Technology - Open your eyes to augmented reality
The sight of students whipping out their smartphones when they should be revising is enough to drive most teachers to despair.
But one new app is using augmented reality (AR) to bring questions from past papers to life. The pioneering technology enables students to revise for their maths tests by pointing their mobile phone or tablet at a past paper, triggering an animated tutorial.
The app is just the latest piece of software to utilise AR in the classroom. The concept is increasingly seen as a groundbreaking tool for teachers. Alongside the dawn of wearable technology such as Google Glass, experts are predicting that AR could have dramatic effects on teaching and learning.
The revision app, called Maths Teach-AR, enables mobile devices to recognise exam questions from past Edexcel GCSE maths papers. A student points their device at a question and an animation of a teacher talking about the problem flashes up on screen, enabling the student to work out how to arrive at the correct solution.
According to Andy Jackson, a director at Ooh-AR - the UK-based technology company that developed the maths app - this means that students can study at their own pace.
"We ran a focus group with 14- to 16-year-olds and they said that if they were struggling with a question or topic they could watch the tutorial over and over again until they got it," Mr Jackson said. "They could watch a video a hundred times until the penny dropped, which you couldn't do with a real teacher without their patience wearing pretty thin."
Mr Jackson, whose app was formally launched this month, said that this was just the beginning for AR being used in education. "The growth in smartphone ownership and schools giving every child tablets means that AR will be used far more widely," he said.
"It can be used as a study aid, or a recap of a lesson as the students leave class. Or it can take the place of PowerPoint presentations, or even essays and book reviews."
According to Ooh-AR, recent studies suggest that AR apps on mobile devices generated revenues of almost $300 million (#163;180 million) in 2013 and 2.5 billion of the apps will be downloaded on to mobiles or tablets every year by 2017.
In the US, companies such as the Silicon Valley-based Daqri have developed high-end AR anatomy apps that allow users to point a tablet or smartphone at a person's body and see a human skeleton or circulatory system.
But although AR is booming, so far only the most tech-savvy educators have been brave enough to use it. One such school is Haywood Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, England, which helped the developers at Ooh-AR to create the maths app.
Headteacher Carl Ward said that students immediately took to the new technology. "More and more young people want to look at the world and access information through their smartphones or tablets," he said.
"Those that took part in our focus groups found that the app was easy to use and it had a real wow factor when the answers came to life in front of their eyes."
Miles Berry, board member of UK computing subject association Naace and principal lecturer in computing education at the University of Roehampton, said that more schools should embrace the world of AR in their classrooms.
"Schools that are encouraging pupils to make use of smartphones or tablets open up some exciting possibilities for learning," Mr Berry said.
"Making use of augmented reality needn't be difficult. Tagging books, posters and worksheets with QR codes that link to supporting audio, video or websites, whether created by teachers or publishers, is easy to do and costs no more than paper and ink.
"Making additional resources there for those who are interested or who need more support could do much to encourage a more independent style of learning."