How Google is about to disrupt education

Google AR

The hype around Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) has been growing for many years now.

In classrooms everywhere the results have yet to live up to the hype.

The hype tells us that where once there were old videos shown on TVs now there are whole interactive worlds waiting inside futuristic helmets.  

The results tell us that the impact of all these new and augmented worlds is mixed at best. Just as Snapchat and Pokemon Go AR apps struggled to remain profitable after the hype died down, “Extended Reality’ learning is still regarded as just a gimmick in most educational settings.

This could all be about to change. Over the last year, Google has been working hard to bring AR a step closer to delivering on the hype.

How Google has been Extending Reality

As perhaps the definition of an enterprising, new age tech company. It is no surprise Google has been investing heavily in building the future rather than following it.

One of Google’s first forays into making extended reality worlds available to anyone was in 2014 when they launched the $10 VR Cardboard Headset. At a time of $1000 headsets, these enabled anyone with a smartphone to experience the magic of VR.

Google VR Headset which costs only $10. Source: Google

In February 2019, the humble Cardboard Headset reached two important milestones. They had delivered 10 million headsets with over 160 million app downloads.

Swimming in new waters

This May, at their 2019 I/O developer conference, Google unveiled an AR project that could have even wider-ranging implications.

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

When it is released later this year, everyone will be able to see a video or image of their search result overlaid on the world around them.

The example given at the conference by, Aparna Chennapragada, Google’s Augmented Reality Chief, was a great white shark swimming around the stage.

AR shark swimming around the stage from a simple Google Search. Source: Google

Why should we care about Google Search results?

A shark on stage might seem like another gimmick but this is not the case. Dig around under the hood and the things start to get interesting.

The really exciting part of the conference was when Google announced they had made the software and functionality open for anyone to build on.

They said that in the future anyone could create and launch their own AR objects through “just a few lines of code.

They even gave a list of the brave few who had already taken the plunge to join the great white shark. Predictably, the list mostly included the bid budget, usual suspect, companies like Nike, Samsung, Target and Volvo.

There is no good reason why the list should remain so commerce-focused. Google helps people learn through easy access to information.

Despite all the hype and press around other projects, this is still their main function.  As a case in point, Google CEO Sundar Pinchai 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?

The promise of AR and Extended Reality ‘Blended Learning’ is not a new nor underfunded idea in education. Research by EdTechXGlobal showed EdTech spending will reach $252 billion by 2020.

Looking back at the list of companies there is no reason why educators like Harvard, Pearson or Coursera are missing from the list of collaborators.

The underlying AR functionality should be used to take learning to a new level. It should be used to sell ideas not just trainers.

How can Google help educators use AR?

According to Gartner, by 2021, 60% of U.S. higher education institutions will be using technology to create simulations and immersive learning environments. Taken with the high budgets it is easy to see AR taking up a lot of teachers time.

The problem with this is that most higher education facilities, educators and the various regulatory boards did not grow up with AR. They do not fully understand the technology and have struggled to come up with a coherent implementation strategy.

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

This is exactly what Google is offering.

Google makes its money in other ways so does not need to charge huge prices for its extended reality offerings. A point well proven by the $10 VR headset. They also don’t want to disrupt the industry and so have adapted their software to work with the prevalent technology (smartphones) instead of trying to fight it with single-use expensive tech like headsets & projectors.

The benefits of Google

  • The reach of Google Search will ensure everyone is familiar with using AR to access information.
  • Google is offering free training on AR which will help educators & students alike understand how it works.
  • The open source underlying code could form a universal standard that would allow schools & students to collaborate.

What are the roadblocks?

Learning is at its best when done as a long term, collaborative effort. Google created the software to support one person finding a quick piece of information.

In its current form, the AR that is being added to search results is still an add on to the main product. Google does not think the technology is good enough yet to warrant a completely new offering.

The world of EdTech will need to take the initiative and build on what Google provided before they can introduce it to schools. Educators must take the initiative on this Google will not chase educators to adopt its new offering and neither will they provide personalised training or support.

Most schools are not coping well with basic technology like tablets let alone advanced AR software

Schools are still not set up to provide a smartphone or tablet for each child. There is currently too much variation in what tech is available to schools for tech and AR to replace textbooks.

AR is a long way from being incorporated into the examination process so will remain on the periphery of syllabuses for a while yet.

Learning takes time, effort and practice. Students should not get used to having the answer presented at the end of a quick search.

What does the future hold for Google & AR

Alongside their AR efforts, Google is developing in the Machine Learning and AI spaces. They will soon be able to integrate AI engines into Extended Reality worlds.

For students, this means that they would receive real-time progress assessments and training as they learn. A separate post would be required to fully explore the mix of AI & AR as it will be a watershed moment in education.

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.

Instead of being passive consumers of what their screen is showing them 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.

That being said, only time will tell if educators are ready to start swimming with the sharks.

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  • : Google will add AR to search results. By the end of the year, most people will be familiar with AR and able to create their own AR worlds for free. This is a big opportunity for education to start turning the Edtech hype into reality. This post explores how educators can use the new technology in classrooms.
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