We've started a series of blogs highlighting the thoughts and journeys of our staff members as they explore AR. Today we introduce Head of Product, Anna Morris-Peters.
New tech is scary. I get it. Even after working in software development for many years I still get that sinking, gut-heavy, swallowed-a-bag-of-marbles feeling when faced with unknown tech. The idea of it is exciting. Like, oh my goodness, I can apply this to so many situations. But using it? And on my own? It’s sweaty-palm time. What if I get it wrong? Or worse, what if I’m sneered at for exploring tech as a woman?
I’m not alone in this fear, and it shows in the stats: According to Women in Technology only “one-in-six tech specialists in the UK are women, only one-in-ten are IT leaders”. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of people nowadays who wholeheartedly encourage and admire women working in and using technology (I work with some of them), but the change is not happening fast enough. To speed it up, and to assure it, we need to focus on young minds.
If you’re over 30, you’ll probably remember that school lessons were very gendered. I didn’t see women using tech and, many years later, still feel like I’m carrying this impression around like a spectral Mrs Beeton. Stick to what you know, girl. Well, screw you Beeton. I ain’t stickin’. I’m gonna try every bit of technology I can get my hands on and I’d encourage you to do the same.
You see, being visible when exploring tech, especially if you are in a teaching position, is vital. Young girls need to see that tech is also for them, and the boys need to see that too. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I want you to really think about it. I want you to look critically at your relationship with tech and ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can to be comfortable. Do you have nagging doubts? You may think it won’t matter - other teachers will do it - surely you don’t have to be the tech savvy one? But it does matter. A lot. You may engage a young mind in a way another teacher won’t. You may have the trust of a little girl that sees you as their go-to-model for how to be a grownup.
And let’s not forget a relaxed and positive view of tech is going to be much more important for future generations. It’s not just going to form part of their everyday relationship with the world, but it’ll also shape their careers. The more prepared they are, the better lives they will lead. We know it’s imperative children are taught the value of the non-digital world - nature and our relationship with it - but every single aspect of our lives will involve tech. Being comfortable with it will make it possible for new generations to achieve their goals and that includes saving the planet.
Ok, so deep breath. Let’s learn about Augmented Reality; a technology that can and will transform your classroom in the future. I’ll start by explaining a little of how it works - to dispel the fear of the unknown - and then talk through a few cool ways of exploring it.
In short, AR places digital objects in the real world, in real time. Most recently, we’ve seen it in apps like Pokemon Go, but examples of AR have been prevalent in sci-fi films for decades. Remember Terminator? Arnie’s character is able to see information about his target, overlaid on his current viewpoint. The information adapts depending on where he looks, thanks to his built-in AR lens.
A few years later came the release of Back to the Future II. In this we see Marty McFly terrified by a hologram of Jaws. This example of AR would require a projector to be mounted on the cinema as Marty isn’t wearing the required tech to ‘see’ it himself.
And that’s where our modern day devices come in. Without a sci-fi holographic projector, we need our smartphone, tablet or goggles to behave like Arnie’s android eyes and overlay the digital objects into the real world. But how can this enhance our lives?
Well, there are SO many applications for this technology, not just for games like Pokemon Go. In the not-so-distant future, AR will be prevalent in all aspects of society. Take retail for example - fancy saving yourself a heap of money by seeing just how that tropical print sofa will look with that paisley carpet? Last year, homeware giant Ikea released an app that enables you to place digital products in your room to see how they look before you buy.
Health is another area - some surgeons believe AR will help make operations safer and cheaper by overlaying information that would normally be on a separate screen, onto the patient. Information like heart rate, anaesthetisation time remaining or depth of incision required. They see AR becoming “as commonplace as the use of a stethoscope”. Pretty nuts, right?
I’d suggest that it’s the immediacy of information shown in the examples above which provides a great opportunity for education. Smart devices are prevalent nowadays - there isn’t a need for specialist equipment - and they provide simple accessibility to an engaging experience. Add these factors together and you have a quick and easy classroom tool that can be applied to a variety of lessons. Even something like colouring can have a new and engaging makeover - take Quiver for example. It uses printed colouring pages to enable kids to explore educational facts or just simply play.
Alternatively, you can explore the educational potential for AR without any cost at all by using the Curiscope Virtuali-tee free tracker. You can download the app for free and point it at the printable tracker to experience the wonders of the digestive system. It’s an engaging and gruesome way to learn about the body. There are some suggested lesson plans on our website and the Curiscope support team are happy to answer any questions.
Whatever you choose to explore though, do it with abandon. Just dive in and experiment. There’s so much to gain here and absolutely nothing to lose. Show it’s fun to try tech and it is ok to fail. Let me say that again: It is OK to fail.
I wish I’d had a woman in my childhood I could relate to who embraced STEM. One who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at exploring the capabilities of technology. You can be that woman. Push past any fear of trying new tech for the sake of the girls in your classroom and, above all, enjoy it.