Using Augmented Reality Technology to Enhance Marine Education for Children

Lu, S. -J., & Liu, Y. -C. (2015). Integrating augmented reality technology to enhance children's learning in marine education. Environmental Education Research, 21, 525 - 541.

Education about riparian and ocean ecosystems is important for developing a broader understanding of life on earth. Game play and experiential approaches in outdoor marine ecosystems have been shown to improve the learning experience of young children. By providing interactive and immersive experiences, children's positive feelings increase in relation to their environmental awareness and knowledge. Incorporating marine learning into the classroom, however, can sometimes be more challenging. Many primary schools don't have access to marine environments, and therefore they need to develop teaching methods that would be as effective and fun in the classroom.

In this study, researchers have tested the use of an innovative learning mode that integrates augmented reality (AR) technology with storytelling and game-based tests to educate lower-grade primary school children about riparian and ocean ecosystems of Taiwan. As defined by the authors, “AR applications provide virtual objects and backgrounds, which are simultaneously projected on the real world, to create the sensation of immersion.” The study's main objective was to test this learning mode's effectiveness on the learners' level of engagement, motivation, and knowledge acquisition. In addition, the study aimed to look at potential differences in its effectiveness of the intervention on low versus high academic achievers. The overall aim was to explore new possibilities for experiential learning in the classroom using the capabilities of AR technology.

Designed as an experiment, the research was conducted in 2010 in two elementary schools in Taipei. The participants included 51 male and female students, ages 7 and 8. The four-stage process is explained in detail below.

Stage 1, which occurred over 10 minutes, consisted of an activity that required students to complete a pencil-and-paper questionnaire. The questionnaire included 11 items divided into two challenges: Challenge 1 tested the capacity to match fish with their names and characteristics; Challenge 2 assessed students' understanding of fish habitats and species.

Stages 2 and 3, which lasted a total of 3 hours, consisted of implementing the educational activity, the AR teaching intervention, and the game-based assessment of knowledge acquisition. The activities were led by three teaching assistants (TAs) who provided the students with multimedia devices with preloaded hardware, a conventional digital projector, and a large screen.

The AR teaching intervention was designed in two parts: the first consisted of an interactive storytelling instructional activity and an interactive game-based test. In the first part, the teacher played the role of a storyteller who guided students through the adventure of a virtual water drop that traveled through the freshwater areas and coastal areas, and into the ocean of Taiwan. Simultaneously, the TAs—who wore special AR vests—took parts in roleplaying 13 different species of fish encountered in each marine ecosystem traveled by the water drop. The AR vests included digital markers with codes for different fish species (which are considered “learning objects”). When each AR marker was scanned during the role-playing activity, a 3D virtual model of the particular fish species represented by the TA was displayed onto a screen. The students could then interact with the 3D model and closely observe the fish characteristics.

The learning content (i.e., water cycle, habitats, and characteristics of each species) was thus delivered using an engaging approach that combined storytelling and role-play with the AR technology.

The second part included two game-based tests designed to assess knowledge acquisition. Game 1, called “Fish Home,” measured knowledge regarding the ecological distribution of fish. Game 2, called “Save the Fish,” measured knowledge regarding fish characteristics and habits through small-group competition. The children played one game at a time, engaging with the AR display system through somatosensory interaction with the virtual platform. Some children used specific gestures to indicate correct/incorrect answers on the screen, while others participated in the game by giving advice or encouragements. The interactive platform gave feedback on incorrect answers to reinforce learning messages.

Finally, Stage 4, which occurred over 30 minutes, used two questionnaires to measure learning achievements and learning motivation. The posttest learning questionnaire was a replica of the pretest but used a different order for the 11 questions; the motivation questionnaire consisted of 14 questions measuring confidence and satisfaction based on a 4-point Likert-type scale (1 = highly disagree, 4 = highly agree) adapted for this age group.

The survey findings suggested that the innovative instruction mode was matched with high confidence levels (3.59/4) of students and was received with high levels of satisfaction (3.62/4). Together, those two dimensions indicated that the AR marine learning activity increased the motivation of the elementary school children toward natural science learning. Moreover, posttest scores (9.80/11) were significantly higher than pretest results (5.23/11), revealing a significant improvement in knowledge and understanding of fish species and habitats. This outcome reflects the potential of the new instruction mode to enhance learning outcomes related to marine education.

Finally, the research examined for differences in the activity's effectiveness with students who were considered to be low achievers in comparison with those who were considered to be high achievers, categorized based on pretest results. Findings showed the AR marine learning mode created equally positive learning motivation for both groups, but that the activity was more effective for improving the learning performance of students who were initially in the low-achievement group; thus, this activity allowed them to reach the level of those who were initially in the high achiever group.

The Bottom Line

<p>Augmented reality (AR) technology may provide a promising opportunity to teach elementary-aged children about marine environments in the absence of experiential learning. By creating a visual layer of information, this technology can complement educational games and storytelling to provide a more complete immersive experience. Tested in two schools of Taipei, the approach enhanced students' memory skills and learners' motivation; it was also particularly helpful to those students who were initially classified as low academic achievers. Still relatively in its infancy, the use of AR technology to enhance classroom learning holds a potential worth exploring in different settings and with various environmental disciplines.</p>