Find out how the new collaborative Discover Geology app is helping to reveal information and artefacts beneath your feet.
Using mobile technology is becoming second nature to people of all ages. The widespread adoption of mobile devices is opening up rich opportunities to develop mobile apps that can enhance teaching and learning experiences, not just in colleges and universities, but also in schools and among the wider public.
In particular, the potential of augmented reality (AR) seems pretty unlimited in its ability to open up tricky or dry subjects to spark curiosity and extend learning in fresh, new ways. Take fossil hunting - back at school that may have been pretty dull for most of us, but we’ve been working on a collaboration to develop the Discover Geology app and to prove that, with a bit of imagination and application, geology rocks!
Discover Geology app
Until recently, finding out how the world used to be was hard work and even clues that were right under your feet were easy to miss. But our new Discover Geology app co-developed by Matt Ramirez and the SCARLET team at Mimas, the University of Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, the Engineering and Physical Sciences eLearning Team and the Manchester Museum, demonstrates that finding interesting information and even artefacts in a geographical location has become, well, reality.
Primarily aimed at MSc Environmental Science students, the app has been developed to allow them to understand the landscape around them and unlock hidden information using hotspots via the AR application. It also offers plenty to tempt anyone who simply enjoys a walk in the countryside.
To see if we were on the right track, we recently sent a coachload of students and members of the wider public to the Peak District’s Hope Valley to try out our app. Discover Geology allows users – singly or in groups - to enhance their walking experience and learn more about the geological history of the Hope Valley. It offers expert and engaging academic commentary as well as practical instructions such as how to get to interesting locations when the path isn’t obvious. There is a fossil-finder, so that users can be directed to precise locations where fossils can be seen in situ. The oohs and aahs from the party were encouraging as details about the surrounding area were revealed interactively, such as how Blue John was formed and why it is so rare and precious, what happened to Devil’s Arse (renamed the Peak Cavern to save the blushes of Queen Victoria) and what sort of sea creatures lived millions of years ago where nearby Castleton now stands. How’s that for a superb educational tool?
Comments from those who took part were really positive and showed the app’s broad appeal. Blogger MancOnline said:
“All in all, the app made us take paths we didn’t consider, stop and examine rocks we would’ve otherwise ignored, find tiny fossils, and see our trip as more than a casual walk in the hills."
He’s written a blog post about his experience.
Comments also included one from Lauren Field, a museum collections trainee who said how much she would have loved to have had the tool available on field trips while she was at university, and one from Peter Lythgoe of Manchester Business School, who highlighted how Discover Geology demonstrates that it is possible to construct activities for distance or part-time learners that are functionally equivalent and of similar quality to traditionally mediated lessons.
Teething issues - caught between a rock and a hard place
Inevitably, we hit some issues, as you’d expect when trialling something new. Some people didn’t have smart devices; the glare from the sun made screens hard to see; Wi-Fi signal strength varied and there was a risk of people tripping while looking at their screens.
Another issue with any constant use of an app is the battery life of each device. Maximising use of Map View and using Live View as little as possible can help with that, but it rather negates the point of using AR in the first place - but now we know it’s an issue it is relatively easy for people to bring back-up power sources out with them.
We hope Discover Geology will demonstrate that AR really has the power to engage, and to spark the curiosity that people need to have about a subject if they are going to learn more about it. My colleague – Matt Ramirez (Mimas’ lead AR developer) -saw this first hand when a project with year 6 pupils from Oswald Primary School aimed to bring display cases to life. The children guest curated the faiths cases at Manchester’s The John Rylands library, selecting items and information for display that their peers will relate to and providing an extra layer of interpretation through AR. It enables children to get closer to the artefacts via 3D models that they can rotate and scale, find out fun facts, and answer questions to unlock further resources. It is a fresh approach to another potentially dry subject.
We’ll continue to work on developing the Discover Geology app using feedback from the trip to the Hope Valley and we hope it will be used as an exemplar for developers in other subject areas, informing their own bright AR ideas.
To find out more about the app as it currently stands, watch this short video from Dr Ian Hutt, distance-learning lead, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences:
You can also read more in Matt’s recent blog post.
To download, install the Junaio browser then, once the app is open, search for 'Discover Geology'.
Contact the team
Please feel free to contact Matthew Ramirez (lead AR developer) or Laura Skilton (project manager) to see how the team at Mimas can help you develop AR apps, or register to attend the new Jisc Netskills training course, to be held on Wednesday 4 December 2013. You can also join the JiscMail AR-Discuss e-mail list or follow us on Twitter @team_scarlet.