Project Reflections: AR & OERs

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My work as a ThinqStudio fellow has revolved around two projects at the center of two of my courses this academic year. This past fall, my students created augmented reality (AR) projects that brought their critical perspectives to bear on selected objects and locations that factor meaningfully into their everyday lives in Denver. In the coming spring, my special topics course will be collaboratively building an open educational resource (OER) devoted to introducing millennials to the intellectual history of computing; more specifically, we will create a series of ten video essays that each explain and contextualize a breakthrough idea in digital innovation, from 1945-2005.   

This latter project derives from my experiences at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in Vancouver last summer. While OERs have long been an important aspect of the open education movement, my first real exposure to the concept came at the DPL. I’ve always aspired to devise assignments that lead students to write for readers beyond the classroom and create multimedia that can be accessed by the audience students wish to reach. The concept of OERs struck me as a particularly relevant framework through which to clarify the aims and payoffs of such work, as well as how it may fit into the wider ecosystem of online intellectual discourse.

The notable OERs that we examined at the DPL all seemed to occupy a space somewhere between peer-reviewed scholarship and student assignments. Each OER was, at least in part, conceived of and curated by a professor or two, while much of the content was created by their students, who each contributed a distinct piece to the larger project. These kinds of OERs are effectively endorsed and disseminated by the professor to academic colleagues in their field (and perhaps relevant publics), thus elevating the stakes and potential significance of student work. Furthermore, OERs tend to be most valuable when they fill a niche that is underrepresented or unaccounted for by a field’s existing textbooks. An OER can serve as a supplement to a popular textbook or as an accessible primer to innovative, complex scholarly work for which there is a dearth of undergraduate-oriented explanatory materials.

The intellectual history of computing will be the niche focus of the OER I’ll be creating with my students this spring. In our age of next big things and planned obsolescence, we tend to think of technological innovation in the present and future tense. Inventors and entrepreneurs often characterize innovation as a process of trial and error. To innovate is to iterate: make a prototype, learn something from it, and make another prototype. At a certain point, once a decade perhaps, all the tinkering and the hacking yields sudden insight into a bigger picture. The prototype, valuable in itself, comes to inspire a larger conceptual paradigm, a different set of questions and possibilities, a new way of envisioning the digital future. The video essays for my course’s OER will be about those pivotal moments, the birth of breakthrough ideas in digital invention. The OER assignment will prompt my students to communicate the vital legacy of these ideas to millennials—the generation of aspiring innovators who, despite having grown up with computers, have inherited no innate knowledge of the technology’s intellectual history. In fact, most of the software developers and programmers I’ve met have never even heard of (let alone read) leading technologists who advanced knowledge in those very fields during the 20thcentury. Our class OER will attempt to fill in these gaps by providing aspiring innovators with an accessible, audiovisual overview of the computer scientists whose legacies have laid the foundation for digital technology as we know it today.

This spring I will also be planning a half-day workshop on “Augmented Reality in Teaching and Learning,” building off my AR work with students this past fall (and my recent publications). The workshop will be designed to introduce educators to the pedagogical affordances associated with emerging AR technologies. Teachers in various disciplines have begun using AR to deliver site-specific content that facilitates experiential learning in public settings relevant to their curricula. For example, professors of architecture use AR to conduct classes in the shadows of the buildings their students are studying; rather than projecting slides in a classroom, the teacher embeds their pedagogical materials onto the architectural site. Similar opportunities for highly contextualized, mobile learning may be developed to serve the pedagogical aims of many academic subjects, from environmental biology and cultural geography to urban sociology and public history. After surveying recent AR projects, workshop participants will brainstorm and prototype some ways in which they might devise an AR lesson to enhance teaching and learning in one of their existing courses.

Of course, in the meantime, I’d love to hear from anyone who’s interested in these two projects (or the broader domain of OERs and AR in general). And I’m particularly keen to hear from anyone who’s pursued similar projects and has any suggestions to offer.

About the author

John.Tinnell
By John.Tinnell