This post is from a 2014 presentation I made at the annual conference of the National Council for Geographic Education. It was a status report of sorts that described location-based augmented reality and a prototype app I was collaborating on with students from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. The description of the technology relates to its status as of early 2014, advances have certainly been made since then.
Due to personal and profession obligations, I had to set the project aside but hope to return to it in the future. To be fair, several of the issues raised in the closing comments have been dealt with. I’ve finally gotten around to posting the presentation here with the hopes of generating some interest in the application of augmented reality in geography education. I welcome potential collaborators in bringing the app to the public.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated media or data onto the real world using a camera and display device. What was once the found in the domain of science fiction writers and movies now made accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality allows the user to interact with a real environment that has been enhanced or augmented with digital objects. Augmented reality has been around for nearly twenty-five years. Today, augmented reality is proliferating as smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology such as Google Glass permeate our culture. There are two primary types of AR implementations: marker-based and markerless.
Marker-based Augmented Reality
Marker-based implementation utilizes some type of image such as a QR/2D code to produce a result when it is sensed typically by a camera and processed by a computer to display a 3-D image. A model of the earth is shown here. Rotating the paper code will rotate the model.
Location-based Augmented Reality
Markerless AR, otherwise known as location-based or position-based augmented reality uses a device’s GPS and compass to locate the user and their orientation to overlay information relevant to their position. Some applications use image recognition in which the camera input is compared against a library of images to find a match. Others can detect and interpret gestures and postures as commands to perform certain functions. You may have a position-based AR app on your smartphone. There are several popular stargazing apps like “Star Walk” on the left that displays the names of constellations, satellites, planets, etc. based on your location, orientation, and time of day. Or Yelp’s “Monocle” that overlays POIs for restaurants, entertainment, etc. with reviews based on your location.
Relevance to Geography Education
In 2011, the New Media consortium who produces the Horizon Reports, identified augmented reality as a “game changing” technology for education. Being able to overlay data onto the real world, augmented reality promotes highly visual and interactive forms of learning. As Sinton e. al. 2014 states in The Peoples Guide to Spatial Thinking, “People have more opportunities than ever before to use “location” as a criterion for making decisions and learning, and that may contribute to greater spatial awareness.” Mobile augmented reality provides educators and curriculum designers with an opportunity to think more deeply about the learner’s context and situation. Augmenting experiences when students are away from their desks, and outside of their classrooms in real-world environments is a key feature of mobile augmented reality. AR offers an innovative environment for creating a “situated learning” experience. Here, a student engaged in the ECOMobile project that has been prompted via a site trigger and given instructions for taking a sample using a dissolved oxygen probe.
Applications in Geography Education: Dynamic textbook content
From the examples presented I think we can see how augmented reality can enhance geography education. Textbook publishers over the last few years have been implementing augmented reality in textbooks to enrich content and make them more interactive. 3-D representations of buildings that can be viewed from a variety of perspectives is a common application. Adding user interaction enhances engagement in the learning activity. Here a submarine can be controlled by on-screen buttons that can move it up or down through a column of water. To my knowledge, such implementation has yet to be found in physical geography textbooks.
Applications in Geography Education: Laboratory experiments
Augmented reality has made its way into the classroom lab. A very creative application of augmented reality to visualize stream processes has been created by faculty at the University of California – Davis. Their augmented reality sandbox
uses a Microsoft Kinetic camera, data projector and powerful simulation and visualization software. Users create topographic models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time to display topographic contours and simulated water. The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as how to read a topographic map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, etc.
Applications in Geography Education: Field study
My interest is in location-based augmented reality. I’m interested in ways to augment field experiences with information related to the context and situation the student is in. Here we see the “Peaks” application
. As the user scans the terrain the names of nearby peaks and distance to them is overlaid.
Using the “Sun Seeker
” app to determine sun angle, azimuth, path length, etc. for your location with the ability to compare with others. Such apps are valuable for teaching earth-sun relations and solar energy use.
