We are finding more and more applications for extended reality in our lives that help us enjoy interactive and sensory experiences in real or fictitious environments. Extended reality (XR) is the area including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). This technology can be used in different settings in order to improve efficiency for companies, basic services such as education and health, or simply for entertainment.
First, the different technologies within the realm of extended reality should be distinguished:
-Virtual reality applications create a world parallel to the environment around the user. This world is normally is viewed through special VR headsets. Users can then interact with that world. One of the biggest advantages of this technology is that the person interacting with the virtual world is completely immersed in it, so the world can be controlled completely to make them feel emotions and even make them modify behavior. It is very useful for simulations and preparing people to confront new situations. However, when used in class, it isolates the user from the others. There are new collaborative virtual reality applications that allow multiple people to enter the virtual world and interact with it together. Under the category of virtual reality we can include 360º videos, which project real images recorded with a 360 VR video camera, which creates an almost real environment. There are currently a number of applications that allow users to interact with environments recorded in 360 degrees, allowing them to actively participate in decision-making that will bring them to one scenario or another. One example of virtual reality is the simulated world portrayed in the film The Matrix. A few examples of virtual reality devices include the HTC VIVE Pro headset (made by HTC), the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest headsets (by Facebook), and models compatible with Google Cardboard, which work with standard smartphones.
-Augmented reality allows us to use a mobile device to observe extra information about the real world around us by projecting virtual elements over a real backdrop. This is akin to the movie Terminator when the robot looked at a target and saw information about that person. AR allows us to find out more details about what we’re looking at and enrich the experience. It’s not as immersive or sensory as virtual reality, so it does not drum up as many emotions, giving a different sort of utility. Augmented reality, in particular, is already being successfully applied to tourism (in museums like the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid), video games (Pokemon Go), architecture and engineering (to show prototypes), interior design (IKEA), and it is being used more and more in education. In this sector there are many educational applications where 3D projections of information and explanations of the details are useful. A software application is required to use it. This software projects the 3D image once the device has been pointed toward a marker. This marker can be an image added to reality (like the lightning bolt used by the application Zappar), which is called a fiducial marker, or it can be a real image or location. In the latter case, it allows for more information to be provided about a place or monument, or even to provide images of how it once looked in its heyday.
-Mixed reality applications incorporate characteristics of both of the technologies mentioned above (virtual and augmented reality). Special mixed reality headsets are required that allow us to interact both with people and objects in the real world, which can be modified in the virtual world, or with components of the virtual world that can impact the real world. Mixed reality headsets have cameras that recognize manual gestures that allow users to browse through option menus and interact with virtual objects. Currently, the most popular mixed reality headsets are Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap One.
Virtual and augmented reality are a technology key to higher education in the medium term according to the reports NMC Horizon Report 2018 (Educause, 2018) and Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2018 (Gartner, 2018).
This technology clearly benefits the world of education when it is combined with learning methodologies based on simulation and/or gamification. Simulation allows professional scenarios to be represented in a virtual or simulated environment that mimics a professional environment, where students practice while demonstrating whether they have the specific professional skills being worked on in the simulation. Gamification, in turn, motivates students to learn and improve their skills to overcome challenges and achieve.
Applications of Augmented Reality in Higher Education
Augmented reality can be a very powerful tool when it combines paper resources with digital projections of 3D elements, videos, images, and text. These resources can help students easily understand the real-world application of a complex concept they are studying at the time. Since it makes learning more experiential, it improves performance, motivation, and satisfaction. If information is also shown to the student in a gamified manner (through an escape room, a treasure hunt, scavenger hunt, and/or challenges), student motivation increases even more.
Another benefit of augmented reality is the power to tangibly observe something that would not be possible to observe in the real world without other more complex techniques. For example, students can see a microscopic object, such as the bisection of a cell, look at the roots of a plant when they point the device at it, view an organ in the human body when the device is pointed at a person, render an ancient Roman village when the device is pointed at the ruins, etc. Three-dimensional images allow students to understand the content better than they would with only an explanation.
Thanks to mixed reality, students can interact with virtual objects in real environments in collaboration with other students. Mixed reality is quite likely to enter into our lives as yet another element and we will likely get used to wearing headsets or even contact lenses – research along this line is quite advanced – to observe all of our reality in addition to augmented reality.
