Augmented reality technology has potential to help students transfer what they learn in the classroom to the real world. It is an emerging technology for K-12 teachers, focused on enlivening curriculum by introducing visual and audio components into lessons.

Among the many technologies poised to reshape the way we communicate and interact with the world around us, few evoke the same sense of excitement and curiosity as augmented reality. Best known as the technology behind the visual overlays on televised sports games and Google’s much-hyped Project Glass, AR seems intriguing and futuristic, if a bit lacking in practical uses for the average consumer. The same holds true in education, where, until recently, its impact on the curriculum of even the most tech-savvy districts has been limited to somewhat primitive efforts like QR codes.

But AR’s promise is enormous. In the 2012 K-12 edition of the Horizon Report, which examines a wealth of data to predict which ed tech trends will develop into mainstream successes, the New Media Consortium (NMC) named augmented reality an emerging technology with “significant potential” to transform K-12 education. The report anticipated widespread adoption in four to five years. Yet, for many K-12 educators who are just now exploring how web 2.0 and mobile technologies fit into their classroom, AR isn’t a priority, primarily because its application to education still seems theoretical to most teachers.

“The early adopters in K-12 are all over augmented reality,” remarks NMC CEO Larry Johnson. “Individual teachers, individual programs, individual departments using AR are popping up around the country, and what we’re seeing is very exciting, but it’s definitely not yet at the point where we can describe its use as widespread.” As the technology’s profile is being bolstered by consumer applications like Project Glass, its impact on curriculum is also getting a lift, mainly from applications that leverage technology that students are already using.

Reality 2.0
Augmented reality would hardly crack the consciousness of the average educator if not for the ubiquity of mobile devices, which provide fast access to the technology in a variety of settings. Depending on the scope or purpose of the application, AR typically uses one of two built-in technologies–the camera and GPS–to display information, data, videos, illustrations, or images based on the user’s surroundings.

With visual-based augmented reality, a user launches an AR app on a mobile device and then points the device’s video camera at a subject. The app will identify key objects and layer information on the screen based on what it’s “looking” at. For example, using an app like String, a user could point a smartphone at a triangle-shaped marker tacked to a wall, and a 3D prism will appear on their screen, ready to be rotated and manipulated.

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