European Geologist Journal 48
A field trip enhanced with ARTutor, an augmented reality educational platform
by M. Psychogiou1, K. Georgiou1, A. Antonarakou2 and H. Drinia2
1 Hellenic Ministry of Education, Athens, Greece
2 National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Department of Geology and Geoenvironment, Athens, Greece
Field trips constitute a powerful educational tool, providing students with the opportunity to acquire authentic, hands-on experiences by direct contact with the natural environment. Technological advances, especially augmented reality (AR) applications, can add a whole new dimension to field trips. This paper discusses a field trip where secondary school students were asked to locate different rock formations on site from the pictures they had been given. By scanning these pictures with the ARTutor application on their mobile devices, they were given access to educational material (pictures, videos and text) loaded into the ARTutor platform. The instructional design and the application of this enriched field trip were evaluated by the students, who worked in groups combining information collected through ARTutor to complete activities.
Geosites are sites of utmost significance for the geological heritage of our planet and attempts to acknowledge and register Geosites are taking place in many countries in order for them to be recognised and preserved. Geoconservation is vital, should people wish to ensure that future generations come into the wealth of diverse sites that have captured and reflect unique moments of the Earth’s history. The only way to achieve this is through education. Field trips are the best way to bring students into direct contact with geological treasures in situ and raise the awareness needed so that these are preserved. Technologies such as Augmented Reality applications enrich educational experiences and have the power to capture students’ attention, since they employ the use of devices that they are familiar with.
In this paper, we present a field trip that took place at the volcano Sousaki, enriched with AR activities that were created using the educational platform ARTutor. ARTutor was created at the AETMA lab in the Technological Institution of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. The students that took part in the field trip were asked to locate different rock formations on site from the pictures they had been given. By scanning these pictures with the use of the ARTutor application on their mobile devices they were given access to educational material that had been loaded in the ARTutor platform. The augmentations were pictures, videos and text and provided a great deal of information regarding the rock formations of the volcano. The instructional design and the application of this enriched field trip were evaluated by the students, who worked in groups, combined the information collected through ARTutor and completed all activities. The feedback we received was assessed and will be taken into consideration for future similar endeavours.
This field trip that took place at the Sousaki Volcano site near Athens was the first in Greece to use and evaluate AR activities developed with the use of the ARTutor platform. The results were very promising and technology-enhanced field trips look as if they have a bright future. “The past is the key to the future”, as was maintained during the era of Enlightenment, the era of sciences, and what better way to step into the future than by combining real-life and technology-augmented learning experiences.
A Geosite is a place of scientific interest due to its geological structures: rock formations, fossil presence, mineral outcrops, sedimentary or volcanic sequences, landforms or any other natural structures that represent an event, process or occurrence which reveal information regarding the evolution of the Earth (Wimbledon, 1996; ProGEO Group, 1998). It is regarded a site of geological heritage (geo-heritage) since its disappearance would result in the loss of information or geological documentation about the specific area.
In an attempt to recognise and record the plethora of Geosites in different European countries, a project called “GEOSITES” was initiated by ProGEO (the European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage) and later joined by IUGS (the International Union of Geological Sciences). This program, which started in 1995, was supported by UNESCO and a number of European countries were involved.
In order to cover the huge diversity of Geosites, the ProGEO group (1998) assigned ten different categories from all areas of Earth Sciences, as follows:
- volcanic-metamorphic-sedimentary petrology, fabrics and structures, events and provinces
- mineralogical, economic
- geomorphological structures, erosion-deposition events, landscapes and topography
- events relating to asteroids
- continental and oceanic scale phenomena, plate relations
- historical and cultural Geosites.
Recognising and recording Geosites or places of geological heritage is not enough if nothing is done to preserve them. For this reason, the concept of Geoconservation was introduced. It can be defined as “action taken with the intent of conserving and enhancing geological and geomorphological features, processes, sites and specimens” (Burek & Prosser, 2008, p.2). Geoconservation has been established in different countries across the world and plays an important role in delivering sustainable development in a variety of ways, including the promotion of important sites through education. It is true that sustainable development, a necessity for our planet, is all about learning and the way awareness is raised through gaining knowledge on the interdependence between people and their natural environment. Education for a sustainable future means that educational policy makers need to target teaching our societies to “respect, value, and preserve the achievements of the past” as well as “appreciate the wonders and the peoples of the Earth” (Combes, 2005, p. 215).
