildings such as old warehouses, shopping centers and public buildings into venues for compelling, high-quality learning experiences. In so doing, they are helping learners access resources, learning experiences and specialist teachers that are often not available in poor or rural schools and districts.

3. Holistic Assessment: Authentic performance, evaluation and reflection support deep learning

An assessment tool powered by augmented reality, , wearables and audio and video capture is providing a way for students to immerse themselves in realistic future learning and work settings while honing their collaborative and creative practices and reflecting on their performance with trusted, knowledgeable professionals.

4. Changing Bodies, Minds and Policies: Deep empathy through embodying the other

Education policy makers and administrators “walk in the shoes of others” through immersive narratives provided by virtual reality and other digital technologies to foster empathy and perspective taking in order to help craft policy.

5. Digital Graffiti History: Students explore their community and local heroes

Students become local historians and storytellers through the use of augmented reality to create digital graffiti consisting of three-dimensional overlays of text, images and video, turning their neighborhood into a living history book.

In exploring these future stories, participants raised several important considerations:

  • Cost is likely to be an issue, especially near term. But there might be small pockets such as special education where digital depth technologies could be used to bridge divides or level the playing field for students.
  • Being able to design and build three-dimensional worlds – and solve problems in them – could help students develop important skills and engage in authentic learning.
  • The issue of privacy is huge, especially for wearables; for tracking data associated with biomarkers, including information on a student’s mental and physical heath; and for metadata indicating a student’s location. We need to make sure to establish appropriate boundaries around what student data such technologies might collect and how that data might be used.
  • The potential for behavior manipulation needs to be addressed. While these technologies might help students practice skills and collaborate, we need to make sure that they aren’t used in ways that undermine students’ agency.

Our new paper, Leveraging Digital Depth for Responsive Learning Environments: Future Prospects for Wearables, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality provides more detail, including our own list of insights and implications. The accompanying poster summarizes the future vignettes and includes discussion questions to help groups explore potential uses of these technologies in education.

This was our first conversation about the paper. We’re looking forward to many more!