Another dot in the blogosphere?

#PokémonGo is not AR

Posted on: August 17, 2016

No matter how many ill-informed writers say so, Pokémon Go is not augmented reality (AR). This TechCrunch article gives a good breakdown of what AR, mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR) are.

For a device to offer augmented reality, it must first place a virtual or digital layer over a capture of reality. The additional layer must provide added value to what we already experience without it. The CC-licensed image above is a classic example.

Other examples include, but are not limited to, LEGO AR, Layar, Blippar, and Junaio by Metaio (acquired by Apple).

In good examples of AR, the digital layer “interacts” and adds value to the real layer, e.g., additional visualisation like innards of an object or provide historical context with artefacts like photos.

Video source

The camera in Pokémon Go layers animated Pokémon over whatever the phone camera captures. However, it is not augmenting reality or interacting with it in any useful way, other than to take photos with Pokémon.

If anything, leaving the camera on drains the phone battery, might make capturing Pokémon more difficult due to visual distraction, and possibly cause the app to crash due to increased memory use and processing.

Sites that curate expert tips on Pokémon Go recommend toggling the camera off [example 1] [example 2]. This makes Pokémon Go a location-aware app, not an AR one.

I grant that the tweeted example above is a creative method of digital storytelling. The reality of the cat is augmented by the animation of Psyduck, but this does nothing for gameplay. There are also other methods (e.g., Photoshop) that lead to the same end and other methods (e.g., animation, video production) that can develop deeper thinking and skills.

The TechCrunch article makes the point that the meaning of AR might change as the masses see fit. But that is not a good enough reason to let AR be a catch-all term. Doing this can be harmful and I illustrate with two examples.

Example 1: Earlier this year I was part of a committee that reviewed research grant proposals. One proposal used AR/VR in its title to sound impressive. It was actually a vendor’s version of QR codes. We gave nice but firm feedback not to mislead.

A loose or weak definition of AR might lead to poor implementation of technology integration. If we had given the “AR/VR” project the go ahead, this would have resulted in misplaced justification of resources, lesson planning, and data collection. The theoretical basis — the why of doing this — would have been wrong because the effort was built on the wrong foundations. The foundations should be QR and its educational psychology, not AR/VR and its potential effects.

Example 2: Occasionally I meet people who want to “gamify” instruction. However, they do not draw any distinctions between game-based learning and gamification. There are overlaps between the two, but there are also differences and research on the two.

It is lazy to just focus only on the overlaps or to “use common sense”. The overlaps are not a more complete picture and common sense is not the same as making data-informed decisions or relying on distilled wisdoms.

So while I appreciate articles like this that get teachers to think of ways to learn from Pokémon Go, they might not nurture the sort of critical thinking that teachers must possess before modelling them.

To be clear, I am not critiquing the lesson ideas in the article. I am addressing the uncritical definition of AR. I am also against the low-hanging rationales like “keep them engaged and motivated” and “increase in maths and science scores” of using games like Pokémon Go, but that is for another reflection.

I am all for enthusiasm that Pokémon Go might generate among teachers and educators. I myself play it with my son to promote social learning. But I cannot sit idly by if the enthusiasm is blind, deaf, or dumb.

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