Schmeeckle Reserve Field Trip Application
Inspired by these projects and technologies I decided to create a field trip application to explain the biogeography of our local nature reserve. I had two purposes in mind. First was to create an application that students could use for a self-guided field trip. I require a self-guided field trip in a geography of Wisconsin course and an optional field trip in an introductory earth science course. A self-guided field trip gives students more flexibility in when they participate. In the past, a written guide was used. I wished to have a more media and information rich experience for learning about the ecosystems found in the reserve. I also desired to create a means that other field trips could be developed for the application beyond my course. Finally, the app could be used by the reserve for outreach and public education.
is a 280-acre conservancy located on the north side of the UW-SP campus. Granite bedrock of the Wolf River Batholith lies close to the surface creating a thin layer of soil. Much of the conservancy is wetland. In the 1950s much land that would become the conservancy was devoted to agriculture. The unproductive farmland was abandoned and through the years was donated to the University. A major effort of the conservancy is the restoration of ecosystems endemic to central Wisconsin. Visitors can walk five miles of trails and boardwalks through pine and sedge meadows, restored prairies, oak savanna, and cattail marshes. The reserve is a living laboratory for biogeographic and ecological study.
Application development was a collaborative effort between faculty and students from the Geography & Geology Department
and Computing and New Media Technologies
. The application was a capstone project for students in WDMD while students in Geography/Geology obtained independent study credit. Student teams were given specific features for the application but broad latitude over the user interface design. The completed app is to include a free roam mode, a quest mode, route tracking, and a virtual notebook.
The free roam mode is used when there is no particular destination in mind. Scanning the terrain with the camera brings up POI tags of the ecosystems and distance to them. Tapping one of the tags brings up a short description. A slider, not shown here, has been added to set a distance filter for the number of POIs displayed on-screen.
The quest mode is a game where POIs are randomly assigned and the user employees the directional capabilities of their device to navigate to the site. The device’s GPS tracks user movements to show their position relative to a POI indicated on a map with a flag. Upon reaching the point of interest, the flag turns from purple to green. The user lifts the device taps the camera to view site specific information and slide show of images. Here, a short video clip
of the reserve manager is shown describing the site. Quests are logged as finished when the user has reached a site. In future revisions, rectified seasonal photos is planned. The ability to record vegetation photos and notes into a field notebook are planned for the next revision.
Custom Trip Creation
During one of our brainstorming sessions, I mentioned that the app could be used for a variety of audiences. The students came up the idea of map packs. That is, an educator could create a specialized tour of their own to deploy in the app for any location, not just the reserve. The creation of customized trips is enabled through a web form that writes to an xml file. Site title, category, description, image, and lat/long coordinates can be entered. The app logs into the server hosting the form and downloads the xml file onto the device. The images are pulled in from a source URL.
Midway through the project, various institutional roadblocks were thrown in front of us. Though WDMD project had served off-campus clients in the past, a UWSP application like this had not been done before. There were no guidelines for app development and distribution and thus the app sits in limbo awaiting policy development. Though students were quite capable at building the application, UWSP had no course in iOS or Android development while the app was being created. This forced students to basically learn on their own with guidance from WDMD faculty. It took several weeks for students to come up to speed with the skills needed. Obviously, changes in operating system functionality will require updates to the app as time goes by. Because UWSP has been slow at mobile app development, there is an unwillingness to provide long-term maintenance for the application. Similarly, UWSP IT has been unwilling to provide server resources for custom app development and thus off-campus service are currently being used.
Given the general lack of support at this point in time, my future plans are to move additional development off-campus. My desire is to keep it open and free. I’m making this presentation, in part, to make you aware of the potential of continuing to develop the app and widely distribute it. I like to seek either professional organizations such as NCGE or a commercial partner for long-term maintenance support.
It is more likely that I’ll move the project to a new platform. The quest mode currently used dovetails well with the current interest in gamification in education. To move past the institutional roadblocks I have encountered, the app will be ported to the ARIS platform. The ARIS project was developed at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. ARIS provides an online app creator easing the pain of coding an app. Media and spatial data already collected will be ported over to other AR development platform. The app is freely available and a number of games are shared online. The nice feature of ARIS is its ability to incorporate objects that can be picked up by students and saved to a notebook. In the case of my app, students will use the device camera to collect pictures of plant structures, leaves, that represent the vegetation of each ecosystem and also make note of field conditions. Data can be tapped from the reserve remote climatological station. So, the ARIS platform fulfills the need for this project by passing many of the roadblocks I’ve encountered.