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Teaching Horticulture by Augmenting Reality

Teaching horticulture in Minnesota presents many challenges.  For some instructors, the ideal method of teaching is to bring students outdoors so they can learn while seeing and experiencing plants and landscapes.  Unfortunately, much of the academic year in Minnesota is not suitable for this type of learning.  Along with several colleagues in the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota, I have been investigating the use of augmented reality to teach horticulture.  Klopfer and Squire (2008) define augmented reality as a “situation in which a real world context is dynamically overlaid with coherent location or context sensitive virtual information.” One might imagine a student walking through the campus grounds in early spring. As the student holds out her smartphone, the camera displays the real image of the surrounding landscape on the screen. As she walks through the landscape, the GPS in her smartphone provides location data that allow a program to display information about the plants she sees over the real image on the phone. As she walks through the grass, information about the type of grass she is walking on is delivered through pictures, video, or audio through her smartphone. She could even be asked to produce content to upload, based on her knowledge or experience.

I have implemented the use of augmented reality in a horticulture course using the ARIS app, an open-source platform that allows for both the creation and playing of mobile games, tours, and interactive stories.  Before I could use this technology in my course, there were a number of complications, and after the students began using the app, still more problems appeared.  Even so, many students found this type of learning to be very useful and I plan on continuing to figure out better and more innovative ways to use augmented reality in my teaching.

Klopfer, E., and K. Squire. 2008. Environmental detectives–the development of an augmented reality platform for environmental simulations. Educational Technology Research and Development 56: 203-228.

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