Clarke, E., Gluck, S., & Golan, A.
Walking into a classroom you will find it does not look like it did fifty years ago, it might even look different than it did just a decade ago. One reason for that change is technology. In front of many students in a university lecture hall is a laptop on which they take notes. Even in primary and secondary schools, computers, smart boards, tablets, and other technologies take up space in their rooms. For many educators, “every new tool seems like a possible solution, although sometimes we really don’t know what the problem is or even if there is one” (De Bruyckere, Kirschner, & Hulshof, 2016). One of these new tools appearing in the modern classroom is augmented reality (AR). Briefly, augmented reality is the technology used to superimpose information on what we see (Emspak, 2018). AR has been mostly used in education as a way to motivate students and has been shown to improve students’ performance, engagement, and attitudes (Cortez, 2017).
Although there have been studies conducted on the use of augmented reality, there are gaps in the research. We have chosen to focus our analysis of AR in space science education for that reason. Space science is what “makes us look outwards from our planet, to the stars and beyond” (European Space Agency, 2019). In the context of education, it is the connection between the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, planetary science, geology, and others that deal with what is beyond Earth. If you take a look at those fields, you might notice that many universities offer courses covering those subjects. The courses are often full of very heavily conceptualized information that may be difficult for students to grasp. It is not always easy to be able to grasp how gravity affects different objects once outside our own atmosphere without seeing it in action. It is possible that augmented reality can help and offer a more visual representation of these hard to grasp concepts. Therefore, in our exploration, we will try to answer the question: How can augmented reality be used to support space science courses in higher education?
The Use of Augmented Reality in Space Science Education
Definition of Augmented Reality
While augmented reality (AR) has only gained traction in more recent years, it has existed for much longer. Technologists argue for how long exactly though. Some contend it was first conceptualized in 1901 by L. Frank Baum who mentioned electronic spectacles that super-imposed data onto people whereas most state it was Ivan Sutherland in 1968 with his head mounted display named ‘The Sword of Damocles’ which produced wireframe rooms and graphics (Dhaniwala & Jaimini, 2016).
Image Credit: 3rockAR
Although, it was not until Boeing engineers Caudell and Mizel (1992) created a headset that allowed factory workers to augment their vision of what they are manufacturing or assembling with useful and dynamic information that term augmented reality came to being (p. 660). In the 26 years since then, AR has evolved and complexified as technology has steadily progressed. Despite these changes in technology, the vision of AR and its accompanying definition has not really changed. “It is simply integrating or projecting digital/virtual information on the real/physical world” (Dhaniwala & Jaimini, 2016, p.2368). Augmented reality is the combination of a hardware device, be it a headset or a mobile device, a software system, and a physical object or environment. AR software systems often utilize visual odometry which either detects interest points using camera/imaging processing methods or relies on mathematical models to compile coordinates in identifying the physical objects subject to the augmented information (Dhaniwala & Jaimini, 2016).
It is important not to confuse augmented reality with virtual reality (VR). While AR enhances the real world, VR replaces the real world with a simulated one (Martin, Bohuslava, & Igor, 2018).
Overview of AR in Education
Before identifying the use of augmented reality in space science, it may be helpful to briefly review its use in education as a whole. Cabero and Barroso (2016) predict AR will have a high penetration into all levels of education through 2021. They also think that the capabilities of AR are only limited by our imagination. “The coexistence of virtual objects and real environments allows learners to visualize complex spatial relationships and abstract concepts, experience phenomena that is not possible in the real world, interact with two- and three- dimensional synthetic objects in mixed reality, and develop important practices and literacies that cannot be developed and enacted in other technology-enhanced learning environments” (Wu, Lee, Chang, & Liang, 2013, p. 41). AR can be incorporated into many pedagogies including place-based learning, participatory simulations, problem-based learning, role-playing, and scaffolding (Wu, Lee, Chang, & Liang, 2013). These authors also cite a number of empirical studies that suggest AR can help learners develop knowledge and skills more effectively than other technology-enhanced learning tools. This is one of the reasons why we have chosen to explore the use of AR in space science education.
