Augmented or virtual: what’s the reality?

Photo by Aaron Guillen

Photo by Aaron Guillen

Intersections speaker series points to hopeful future in augmented reality

By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter


What is augmented reality and how can it be used to enhance the way that students learn? Last week, Douglas College introduced the first installment of a new speaker series titled Intersections: Augmenting Reality.

Dr. David Wright, an English instructor at Douglas, opened the evening with a thought-provoking discussion around defining what exactly the phrase “augmented reality” means. Contrary to popular belief, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are separate ideas. “Augmented” has gone mainstream with Pokémon Go, an app in which users can interact in the real world around them from a screen. “Virtual” has been known for immersive experiences, such as HoloLens, where users enter an entirely artificial world.

Dr. Derek Turner, an Earth and Environmental Sciences instructor at Douglas, further honed in on augmented reality and its place in society by presenting ideas he wants to potentially include in his curriculum for his courses.

AR can help students visualize their world in unique ways by getting out into nature versus learning from a textbook. Some things you cannot replicate. With AR, self-guided field trips are on the table,” said Turner.

Turner further explained how AR can be used to overlay simple icons in geo-locations to enable learning on the go. By simply tapping on an info icon in an app, users can listen to informative speeches on the terrain and history. He hopes to bring this technology to Caulfeild Cove in West Vancouver, and along the Sea to Sky Corridor. Turner believes that more active learning experiences are needed rather than passive ones, showing how an augmented reality sandbox has more potential to teach students about geology than a textbook could.

Tammy Meyers, co-founder and COO of QuestUpon, shared how her app has taken AR to the next level. Similar to Pokémon Go, QuestUpon provides users the chance to get outside and see the world around them, and at the same time learn about the local history surrounding them. QuestUpon has worked to boost cultural heritage tourism along the Gold Rush Trail, and in various museums and parks in BC.

“[You see] history where it happened through authentic storytelling, providing users sense of place. By looking through my screen, a park was transformed into a residential school that was no longer there. It shook me in my boots. Normally, you walk through a park and do not realize what took place there years ago,” said Meyers.

In addition, Meyers’ app has collaborated with the Kwanten First Nation and invested time and money into preserving oral history and engaging youth by bringing First Nations storytelling to life. She hopes that more universities will be able to use their technology in the classrooms.

After several presentations, a discussion was moderated by Dr. Brian Chapell, Dean of Science and Technology Faculty at Douglas. When asked what the difficulties in AR are, Wright pointed out that technological glitches, whether it be trouble logging into an account, or using too much data, have the potential to ruin a learning moment.

When asked about the affordability of AR technology, Meyers noted that compatibility plays into a huge part of their business. Whether it be choosing which software to use or how to make their app available on multiple devices and in different formats, investment decisions are key factors.

Looking to the future, QuestUpon is looking for more meaningful collaborations to improve the content they produce. Also, Turner and Wright hope to bridge public institutions, such as Douglas College, with private companies, such as QuestUpon, to explore different learning styles in the classroom. In a brief question and answer period, an idea for an AR experience included in Douglas College orientations blossomed, with virtual reality proposed for international students.

To follow future events, head to @douglascollege for live tweets with their new speaker series #intersectionsDC. The next Intersections event will tackle gender, politics, and sport.


The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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