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Bringing Augmented Reality to Engineering Classes

Bringing Augmented Reality to Engineering Classes

Researchers at the University of Missouri are studying how students use AR to make the technology classroom-ready.
Augmented reality has the potential to bring engineering concepts to life. But it’s not widely used engineering curricula because students lose attention or aren’t comfortable with complex AR images, said Jung Hyup Kim, a professor of industrial engineering at University of Missouri.

Kim leads a new teaching laboratory at the university designed to test and improve AR learning methods. When results are in hand, the university will incorporate AR across its engineering schools.

AR differs from virtual reality in that AR is not immersive—that is, the environment surrounding the AR image is “real,” though it is overlaid with three-dimensional, virtual images. One example is the game Pokémon Go, in which gamers find and catch virtual Pokémon characters within users’ actual environments.

But using AR for gaming and for teaching are two different things. For instance, the components within a digital image might not show up at the right place, or might not show up correctly, which can distract or confuse students, Kim said.
That’s not good when students are looking at, for instance, a 3-D image of a conveyor belt to see how individual parts work together during operation.
The components would also need to be in correctly aligned because students could also interact with the AR image, to see how moving a part would affect the line’s movement, Kim said.

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Kim already knowns AR would help students better understand concepts. Seeing a conveyor belt in action in three dimensions, for instance would give them more insight into how it works than if they’d watched a two-dimensional video or read about it. First, he had to prove it.

His team created an AR-based learning environment using the Microsoft HoloLens. Next, they divided students into two groups: the first group—the control group—learned about an engineering concept the usual way, by watching a video or reading about it. The second group used AR technology to understand the same concept.
The researchers next divided the AR-learning group into two subgroups. Students in the first group’s performance was compared to their retrospective confidence judgment while those in the second group’s was not. RCJ is students’ assessment of how well they did on a test.
The study showed the advantage of using an AR system along with RCJs to improve students’ academic performance, Kim said.
With those results in hand, Kim’s team is studying the best way to use AR in the learning environment. This is where his learning laboratory comes into play.

In Kim’s new lab, students will have a series of stations with different AR experiences. They will stand at a certain spot to complete a module before proceeding to the next. Once they complete the tasks at all stations, students will be tested to ensure they understood the concepts.

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The researchers are using a location tracking device to help better align augmented content with students’ physical environment. They’re using a GPS-based location system to determine where students are and what they’re looking at based on the student’s posture.

The system will ensure students see appropriate images in the right spots so they can understand the context of the image, Kim said.
Next, to determine whether students are really grasping the context of the images, the researchers will track their eye movements.

To see how AR can be made more helpful, his researchers are using mechanisms to analyze eye tracking images while students are watching AR models and images. They’ll be able to tell whether students are paying attention or not based on their eye gaze movement and where they’re looking, he said.

“If they aren’t paying attention to AR or it looks like a student isn't learning, we’ll have to do something to help them reengage or to learn the content,” Kim added.

The researchers expect to develop the AR system that will best help engineering students learning. It will then be integrated into courses across the university.

“We could change content to be used in other classes,” Kim said. “Whatever system we come up with, we can apply anywhere.”

Jean Thilmany is a science and technology writer in Saint Paul, Minn.

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