Like previously mentioned, space science is the intersection of many fields that have some relation to space. Many of these fields study phenomena and concepts that are not easy to grasp or difficult to demonstrate. That is why AR is crucial in space science education. Yen, Tsai, and Wu (2013) suggest AR can solve several problems related to learning. These include:
- Concepts of subjects that may be excessively abstract
- Subjects requiring dangerous experiments
- Subjects that require long periods of time for observation
- Difficulty in creating optimal surroundings for observation/experimentation
In the case of their study, Yen, Tsai, and Wu apply these to space science subset of astronomy. However, they carry over to subjects like gravitational studies, astrophysics, and others that we have mentioned already and those we may address throughout the rest of this chapter.
A Look at AR in Space Science Education
In a typical university program about Earth and space science, students may take classes in environmental studies, elementary meteorology, astronomy, intro to the teaching of science, physics, and educational psychology. Since most of the AR technology and related apps in Space Science Education are related to astronomy, in this section we will look into astronomy education as a case study for the application of AR in space science education.
Traditional Methods in Space Science Education
Traditional space science lectures are based on lectures and media files. For instance, in the Astronomy class: Introductory to the Solar System, taught at The Ohio State University, audio recordings are important parts of the lectures. Here is an example of a lecture about the gravitational force:
In addition, the theoretical content that contains relevant formulas is provided on a web page:
A collection of related short movies available as part of the course page is also an excellent resource for the students. The problem is that the videos are only offered in QuickTime format, which requires the installation of proper video software to watch the videos. To provide more attractive resources, the class also includes links to NASA. Although the NASA links are useful, the students must leave the course page, and move to web resources that can have a pedagogical structure different than the class lectures. Furthermore, the students can get distracted by the new website since the students are no longer on the class page.
The following is a lecture about the theory of formation of planets given in an Astronomy class at Yale University .
At the University of Sydney, the introductory class for Astronomy is using PDF lectures with embedded images as the primary educational content. Here is an example for a lecture about the Galaxies. The course page also refers the students to external resources for learning about different aspects of the material. Meanwhile, at the University of California, San Diego, the lectures are delivered via web pages, that include embedded colorful images. There are also external links for providing extra resources. Since the course designer has no control over the availability of the links, it is possible that some of the links will break over time. Here is a lecture about star formation. The following is an example of a resource that explains the phenomenon of Galaxy formation.
Similar to the course page at Ohio State University, there are also links for different movies that require the installation of a designated software.
Expanding Horizons with AR
The traditional astronomical observation instruction is considered to be a difficult topic to teach since the instruction is based on outdoor phenomena that depend on time, weather and terrain condition (Zhang et al., 2014). The utilization of AR in astronomical observation instruction removes this limitation of time and place. In a different study, a researcher showed that the relationship between the sun and earth could be studied by using AR. With this technology, the orientation and coordination of a virtual sun and earth are changing according to the viewer’s perspective (Shelton et al., 2004). AR has the potential to replace traditional teaching method with more interactive lessons that enable the students to experience different realities while they study in a safe environment. Here is a video that demonstrates the amazing possibilities of using AR application
At the university of California, students developed a sandbox in order to teach about different concepts of earth science. Using this Sandbox , the users can create their own topography models by manipulating the sand with their hands.
Image Credit: University of California
With the use of AR, the students can study the galaxies. SkySafari is an augmented reality sky charting application that can map the sky. Another similar example is a commercial product: Universe2Go which is a personal planetarium.
For people that cannot afford the cost of commercial products, Sky Chart is a free app that offers a graphical representation of the night sky.
Image taken from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/star-chart/id345542655
This Sky chart app is equipped with an AR feature that tracks the user’s view and shows different areas in the sky accordingly. The app also includes in-app purchase of extensions such as Extended Solar System, Extended Star Catalog.
