Why does augmented reality fail

Why it's time for more virtual and augmented reality in school

In the classroom to the pyramids or to the world of molecules? No problem. With VR and AR, whole worlds can be brought into the classroom. And that's not all. Teachers can use virtual and augmented reality to turn their lessons into a creative experience that conveys knowledge and is fun. Unfortunately, this often fails due to the technical equipment and the skepticism of the schools.

From Wolfgang Kerler

Dear students, due to a nationwide shutdown, the school building will remain closed from Monday. The lessons then take place at the usual times in our virtual classrooms. At the end of today's school day, please take the VR glasses home with you, which you can borrow until the shutdown ends ...

Well, such an announcement would have solved the shutdown worries of the schools. But unfortunately, the use of virtual reality in the classroom is not that far. In local schools there are still overhead projectors, but hardly any VR glasses. And even if the technical equipment were better: Um normal Simply holding lessons in VR classrooms are still lacking suitable programs and devices. If you still want to try it, you have to improvise. Like a math teacher who takes an hour into the VR world of video games at the beginning of the lockdown Half Life: Alyx misplaced.

Tools such as Mozilla Hubs or AltspaceVR are now sufficient for VR conferences. But the question of whether school lessons completely in VR rooms will bring the desired results has not been clarified - mainly because communication there is restricted. After all, bulky avatars without facial expressions and with rudimentary gestures meet, because most controllers only translate hand movements into VR. Emojis are also not a fully-fledged substitute for body language. "Everything that happens on the non-verbal level is currently being flattened by the approaches of social VR," is how Professor Marc Erich Latoschik, who researches human-computer interaction at the University of Würzburg, summarizes the situation.


This virtual panel discussion from the XR HUB Bavaria and 1E9 was about VR and AR in education. Marc Erich Latoschik from the University of Würzburg was also there.

The good news: It's not that bad. Because even the pioneers in matters of VR and AR in education are not interested in simply replacing the lessons in the physical classroom with VR schools - even if that would be practical in Corona times. You want to use VR and AR to make lessons in school better, more exciting, more interactive and also more fun. When used correctly, virtual and augmented reality can not only lead to a higher level of student motivation, but also to good learning success. This is scientifically proven, as summarized in this paper.

Go on a digital trip around the world - or dissect frogs in AR

In AR, students can suddenly inspect Egyptian sarcophagi with their smartphones or tablets in the middle of the classroom while the teachers point out exciting details. The program, for example, makes this possible Civilizations AR the BBC. Even volcanic eruptions can take place on the school desk. And if that's not impressive enough, the class can travel together to the melting glaciers or the underwater world in VR, guided by their teacher. That's what Google has to offer Expeditions created. VR glasses are not absolutely necessary for this, smartphones and inexpensive cardboards made of cardboard are also sufficient.

The History-The ZDF offer, which is also used in schools, mixes 360-degree videos and interactive game scenes so that classes can experience the story of the cherry bombers, for example. At original digital locations. The app WDR AR 1933-1945 in turn, which Westdeutscher Rundfunk developed specifically for teaching, brings contemporary witnesses, animations and noises into the classroom in augmented reality. Tablets are sufficient for viewing.

For the scientist Sebastian Oberdörfer, these first applications show the potential to illustrate knowledge with VR and AR. "When you suddenly stand in front of a huge dinosaur, you can understand much better how big these animals were back then," he says on the podcast New Realities from 1E9 and the XR HUB Bavaria. Sebastian wants to make a contribution to the fact that young teachers lose their fear of new technologies.

That is why he holds seminars at the University of Würzburg, for which the Chair for Human-Computer Interaction and the Chair for School Education have come together. Future teachers are made familiar with the possibilities of VR and AR. And they even create their own applications. Although many had no experience with virtual and augmented reality, it worked very well so far. “The students were enthusiastic,” reports Sebastian.

A showcase project that emerged in one of the seminars is the plush frog Horst. The likable stuffed animal got a zipper in the belly, behind which a card with an AR marker was placed for each of its organs. Horst can be dissected in AR using a smartphone or tablet. The heart, lungs or kidneys appear in 3D above the markers. For another application, students designed a VR corner shop where students can shop. But only if you place your orders there in correct English. Otherwise you will not receive the products you are looking for.

