Tag: augmented reality

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1

Well I have finally bitten the bullet and published a selection of my blog musings in paperback form.

The book is entitled E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1 and my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of themes in the modern workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1•   social media
•   learning theory
•   pedagogy
•   instructional design
•   learning styles
•   blended learning
•   informal learning
•   mobile learning
•   augmented reality
•   virtual worlds
•   cloud computing
•   self publishing
•   employee engagement
•   corporate social responsibility
•   religion
•   the future of e-learning

The book is available now at Amazon.com.

When augmented reality isn’t

I’m a big fan of the Powerhouse Museum.

In a world in which everyone loves to bang on about emerging technology, relatively few ever do anything about it. The PhM, however, has the guts to give it a go.

So I was excited to stumble upon their Augmented Reality browsing of Powerhouse Museum around Sydney app for Apple and Android.

Website of Augmented Reality browsing of Powerhouse Museum around Sydney

I love history, I love augmented reality, and I own an iPhone – so a combination of all three proved irresistible.

Unfortunately, though, I was a little bit disappointed.

Here’s why…

1. The title is meh

Exciting initiatives should have a catchy yet self-evident title to attract users like bears to a honey pot. However, Augmented Reality browsing of Powerhouse Museum around Sydney is boring and clunky.

I’d prefer something like Pocket Time Machine: An augmented reality tour of Old Sydney. A bit cheesy, I know, but a lot more interesting.

2. The app focuses on south CBD and the inner west

As the first European settlement on the continent – with a rich indigenous history – Sydney is teeming with sites of historical significance. However the app conspicuously misses the most obvious ones (eg Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and the AMP Building).

Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction

Of course you have to start somewhere and the PhM website does promise a new version, but it refers to contemporary photography and gamification. I’d rather they expand their range into The Rocks and Circular Quay.

3. The app barely augments reality

Since the app is built on the Layar platform, it connects to Google Maps. Select the “i” icon at the relevant location and a photo pops up from the museum’s collection showing you what it looked like 100 years ago. This functionality is excellent, and frankly it could stand alone.

Screenshots of Augmented Reality browsing of Powerhouse Museum around Sydney

The augmented reality component comprises those floating “i” icons, which you’re supposed to select as you hold your device in front of you. Plainly speaking, they’re annoying:King Street on Augmented Reality browsing of Powerhouse Museum around Sydney

There are too many of them – which is confusing;

They are difficult to select – which is frustrating; and,

They have a tendency to get in the way – which defeats the purpose!

In short, the augmented reality component is redundant.

All is not lost

Of course, there is an alternative to abandoning augmented reality.

I suggest PhM follows the lead of the Museum of London and leverages the technology more fully. How? By laying the old photos over the real background.

Screenshot of Streetmuseum

This is what edtech is all about: transforming the educational experience.

Put a map on a smartphone? A crumpled tourist map is just as good; Plug in some photos? Nice touch, but those can be printed too; Lay century-old photos over the modern world in real time? Now that’s novel.

Even better, why not complement the visual with narration to provide a richer multimedia experience?

Who dares wins

As you would have gathered earlier, it is not my intention to pick on PhM. On the contrary, I salute them for having a red-hot go at something new.

Having taken the first step, they have earned the right to sit back and evaluate their app, with a view to making it even better the next time around.

Eye of the tiger

In my previous post, Learning vs Development, I connected Cook-Greuter’s bidirectional view of development to the two sides of the L&D equation: horizontal growth representing the “L” and vertical transformation representing the “D”.

While the former refers to the traditional notion of learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the latter is a more powerful concept. According to Cook-Greuter, “it refers to how we see the world through new eyes, how we change our interpretations of experience and how we transform our views of reality. It describes increases in what we are aware of, or what we can pay attention to, and therefore what we can influence and integrate.”

This reminds me of ecological psychology. When I was studying this subject at university, I found its core concepts such as umwelt abstract and vague. Although I eventually got my head around it well enough to get through, I was never fully satisfied with my depth of understanding.

Then I read The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant.

Now, this book isn’t a high-brow treatise of epistemology, but rather a fascinating story of tiger poaching in the wilds of far-eastern Russia. From this unlikely source I obtained a wonderfully simple explanation of umwelt…

Siberian Tiger

In 1909, an Estonian-born baron-turned-psychologist named Jakob von Uexkull introduced the concept of Umwelt to the world. Uexkull is considered one of the fathers of ethology, which is also known as behavioural ecology. It is a young discipline whose goal is to study behaviour and social organization through a biological lens. “To do so,” wrote Uexkull in “A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men,” “we must first blow, in a fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of those bubbles, the familiar is transformed.” Uexkull called this bubble the umwelt, a German word that he applied to a given animal’s subjective or “self-centered” world.

An individual’s umwelt exists side by side with the Umgebung – the term Uexkull used to describe the objective environment, a place that exists in theory but that none of us can truly know given the inherent limitations of our respective umwelten. In addition to being delightful words to say, umwelt and umgebung offer a framework for exploring and describing the experience of other creatures.

In the umgebung of a city sidewalk, for example, a dog owner’s umwelt would differ greatly from her dog’s in that, while she might be keenly aware of a SALE sign in a window, a policeman coming toward her, or a broken bottle in her path, the dog would focus on the gust of cooked meat emanating from a restaurant’s exhaust fan, the urine on a fire hydrant, and the doughnut crumbs next to the broken bottle.