Replacing Traditional Methods with AR
AR has the potential to transform teaching and student experience, similar to the way the Internet changed education. Researchers found that AR can increase learner’s concentration in the subject (Chang et al., 2014). Furthermore, the previous study determines that the use of AR enhances the student’s academic motivation which can lead to an improved class outcome (Chen, Wu, & Zhung, 2006). The increased motivation can be attributed to the fact that the material delivered via AR is intuitive, interactive and more authentic (Yen et al., 2013). Researchers also looked into the attitudes of the students toward the science lab: The researchers found that the use of AR had a positive effect on the students’ lab skills during the Physics lab. In addition, the students’ attitude toward science lab improved after the students used AR. In a different study, researchers examined how students in a Chemistry lab interact with AR objects and model objects of amino acid. In their conclusion, the researchers stated that the students treated AR objects as real objects (Chen, 2006). In a research that was conducted in Malaysia, the researchers tested the acceptance of AR by a small group of students, teachers and industrial leaders. The researchers found that although most of the test subjects did not have previous experience with AR, they were excited about the use of AR in education (Sumadio et al., 2010).
When researchers compared the effectiveness of AR , virtual reality (VR) and tablets, in anatomical lessons, they discovered that students that used AR achieved similar results to those who used VR or tablets (Moro et al, 2017). They also found that the use of AR increased the intrinsic motivation and enjoyment of the students. When they examined the health effects, they discovered that some of the students that used VR reported symptoms relating to cybersickness (general discomfort, headache, dizziness, nausea, and disorientation). Also, one-third of the students that used VR experienced blurry vision. When we compare the health effects of VR to AR, it is clear that AR is linked with less negative health effects.
The above studies demonstrate the positive effect of AR on learners in terms of concentration, motivation, attitude, excitement, and effectiveness. As AR research will provide further guidance and recommendations about the use of AR in lectures, we predict that the use of AR will expand, and more students will be able to benefit from this technology. We should keep in mind that if schools in poor areas will not be able to implement AR technologies in their lessons due to lack of financial resources, then it can increase the digital divide by giving an advantage to students that belong to schools that have more financial capabilities. Other barriers to the implementation of AR include social acceptance, privacy concerns, time limitations, teacher interest, technology availability, and support by the administration (Bitter & Coral, 2014).
Real World Applications of AR/VR in Space Science
The use of AR/VR outside of educational settings can easily be seen in everyday consumer use with such items like virtual reality headsets for videogames and phone apps like Pokemon Go that combine animations on top of real-world settings in real time. There are also a couple of major real-world applications of AR/VR in Space Science that are worth discussing in our chapter. NASA and Microsoft have partnered together to create two major projects using Microsoft’s HoloLens. The HoloLens is an AR headset computer that allows the user to see holographic images and animations overlaying the real world. The headset allows the user to use voice commands and use their hands instinctively to select the holograms and type. The benefit to using this new technology in space can be great and vital to further space science research and exploration. The two applications we will discuss are Sidekick and OnSight software.
Sidekick, or initially called “Project Sidekick” is software and hardware designed by NASA and Microsoft using the HoloLens. The goal is Sidekick was to use on the International Space Station (ISS). It is designed for the astronauts and ground control to use to aid in research, data collection, aid in repairing systems or parts, and more efficiently communicate with ground control and operations. Before Sidekick could be sent up to space, it needed to be tested in zero gravity and other extreme condition environments. NASA utilized the technology from July-August 2015 in the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research station.
The HoloLens has two main operations; procedure mode (or standalone mode) and remote expert mode. In procedure mode, astronauts wear the headset to pull up operations and procedure manuals that are preloaded into the computer. In remote expert mode, astronauts and ground control on Earth are able to communicate in real time via video conferencing. Ground control is able to see everything the astronauts are and can provide expert guidance on tasks. The remote experts are also able to draw over the astronauts view with pointers and text. The purpose of these features is to reduce astronaut training time, assist in real time, increase efficiency, and reduce repair time. The Sidekick was successfully sent to the ISS in December 2015. Astronaut Scott Kelly was the first astronaut to test it out and sent the first Skype call from space.
