How Augmented Reality Can Be Utilized in Special Education

In the last few years, Virtual Reality (VR) has grown in popularity. Alongside it, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a popular way to add more digital information to reality without completely immersing the participant in an artificial environment. These technologies have recently expanded beyond the scope of gaming into more practical applications.

Businesses as diverse as healthcare, education, and travel are integrating these technologies into their models. The hospitality industry, for example, is using these high-tech solutions to navigate the challenges of the pandemic. VR allows travelers an advanced look at hotel floor plans and demo safety features, while AR helps them interact with maps, features, and concierge perks through their phones.

AR and VR can help the education industry as well. While remote learning has allowed many students to continue their studies through the pandemic, distance education is not a good fit for all learners. Students in special education curriculums have been especially challenged.

As the need for remote education continues, new tools and platforms must be employed to help students like those who require hand-over-hand guidance or similar training because of their disabilities or challenges. Others may struggle to maintain focus on or engage with a screen. While VR may be too overwhelming or too expensive for some students in special education to use, integrating AR into their curricula might be just the ticket.

 

AR in the Classroom and for Remote Studies

So far, AR has been successfully integrated into higher education with tools like Early Adopter, which has been at the forefront of AR development. Colleges have used AR to help prospective students safely tour campuses, view presentations by clubs and other groups, and bring students together for live forums.

Elementary and secondary schools are benefitting from AR tools such as Drawlight, an app that brings drawings to life on your screen. Early Adopter founder and CEO Jay Van Buren envisions benefits for kindergarten through 12th graders.“It’s really hard for them to stay put and watch a video conference,” Van Buren says, “…but I think if it’s something in AR for example, where you can use the whole room as your canvas, so to speak, that’s a way for them to really be engaged and to be using their whole bodies. And I think that can be really fun.”

Young kids are already engaged with products like Drawlight, and for upper grades, students can use the app to draw assignments such as detailing water systems. 

 

Why AR is Better for Special Education

Logically, AR is a good choice for special education as well. Research is proving that AR and VR technology can benefit students in these programs. Leah Zitter at TechLearning.com writes that these tools “have been shown to increase motivation, facilitate interaction, develop cognitive skills, improve short-term memory, and make lessons more enjoyable.”

Some applications that have been tested using AR for special education include:

      • Interactive textbooks that teach skills such as vocabulary to learning disabled students.
      • Helping students on the autism spectrum understand and react to facial cues, which can be challenging for them, to say the least.
      • Interactive augmented reality games can help students develop social and communications skills in a fun and engaging atmosphere.
      • Studies have also shown that AR can also benefit academic, physical, and life skills for special education students.

While VR can also provide some of these benefits, VR headsets may pose health risks and are not recommended for children under the age of 12 or 13. Interfaces such as Google Glass can be costly and difficult for families to obtain. Additionally, students with disabilities or sensory challenges may become confused, disoriented, or uncomfortable with a VR experience while AR can provide just the right amount of engagement.

Best Standards for Special Ed. Teachers Using AR

Technology is, of course, just one tool of many that teachers utilize for students in instructional or autistic support. They must be carefully integrated into a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 plan, which are tailored for his or her specific needs, and must fit the school’s budget. Teachers have to keep in mind that special education remote learning utilizing AR systems still requires the same documentation and parent communication as more traditional learning.

That means that if a technology is not working for a student, parents, and teachers need to come together to make sure that the systems are being used properly or choose another option. Teachers or administrators may need to invest time in teaching parents how to use AR programs. Additionally, support plans must be created for technical problems that arise when systems or applications fail.

Teachers in hybrid learning environments (part remote, part onsite) must ensure that they keep their curriculum consistent whether the student is at home or in school. Continuing to use technology in the classroom has many benefits besides helping students in special education transition more easily back to the classroom. They may notice that students are more engaged in this type of learning atmosphere, giving them extra help in achieving their goals.

However, teachers do still need to be wary about teaching their students to rely too heavily on technology. Savvy teachers will use AR to complement more traditional learning modes in a balanced way to benefit their students.

Augmented reality is coming into its prime for students in special education. With today’s need for remote learning and the increased availability of high-speed Internet services, AR can help these students achieve their goals in academics, life skills, socialization, and more –both inside and outside the classroom.


Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

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