Woman walking dog on sidewalk

Objectively, these two creatures inhabit the same umgebung, but their individual umwelten give them radically different experiences of it. And yet these parallel universes have many features in common: both dog and mistress must be careful crossing the street, and both will pay close attention to other dogs, if not for the same reasons.

Vaillant then goes on to explain how the success of hunting depends on how well the hunter can step inside the umwelt of his prey and see the world through its eyes.

What’s this got to do with e-learning?

Of course, ecological psychology isn’t new to edtech. Its principles have been applied to video games, online forums and the semantic web, for instance.

However while the screen-based umwelt is obviously important in the modern workplace, I’m also interested in the world around us. And this is where I think technology-assisted games have much to offer.

While the pedagogical benefits of games are well documented in terms of motivation and engagement, their potential to complement authentic umwelts is probably under appreciated.

Airport security

Take airport security for example: consider an augmented reality app designed to train a customs officer to recognise the tell-tale signs of a passenger who is concealing drugs. The officer holds up her device (such as an iPad) to a real checkpoint, over which virtual passengers stream through.

The objective of the officer is to select the passengers whom she suspects of carrying drugs. Each selection prompts an explanation of whether she is right or wrong, and reinforces the reasons why. Combine this with a points system and competition among her colleagues, and she’ll become a mule-busting expert in no time!

Woman in forestAnother example context is environmental science: consider a treasure hunt designed to train a biologist to identify the major vegetation types in a forest.

QR codes are placed on indicator species (such as trees and ferns) along a trail, but out of plain sight.

An initial clue is provided – perhaps descriptions and photos of several plants typically found in a rainforest.

The objective of the biologist is to walk along the trail until he reaches the rainforest gully, find the QR code in the vicinity, scan it with his iPhone, and study the new clue which points him to the next vegetation type. The game is not complete until he finds all the codes and hence familiarises himself with all the vegetation.

In neither of the cases above was the learner’s workplace simulated on screen. The setting was real.

The corollary, then, is that when a person’s performance on the job is highly dependent on their umwelt, a technology-assisted game can help them acquire the “eye of the tiger” in that context.

The two types of augmented reality

My favourite example of augmented reality is now a couple of years old:

While it might not be as flash as the xkcd enthusiasts might demand from this emerging technology, it remains practical and – gasp! – useful in the workplace.

And in one way at least, it is similar to this other famous example:

In both cases, artificial imagery is layered over the real world.

In the BMW example, the real world is on the other side of his glasses. In the Layar example, the real world is on the other side of his (or her?) smartphone.

Compare that with the wicked promo GE did for its Smart Grid:

Ryan watches the plane fly in The Sunday Telegraph's Night at the Museum 2 promo.I tried a similar thing at home when my local newspaper promoted Night At The Museum 2. I put the paper up to my webcam, and like magic a dinosaur skeleton came to life, a giant squid flailed its tentacles, and an aeroplane buzzed around my head.

But are these two latter examples really augmented reality?

By projecting both the digital imagery and the real background onto a computer screen, I would argue they are not actually augmenting reality. Instead, they are augmenting a representation of reality.

It’s just like adding cartoons to a movie set like they did in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, using CGI like they did in Star Wars, or even scribbling a moustache and devil horns onto someone’s photo.

Bob Hoskins & Jessica Rabbit, Jar Jar Binks, and a mistreated basketball coach.

In all these examples, the background isn’t real. It’s film, or light, or paper. In other words, a copy of reality.

Rewind

This insight was genius – at least in my own mind – until I realised that a smartphone doesn’t actually show reality on the other side of itself as do goggles or the viewfinder of an old camera. Instead, the device digitises the image and represents it as pixels on the screen, like a modern camera.

With that in mind, the Layar example is closer to the GE example than it is to the BMW example. Damn!

This was bugging me, and after a period of reflection I think I’ve identified why.

New criteria

To me, the exciting emergent form of augmented reality has the following characteristics…

1. It adopts the user’s personal POV.

When a webcam captures reality and projects it onto a computer screen, it’s not real in the sense that you don’t look at the background in that way (unless you constantly carry a mirror around with you).

A smartphone similarly projects the background onto its screen, but because you are mobile and pointing the device in front of you, it is for all intents and purposes real.

2. It is live.

We don’t live our lives by watching a recording of it. We live it here and now.

Reality is in real-time.

The two types

In light of the above criteria, I recognise two types of augmented reality:

  • Type I Augmented Reality (AR1), whereby the artificial imagery is layered over the background from the personal POV in real-time;

    and

  • Type II Augmented Reality (AR2), whereby the artificial imagery is layered over the background from an impersonal POV or not in real-time.

So this is an example of AR2

…because while the background is certainly real and the POV is personal, it’s not in real-time. It’s a recording.

Compare it to this example of AR1:

So what?

I know I’m being really pedantic, but for workplace learning purposes, it helps to be clear on what we’re talking about.

I think Type I Augmented Reality has amazing untapped potential because we see our workplace from our personal POV in real-time.

Type II Augmented Reality certainly has fantastic uses, but Type I is so much more authentic.

I’m sure we’ll see more AR2, and I hope we do.

However, I’m really looking forward to more AR1!