Sebastian would like VR and AR programs for schools to be more oriented towards computer games in the future. Or even take place in the virtual worlds of well-known games. "If this game suddenly shows up in class, it is a much greater opportunity for identification, a much greater fun factor [for the students] because they can suddenly use what they have fun with at home in class." What he means by that shows this video by YouTuber TheFabo, who created the educational edition of the game Minecraft tests, pretty impressive. Even if it's not yet about the VR version of the game.

Here you can listen to the episode with Sebastian Oberdörfer directly. Alternatively, you can also visit our New Realitites podcast at Listen to and subscribe to Podigee, Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music.

Schoolchildren bring a novel to life in VR

Virtual and augmented reality are not only suitable for better visualizing facts or for sending classes on a playful tour of discovery. Students can use it to get creative themselves - and create entire worlds. The foreign language teacher Stephanie Wössner successfully tested this with a class three years ago.

Steffi had already dealt with VR for a long time. "But all I found were very passive applications in which I should put on VR glasses and then supposedly learn something," recalled Steffi, who is also a speaker at the Baden-Württemberg State Media Center New Realities Podcast. "But I am of the opinion that learning can only take place through activity."

She was then won over by the CoSpaces tool from the German start-up Delightex. With the online app, students and teachers can design 3D worlds for VR and AR, simply by drag and drop and directly in the browser. No previous knowledge is required and images, videos and sound recordings can be integrated. The results can be "viewed" in the browser as well as with VR glasses.

With that, Steffi had the right tool. All that was missing was a plan to convince doubters. “Of course I wanted to avoid the parents coming up and saying: Hey, what's that? It's not a class, ”she says. A ninth grade reading of novels in French then provided the opportunity. Because Steffi had enough of the question-and-answer lessons that often creep in. “The students read a chapter, you ask what is going on, what do the people look like, how do they relate to each other. And that's exactly what bores both me and the student, ”she explains. "That's why I said we'd make the novel come alive."

The students also had to read the novel for this. But not to answer boring questions, but to get creative yourself. They were given the task of retelling individual chapters of the book in the form of diary entries from the perspective of the main character - and then staging these entries in CoSpaces. Including sound recordings of the diary text, which you had to speak yourself. In addition to reading, understanding, writing and speaking, the students also dealt with cultural and historical issues. Because the novel is set in Senegal in the 1960s - and that should also be understandable in VR.

“In the beginning they were very skeptical,” says Steffi about her students. But then the enthusiasm grew and the class got so involved that their project, which is still online, even won prizes. And that despite the fact that the students did most of the work at home after class. Because: "We had Windows XP computers [at school] and it just didn't work."

Here you can listen to the episode with Steffi Wössner and Manuela Müller directly. Alternatively, you can also visit our New Realitites podcast at Listen to and subscribe to Podigee, Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music.

German schools are often hesitant - and not well equipped

Sebastian Oberdörfer is also worried about the poor technical equipment in many schools. Because VR and AR could fail in the classroom. "I hope that the students who complete my seminar in particular become ambassadors to show: Hey, this works, it's super exciting, it can be implemented," he says. And so that there will be even more ambassadors who are also committed to better technical equipment, Sebastian also hopes that the positive experiences with his seminar will inspire other universities.

Leaders like Sebastian and Steffi, who do persuasive work, will need it regardless of the technology. Because German schools are still particularly skeptical when it comes to virtual and augmented reality. At least that's what companies that develop suitable applications report. The company behind CoSpaces is now also concentrating on English-speaking and Asian countries. There, elaborate math labyrinths have long been built in schools, which you can only get through if you can solve arithmetic problems. Or VR worlds in which illnesses are explained in a child-friendly manner. Or entire Mars colonies into which a lot of research has gone. But: "The response in Germany was not what we would have liked," says Manuela Müller from Delightex. Not yet anyway.

After all: the Corona crisis has increased interest. Perhaps this will be followed by a digitization boost for schools that does not stop with equipping them with better WiFi, but goes a step further into the future.

Cover picture: Getty Images