Employing 3D Printing to Fabricate Augmented Reality Headsets for Middle School STEM Education

Employing 3D Printing to Fabricate Augmented Reality Headsets for Middle School STEM Education

Daniel A. Tillman (The University of Texas at El Paso, USA), Ross C. Teller (The University of Texas at El Paso, USA), Paul E. Perez (The University of Texas at El Paso, USA) and Song A. An (The University of Texas at El Paso, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7018-9.ch012

Abstract

This chapter examines the theories, strategies, and techniques for employing 3D printing technologies to fabricate education-appropriate augmented reality (AR) headsets and provides a concrete example of an AR headset that the authors developed. The chapter begins by discussing theories and historically relevant events that provide a context for the chapter's narrative about use of 3D printers to support AR in education. Next, the chapter presents the strategies that were employed while developing and 3D fabricating a custom-designed AR headset that was intended for supporting middle school students learning science and mathematics content knowledge. Afterward, the chapter provides directions and resources for the reader describing how to build the presented AR headset design themselves by using a 3D printer and affordable electronic components, as well as information about how to join the Maker community and participate in the designing and producing of similar projects. Lastly, the chapter delivers a summarization of all findings discussed.
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Introduction

This chapter provides an overview of the pedagogical theories, instructional strategies, and planning techniques for employing 3D printing technologies to fabricate education-appropriate augmented reality (AR) headsets. Within this context, the narrative describes how to employ 3D printers combined with affordable electronic components to prototype proof-of-concept technologies for investigating whether AR is a viable educational technology, particularly when educators create our own original AR solutions. The chapter assumes that the reader has already developed a basic familiarity with the 3D printing technologies presented in the other chapters of this book, and therefore will concentrate on providing the framework necessary for reconstructing and modifying the presented example of an AR headset that the authors developed using 3D printing software and equipment. This chapter thus provides a starting point for educators seeking to utilize 3D printers to create AR learning opportunities in the classroom. So as to better familiarize the reader with AR, the discussion includes a literature review that defines the major terms and concepts involved, while also examining some of the primary technological and educational issues currently facing AR. The discussion also provides a practical user’s-guide that analyzes the potential advantages and disadvantages of using AR in the classroom, best practices for AR in education, and tools for developing AR applications, as well as a buyer’s-guide that examines some of the various software and hardware options. The chapter concludes with a rubric for educators that they can use to evaluate their own AR designs and purchases.

Technology has had a long and complicated relationship with education, from Skinner’s teaching apparatus, to correspondence schools, to audio and visual media, to computers, with innumerable other manifestations in between (Ferster, 2014). Attitudes, too, have varied wildly with the ebb and flow of these disparate technologies, ranging from wildly optimistic through cautious all the way to exceedingly pessimistic (Ferster, 2014; Cuban, 2003). Since Prensky’s (2001) assertion that educators are now dealing with digital natives, now generally accepted to mean those born after 1984, who have (according to the digital natives theory) different learning needs because they think and learn differently than their predecessors due to the influence of digital technologies, particularly the Internet, educators have sought to develop curriculum and pedagogies suitable for this new type of learner.

Prensky’s assertions have not gone unchallenged, however. As early as 2008, Bennett and Maton conducted a literature analysis, arguing that the research regarding the digital native debate had not been based on empirical evidence, but on a sort of “moral panic.” Other researchers have examined Prensky’s (2001) primary arguments. Lai and Hong (2015) studied 880 undergraduate and graduate students, categorized into three groups—group one born after 1992, group two born between 1982 and 1992, and group three born before 1982. These researchers found that there were no generational differences in ICT (information and communication technologies) use, though the youngest group was better at multitasking and collaboration.

While many researchers have now called into question this digital native paradigm, digital technology has too firm a grasp on the American psyche to relinquish its cherished placed as a central element of education. Among many others, Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2014) have argued that the speed of technology advancement is going to increase as humanity progresses. There are several technological advancements being used in education, but the group of technologies that allows users to intertwine the real world with digital elements is one of primary interest among educators (Bacca, Baldiris, Fabregat, Graf, & Kinshuk, 2014). These technologies go by various names, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), all of which will be precisely defined later in the discussion. For now, it suffices to say that their primary purpose is to strengthen the user’s experience by combining the best of the virtual and real world.

Key Terms in this Chapter

ARCore: A developer tool kit specifically designed for creating AR apps for the Android OS.

Mixed Reality (MR): The spectrum of possible physical-digital combinations, spanning from purely physical reality with no digital information to the other extreme of complete perceptual immersion in a digital simulation.

ARKit: A developer tool kit specifically designed for creating AR apps for the iPhone and iPad, or any other device running Apple’s iOS.

Maker Community: People who participate in the designing and producing of do-it-yourself projects.

Augmented Reality (AR): Hardware and software technologies that are employed to superimpose digital information on top of normal perception of the external world.

Microsoft HoloLens: This AR headset is expensive but full of features, including full Windows 10 as the OS, two HD 16:9 displays, 70 degrees field-of-view, and built-in headphones and mic.

Virtual Reality (VR): Hardware and software technologies that are employed to replace normal perception of the external world with a digital simulation.

Makerspace: A place where people who are members of the Maker community have access to tools and resources.

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