How Likely Is It For Google To Disrupt Education?
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How Likely Is It For Google To Disrupt Education?

Humans have been trying to escape or alter their reality through the 'natural' methods of alcohol and certain plants for thousands of years.

Virtual worlds in books and televisions have been around for hundreds of years. Computer games, Disney and authors have long created whole new worlds in which people could escape in to for a few hours.

Now in the last few decades, we have begun to 'augment' our own reality through smartphones and the ill-fated Google Glasses.

What Is Augmented Reality?

Technology has now advanced to the point where we can add elements of these virtual worlds to our world. This is known as Augmented Reality (AR). You will sometimes hear VR & AR being grouped together under the slightly pompous term “Extended Reality”.

AR programs are most often accessed through a smartphone and have proved popular with the younger generation. Examples include the Pokemon Go game and the Snapchat social media app.

So far these AR programs have mainly been about fun. Like their VR predecessors, they were created with the intention of providing a few moments of escape from reality.

What Does This Have To Do With Education?

Education boards have been eagerly jumping on the AR bandwagon. The logic goes that students are bored with textbooks and get distracted by exciting content on their smartphones. So lets put smartphones to use in the classroom.

The results have been mixed.

A Harvard review showed students engage with the technology but with little impact of learning and exam scores.

Just as Pokemon Go & Snapchat have struggled to remain profitable after the initial hype died down, “Extended Reality” learning is seen as a distraction in most classrooms.

What Are The Problems With AR In Education?

The world of digital technology moves very fast compared to the world of education. Education progresses in careful, slow steps. It needs time to adapt from textbooks and memory-based, written exams to use technology in the syllabus.

AR also suffers from being looped in with technology more broadly. Teachers want students to be more “present” in their classrooms, not isolated and staring at their phones.

Educators do not fully understand the AR world and are often baffled by the underlying technology. As a consequence, nobody is quite sure what they should be doing with it.

AR programs are expensive and fraught with risk. In a world of budget cuts, it is tough to greenlight a long, expensive project for something currently famous for its lack of impact on learning.

Ultimately, everybody is looking for someone else to take the lead.

Google To The Rescue

Google is well known for disrupting the way we find and consume information.

They have moved on from their humble beginnings as a search engine and now offer many of the features and resources of a traditional MOOC. Through Search, Youtube and their online university, they have helped thousands of students learn new skills.

Recently, they have taken a bold new step in moving AR closer to providing real value to educators as well as students.

How Google Has Been Extending Reality

As perhaps the definition of an innovative, tech startup, it is no surprise that Google has been investing heavily in building the future rather than waiting for it.

Google first brought ‘Extended Reality’ to the masses when they launched the $10 VR Cardboard Headset back in 2014. At a time of $1,000 headsets, these enabled anyone with a smartphone to experience the magic of VR.

At their 2019 I/O developer conference, Google unveiled something that will move AR from fun past time to a valuable educational resource.

They are going to add AR functionality to Google Search results.

The demonstration by Aparna Chennapragada, Google’s Augmented Reality Chief, showed a great white shark swimming around the stage and a human muscle rendered in 3D.

Why Does This Matter To Educators?

Google made it clear that the addition of AR to search results was intended to help people better learn about the world around them. The CEO, Sundar Pinchai, even used the word “understanding” whilst announcing the product.

"Sometimes what's most helpful in understanding the world is being able to see it visually."

Aparna Chennapragada expanded on this by saying AR “would help students explore new concepts or see how consumer goods would match with their current possessions.”

What Does This Have To Do With Formal Education?

Extended Reality is not an underfunded idea in education. Research by EdTechXGlobal showed EdTech spending will reach $252 billion by 2020.

Nor is it struggling for adoption. According to Gartner, by 2021, 60% of U.S. higher education institutions will be using technology to create simulations and immersive learning environments.

So far, the world of education has struggled to convert this time and money into effective learning programs and educational tools.

What they need is something cheap, simple and standardized. Something a lot like the textbook when it first came out.

This is exactly what Google is offering.

Here Are Some Of The Benefits Of The Google System

  • The reach of Google Search will ensure everyone is familiar with using AR to access information.
  • The software is open source so anyone could augment their own reality through “just a few lines of code”.
  • Google is offering free training on AR which will help educators and students alike understand how it works.
  • The open source underlying code could form a universal standard that will allow schools and students to collaborate.
  • It removes the need for expensive, single-use tech like headsets in favor of the more common smartphone.

All Systems Go?

This revolution will not happen overnight. Just as smartphones took a while to disrupt the classroom, AR needs to wait a while longer for the spotlight.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Whatever they say, Google created the AR functionality to help businesses sell things. The world of EdTech will need to shape it into something suitable for schools.
  • As yet nobody is ready for smartphones or tablets to fully replace textbooks.
  • Having the answer presented from a quick search is not learning or development.
  • The current examination system is not ready for manual, experiential learning over static, memorized answers.

What Does The Future Hold For Google And Education?

A long-term goal would be to integrate AR and the Machine Learning feedback loops that Google are currently developing. This would mean real-time assessments and personalized feedback for students, an extremely helpful feature in creative, language and coding tasks.

In the short term, the biggest impact of Google’s AR update will come from the fact that it is open source (freely available) and supported by free training modules.

This means that instead of being passive consumers of whatever is on their screen, students will be able to create AR content. This will be of incredible value as they move into a world where computer programming and virtual creation are increasingly in demand.

The big question is whether educators will be able to keep pace with students as they explore and master AR outside the classroom.

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