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Exploring the potential of mobile augmented reality for scaffolding historical inquiry

Learning how to think critically, analyze evidence, and develop an evidence-based account is central to all disciplines. However, in K-12 settings, students are too often taught to memorize facts and simply mimic the interpretations of others. When an inquiry learning approach is attempted, learners struggle to understand it, to recognize its value, and to remain engaged while learning it. Our interdisciplinary team including faculty and students from the areas of Instructional Technology, Social Studies Education, Computer Science, and History at Virginia Tech and Texas A&M University developed CI Spy (http://tinyurl.com/wslscispyhttp://tinyurl.com/CIspystory) to explore augmented reality (AR) as the basis for an explicit scaffold for the learning of inquiry through an engaging and contextualized learning module. Dunleavy and Dede’s recent review of AR teaching and learning identifies it’s alignment with “situated and constructivist learning theory as it positions the learner within a real-world physical and social context, while guiding, scaffolding and facilitating participatory and metacognitive learning process such as authentic inquiry …”

The core principles of learning that inform our work include but are not limited to: a) the need for authentic contextually-aware learning tasks; b) providing opportunities to process information into deeper conceptual understandings; c) constructing and extending a learner’s prior knowledge and interests to support information processing, knowledge construction, and deep understanding; d) the use of strategy instruction, tools, and scaffolds to support complex learning and knowledge transfer; e) engaging in social mediation (in the form of collaboration and conversation among learners) to articulate ideas; f) using metacognitive strategies to become self-regulated independent thinkers; g) fostering the transfer of learning.

Working with a master teacher and Social Studies Supervisor we designed a series of AR-enhanced inquiry learning activities to fit into a new 5th grade curriculum called “My Place in Time and Space.” The unit: (1) introduces the concept of history as mystery where students take on the roles of junior history detectives to solve a history case, (2) invites students to participate in a local history mystery focusing on CI that uses an AR-enhanced paper map of CI in the classroom and (3) includes a field trip to the now dilapidated CI site to explore evidence using AR, including virtual “X-ray vision to construct an evidence-based detective report. The compelling question for the unit that students explore on-site is: “If this site could talk, what would it tell us about the people here 50 years ago?” Upon beginning the mystery, the majority of students have no prior knowledge that this site was formerly an African American School of any historic importance.

In their investigation, students use CI Spy to analyze evidence while using the instructed inquiry strategy. CI Spy is a mobile handheld AR application that provides access to the CI site by presenting virtual representations of building and evidence in the context of the site. It also provides functionality to collect and analyze a range of historical sources at the CI site to support the inquiry. Two different kinds of exploration experiences are provided to students through CI Spy. Students can go inside and physically examine historical sources in “real” but inaccessible buildings or in virtual 3D models of buildings that no longer exist. The sources of evidence (photos, oral histories, and documents) were virtually arranged inside the buildings based on context and relevance. The SCIM-C historical analysis scaffold, integrated within the AR tool, assisted students in finding, scrutinizing, comparing, creating, and sharing evidence related to the guiding historical question. All the sources that students collected and analyzed using SCIM-C were placed into their “virtual backpack” in the application so the evidence could later be accessed for deeper analysis when developing their detective reports once they returned to the classroom. The results of classroom testing with 14 fifth-grade classes revealed that students demonstrated a greater understanding of inquiry and gained significant insight into the history of the CI.

This work has resulted in a promising proof-of-concept application and learning module within a local school curriculum (http://tinyurl.com/wslscispy) that yielded key insights into AR’s ability to support a disciplined inquiry with children as young as fifth grade. However, the activity required significant researcher and teacher facilitation and management during the AR activities and field trips that hampered the scalability and generalizability of it. We recognize the necessity for additional design, implementation, and research into scaffolding design, transferability, curriculum considerations, and generalizability to achieve the vision of an accessible and flexible AR solution that can guide students through inquiry learning without extensive facilitation or on-site technical support.

Our experience and collected data revealed that while our young learners engaged in a certain level of disciplined inquiry, their ability to self regulate and guide their own practice in the field was limited. Facilitators and “knowledgeable others” were needed to manage and monitor student groups. The explicit support/scaffolds within the app supported their analysis of the evidence, but the app did not provide the guidance and cues that students needed to act autonomously throughout the inquiry exercise.

Check out the CI Spy Evidence Gallery
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