Now is the time to augment your virtual STEM learning

Colleges and universities must push to adopt new augmented reality tools to enhance curriculum and invest in the remote student experience.

This year, educators are rethinking the traditional “classroom” experience and deploying technology to enhance how students learn in remote settings, adjusting everything from assignments and tests to lab courses. Offerings like augmented reality (AR) objects, real-time virtual lessons and interactive videos offer tremendous benefits, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning environments where hands-on experience and interaction is core to each lesson. Now is the time to stop considering these tools from afar and begin incorporating them into curriculum. By accelerating adoption now in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators can invest in students and offer a more engaging, productive learning experience, no matter where the classroom is.

David Cramb, Ryerson University
David Cramb, Ryerson University

Don’t just watch. Engage.

For visual-heavy, hands-on courses in STEM programs, we recognize that technology cannot fully replace the in-class experience. However, with tools like AR added to virtual learning platforms, the benefit lies right in the name: these technologies augment the experience, particularly when the traditional lab-centric course model is unavailable.

Physical interaction with subject matter is a critical aspect of the understanding process. For a student learning from home, the difference between watching a pre-recorded demonstration of a microscope in-use and being able to bring that microscope to life via an AR application on their smartphone is tremendous. Access to these tools within the virtual classroom will bridge learning gaps. When students aren’t able to engage with experiments and tools physically in a lab, offering these items in AR provides a captivating alternative.

Imagine a first-year science student trying to navigate virtual courses and adjust to an unprecedented college experience. The good news: Many of their lab classes include AR objects and demonstrations. The bad news: They have to download a different application or visit a separate web portal for each lesson. These technologies are only beneficial if students can easily engage with them—if there’s a steep learning curve or the student can’t navigate seamlessly, they’ll struggle to retain the material. This scenario is compounded in a virtual learning environment, where opportunities seek guidance are limited.

To make online learning more impactful for STEM students, it’s not enough to build out the virtual labs and objects. Universities and technology providers should offer everything in one platform. These types of ancillary platforms are readily available, with a broad variety of offerings and functionalities. Ideally, educators should look for those which can consolidate all course materials, tests and virtual lectures right alongside lab tools and AR objects. Most importantly, any platform considered should allow this material to be accessible from devices the student already owns, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops.

The ease and simplicity of an interface has the power to remove the frustration a student may experience when poring through web pages and emails to find all necessary materials and positions them for success at the start of each lesson. What’s more, when a student operates within one seamless online learning dashboard, complete with interactive 3D, AR objects, their attention to the course content is greatly enhanced, allowing for better retention of key concepts.

Evan Gappelberg, NexTech AR
Evan Gappelberg, NexTech AR

In this strange pandemic existence we share, it’s imperative that universities continue to do everything they can to invest in their students’ long-term success. Colleges and universities have an opportunity to redesign how they approach technical and visual-heavy curriculum. By adding the ability to learn via live lectures, AR tools and online assignments, universities can help STEM students stay on track for success and can foster a life-long global citizen mentality that students are able to carry into their professional careers, where knowledge-sharing transcends geography. 

David Cramb is dean, faculty of science and a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biology at Ryerson University in Toronto. Evan Gappelberg is the CEO of NexTech AR part of the augmented reality market, and an accomplished entrepreneur with an expertise in creating, funding and running start-ups.


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