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What Pokémon Go Means for Education

Edward Metz

Program Manager, Small Business Innovation Research, U.S. Department of Education

Russell Shilling

Executive Director of STEM, U.S. Department of Education
pokemon go ar augmented reality technology tech ed tech education

Gotta catch ‘em all! After a recent summer release, Pokémon Go quickly became the most popular mobile game in U.S. history with well over 20 million downloads.

Across the country, it is now common to see people of all ages using the free app to hunt for Squirtles, Pikachus and other Pokémon characters hidden in their neighborhoods and at locations throughout the world.

Pokémon Go also has raised awareness of augmented reality (AR) games. AR is a technology that inserts a computer-generated image or content within a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. AR is the same technology that is used for the filters on Snapchat.

So, how can education take advantage of this emerging technology?

There are already examples of AR being used in education interventions that are designed to improve student outcomes.

Happy Atoms is a physical and virtual game-based intervention which is essentially a modern version of a “ball-and-stick” chemistry modeling set. In the game, an AR app recognizes what a student has built using plastic models in the classroom and provides feedback and information.

Happy Atoms is currently under development through an award from the Small Business Innovation Research program at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the independent research, evaluation and statistics arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Another example is EcoMobile, an app that employs augmented reality to let students act as citizen-scientists as they explore a virtual pond. EcoMobile is designed to be used in conjunction with the EcoMuve, an immersive virtual pond.

Between EcoMobile, developed through grants from the National Science Foundation and Qualcomm, and EcoMuve, developed with an IES grant, students learn about ecosystems and causal patterns in a virtual and real environment.

Many other AR-based mobile games and platforms are available that can be applied to education and learning. An array of excellent AR apps focus on astronomy and overlay planets, stars, satellites and even space junk across the night sky.

In the Fetch: Lunch Rush game, character Ruff Ruffman helps children add and subtract by overlaying pieces of AR sushi onto a physical game board. ARIS provides guidance to users, such as students, in creating their own AR games.

Even Pokémon Go provides some educational possibilities. Children can learn to navigate a map while capturing and training Pokémon and learn about landmarks in the process.

In Washington, D.C., for example, with a plentiful array of monuments, museums and government buildings, gameplay provides the chance to learn some history. Also interesting to note is that the landmarks and data for Pokémon Go were all created based on player inputs to a game released in 2012 called, Ingress, a far more strategic and complex AR game.

So, what’s next for AR in education?

These games, apps and platforms offer just a hint at the potential for how augmented reality can enrich student learning. With high-speed Internet access and devices in more schools (and ongoing efforts to build on that growth), there is an opportunity for more AR-based interventions to be designed, developed and used as part of a classroom or school experience.

Education technology researchers now are tasked to study the underlying processes and optimal conditions for how AR can stimulate learning, research that will help inform how developers create innovative new interventions.

Beyond being at the heart of one of the most popular games ever, augmented reality may emerge as a game changer in the field of education.

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Edward Metz

Program Manager, Small Business Innovation Research, U.S. Department of Education

Russell Shilling

Executive Director of STEM, U.S. Department of Education