Universidad Europea has committed to this technology with an extended reality laboratory (XR Lab), a space designed for research and development of educational resources based on virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality technology, focused on improving students’ learning and experience through simulations that put students in contact with real case studies from the professional world.
The Universidad Europea School of Social Sciences and Communication has a Research and Action group called “Simulation in the Classroom: Virtual and Augmented Reality.” The group is comprised of the following professors: Eva Ropero (IP), Esther Alba, Luana Gava, María del Pilar López Portillo, Marina Mattera, Lidia Moreno, Eva Romero, María Concepción Saavedra, and Raquel Ureña.
With the support of the XR Lab, this group has used augmented reality mainly in two different activities:
-UE AR Trivia. An application that shows the university campus in 3D over a template that allows users to access trivia about a chosen school/area/subject. During the first pilot test, upon entering university building E – a School of Social Sciences and Communication building – users were able start a trivia quiz with questions about law. Students can compete to see who knows the most about the subject and, when they are incorrect, they receive instant feedback that explains the correct answer.
The results were very positive, with all students stating that they found the activity to be useful to better understand that content of the subject and that the use of technology motivated them to learn more. 86% of students claimed to be satisfied with the activity.
-Augmented reality scavenger hunt “Environment Day.” In the 2017-18 and 2018-2019 academic years one day was dedicated to the environment and sustainability. The day included an augmented reality-based scavenger hunt about circular economies. In it, all the challenges that participants had to complete appeared as videos, audio recordings, websites, or online questionnaires when they pointed their devices at the panels for each stage. A focus group was made with the student participants in the first edition. They responded at the end of the event and three months later. We’d like to emphasize that they not only enjoyed the activity, they still remembered the key messages three months later. The key results from the first edition were:
oThe use of augmented reality increased motivation.
oThe experience improved retention of the lesson.
oAwareness of circular economies was raised.
oIn the second edition, on May 9, 2019, 60 responses were received from students who participated. The key takeaways were:
o93.33% of students claimed to be very satisfied or satisfied with the activity.
o80% of students believed that they had learned more thanks to the use of technological resources.
o88.33% of students believed that the activity helped them to better understand the content.
HP Reveal was used in the first edition and Zapworks was used in the second. The first allowed an image to be used to directly cue the augmented reality, while Zapworks required a fiducial (in the shape of a lightning bolt). With HP Reveal, students needed to sign up with the professor’s account while this was not required with Zapworks. Finally, Zapworks allowed several layers of reality to be added, and even timing could be incorporated (after viewing one object, it would be followed by another).
Along with the XR Lab, the School of Biomedical and Health Sciences developed the BM LEARN project, a biomolecule and plasmic membrane viewer. This application allows for different types of molecules to be viewed with augmented reality, among other applications.
Degree Program Coordinator and Subject Coordinator Guides:
Augmented reality was introduced into the Office of the Vicerrector of Professors and Research, which projected videos and additional information about the contents of the Degree Program Coordinator and Subject Coordinator Guides. In this case, the technology used was HP Reveal and HP Reveal Studio.
ERASMUS+ project: “Teaching and learning with technology in higher education.”
This extended reality experience caused Universidad Europea to lead an Erasmus+ project within the area of strategic higher education associations co-funded by the European Union through the SEPIE (Spanish Service for the Internationalization of Education). In this project, in collaboration with the European University Cyprus and Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia, technological tools and user guides will be developed for professors that wish to use technology-based teaching methodologies (gamification, extended reality, online). We will also be able to rely on the experience of the company Stratesys Technology Solutions, which will add learning analytics instruments that will be able to be used by anyone who uses the tools created by the project. Content based on these methodologies will also be created. With it anyone interested will be able to learn about the basic topics (finance, business, law, etc.) in a more interactive way. We are mainly looking to reach disadvantaged groups who will be able to improve their situation and narrow the social divide with the help of this training.
Further information about the project: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/projects/eplus-project-details/#project/2019-1-ES01-KA203-065558
Members of the project:
Coordinator: Eva Ropero
Internal coordinator: Esther Alba
Participants: Esperanza Calvo Centeno, Guillermo Castilla Cebrián, Luana Gava, María del Pilar López Portillo, Sila Marcos Alsina, Marina Mattera, Lidia Moreno Blesa, María José Peset González, Eva Romero Ramos, María Concepción Saavedra Serrano, and Raquel Ureña Joyanes.