Video: Astronaut Scott Kelly is first to use Sidekick on the International Space Station.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) March 16, 2016
Mars & OnSight
In 2015, another partnership between Microsoft and NASA led to the development of a software called OnSight. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is leading the way in this endeavor. The AR technology also employs the use of the HoloLens to bring life on Mars to Earth. Software built into the HoloLens allows Mars rover scientists to replicate the surface of Mars based on photos sent from the Curiosity rover. This technology creates 3D simulations of Mars’ landscape, allows scientists to realistically walk around the surface, examine rocks, and even meet with other scientists around the world in real time. The benefits to using AR like OnSight is that it will enhance how scientists are analyzing data and researching Mars’ surface and environment. It will allow scientists to view Mars in a more realistic way than just looking at photos or computer-generated 3D renderings on a flat computer screen. As of 2018, NASA plans to adapt the software to use on the Mars 2020 rover.
Video: Demonstration of OnSight software.
Real screen view of NASA’s OnSight Software.
Image Credit: NASA retrieved from https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/22086/screen-view-from-onsight/
Connecting Real-World Applications to Space Science Higher Education
After examining two major real-world applications of AR in Space Science, it is vital that higher education students get the knowledge and training required to prepare for what their careers may look like. Higher education space science courses should begin to incorporate software or AR tools that are like what NASA is using. Higher education students will benefit from learning how to use the hardware and software of the HoloLens, or any other AR headsets to emerge. Educators will also need to become familiar with the applications mentioned in earlier sections. Along with technical skills that educators and students will need to learn, there are critical thinking and data analysis skills that are vital for the use of AR. With the OnSight software, scientists are required to interpret data from an environment that is completely foreign to mankind. This kind of data analysis requires creative thinking that many students may not be accustomed to. Students will benefit from being challenged to think outside the box in their space science courses while also learning definitions and concepts. The use of AR can aid students with their problem solving skills (Karagozlu, 2017). The use of text, images, and videos may need to be reevaluated and adjusted to include the use of AR. As technology and AR develops, the need for image and video as standalone learning resources in the classroom may go away. AR has the ability to overlay these images and videos into our real world and potentially replace past methods.
Limitations of AR in Industry
Although there are great strides in the use of Augmented Reality in industry, there are still limitations to face. One of the challenges is the retail cost of the AR devices. When the HoloLens debuted in 2016, it cost $3000 for the development edition. The HoloLens 2 was just released in early 2019 with prices starting at $3500. For the individual consumer, this cost is high compared to other forms of technology out there, such as the VR headset Oculus products, only around $400. As of now, the focus for AR headset technologies remains in industry. Other industries that have begun research and development of AR include healthcare, maintenance, manufacturing, architectural and automotive design. Many of these industries are using AR in a training capacity. For example, those in the medical field can practice surgical procedures in a safe and more realistic environment. A study showed that while the use of AR in surgical training improved the surgeon’s confidence, it did not reduce errors. (Hettig, Engelhardt, Hansen, Mistelbauer, 2018). Research indicated that better visuals and improved depth of field would make use of AR more effective. Limits in the visualization of the AR software means that more development is needed for software and applications. Another limiting factor to consider is the cost of manual labor that goes into the development, application, and implementation of the AR software and hardware. AR is still a relatively young and emerging technology however, and more research is needed on the use and effectiveness of AR in general industry settings.
In study after study, augmented reality has been shown to offer positive benefits to learners. Those benefits can be extended into the field of space science education. We have found that current teaching methods in astronomy do not offer students engaging learning experiences, instead, they have more or less static access to information. AR allows instruction in ways that a lecture cannot. Additionally, many areas in space science are dependent on looking skyward at night, for some students that is not a feasible option. However, with AR, many of the obstacles are mitigated and learning can occur at any time. Preparing students for their future careers is a primary goal for many universities. For students who want a career in space science, exposure to AR is an important way to boost their portfolios and land them coveted jobs in industry. Although there are a number of barriers keeping education systems from implementing AR, primarily, costs. Despite this, we have seen how augmented reality is a powerful tool that can be implemented into many university courses and based on our research, we do think AR can support space science courses in higher education.
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