In the Field

Using augmented reality to enhance ecosystem science field trips.

EcoMOBILE is a research project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, supported by the National Science Foundation and Qualcomm's Wireless Reach initiative, and with resources from Texas Instruments, Inc. EcoMOBILE explores the unique affordances of augmented reality, as well as the capabilities of data collection probeware, to support setting-enhanced learning in environmental science education. Two forms of technology for science education enhance student experience in the real world: probes and mobile broadband devices.

Probes (Texas Instruments NSpires with Vernier probes) allow collection of real-time environmental data similar to the kinds of data real scientists use to monitor water quality in lakes, rivers and wetlands. These probes allow students to collect some of the same data (dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, and pH) that they collected in the companion virtual environment.

MBDs (Mobile broadband devices, or smartphones) allow students to access and collect additional information and clues. Students use EcoMOBILE activities developed with an augmented reality application, to navigate between “hotspots,” view information, answer questions, and observe virtual media overlaid on the physical pond. Students can capture pictures, video, or voice recordings and take these back to the classroom to help make sense of school lessons. Through augmented reality we provide students with visualizations that would not otherwise be apparent in the natural environment (for example, virtual x-ray vision so that they can “see” a virtual carbon atom as it moves through the processes of photosynthesis and respiration). These augmented reality experiences allow students to conceptualize and discuss processes and complex relationships that are otherwise difficult to describe or visualize.