This constitutes the main reason why field trips are of immense value when it comes to educating young people. They are given the opportunity to directly interact with the natural environment in the most effective and enjoyable means of teaching and learning. Engaging students in hands-on activities, sharpening all their senses, cultivating a culture of working in groups and underlining the fragility of the environment are some of the benefits for young learners. Outdoor activities within an educational framework can have a positive effect not only on the cognitive but on the affective and psychomotor domains as well, thus promoting a more holistic approach to learning and developing critical thinking.
Augmented Reality Applications and the ARTutor educational platform
Augmented reality applications enrich the environment by embedding interactive digital content. Hence, the user has access to information that would not have been available otherwise (Lytridis & Tsinakos, 2018). It provides the users with the power to view a real-time environment with a digital overlay enhanced with images, videos or sounds (Siegle, 2019). Augmented Reality actually complements and does not replace reality (Tan & El-Bendary, 2013); ideally, the real and the virtual objects co-exist in real time (Azuma, 1997).
Technology has the potential of augmenting traditional teaching in the classroom with exciting out-of-class activities by employing blended learning techniques (Palalas, 2013). The learning procedure is more student-centred and collaborative since it can take place anywhere apart from the actual class itself by using a mobile device (Sharples et al., 2007).
ARTutor was developed at the Research Laboratory ΑΕΤΜΑ (Advanced Educational Technologies and Mobile Applications Lab) at the Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Institute of Technology and is an educational platform. It consists of two parts: (a) the authoring tool, which is a web-based application used to upload the learning material and the assorted learning objects; and (b) the mobile application, which downloads and displays the learning objects and also allows interaction between the learner and the learning material (Lytridis et al., 2018).
ARTutor allows users to create educational books in PDF with the application of Augmented Reality in a simple and easy way. It has been designed in such a way that digital content can be added to traditional books and other texts. The augmentation can be pictures, videos, text, MP4 files or 3D models. It is available for free and no special equipment is required. What is necessary is to download the application and have Internet access. The instructors do not need to be highly computer-literate since the design of the platform facilitates them in developing activities with the use of Augmented Reality.
Another novelty of this platform is that it allows students with disabilities to interact with the learning material while using it since they can use voice commands to control it.
The volcano called Sousaki lies dormant near the city of Korinthos in Greece. This is a volcano which last exploded 2.7 million years ago but is still exhibiting strong steaming activity, emitting mostly carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. There are a lot of bright yellow sulfur deposits and a device monitoring the geothermal activity of the area has been installed there. It is included in the “Atlas of the Aegean Geological Monuments” (Velitzelos et al., 2002) and has been recognized as an educational geosite. There were three main reasons for the choice of this location, namely, its proximity to Athens, the fact that it is easily accessible, and the clearly visible and distinct geological formations.
An educational field trip was planned for twenty (20) sixteen-year-old students to Sousaki. The design of the field trip and educational game using Augmented Reality were based on student-centred and collaborative approaches. Guided discovery learning was applied. The instructors worked on the platform and the augmentations while keeping in mind the specific cognitive objectives, and created augmented reality activities to present the new content and allow students to interact with it. The students worked in small groups and their initial task was to locate a specific spot that had been previously photographed and was included in the PDF given to them. This particular picture worked as the link to give them access to more information by scanning it.
There were no specific requirements on the part of the users of the application. Given the computer literacy that most teenagers possess, all that was required was to have the application installed in their mobiles beforehand and to have internet access.
Upon completion of the activities, students and teachers were given separate questionnaires to answer regarding their experience, including the use of the ARTutor platform. Some of the questions were open-ended and some used the Likert scale.
Objectives and description of the educational outing
The main purposes of this educational outing were to provide the students with an initial experience of what field work is, to point out its role in highlighting the necessity to preserve sites of geological heritage such as Sousaki, to get acquainted with the location of the volcano and to make the most out of the information that was provided by the ARTutor application. The cognitive objectives were recognising the different types of rocks that were present at the site and detecting various volcanic gases. They were also introduced to the way geothermal energy can be used and to its potential. They had to spot the rock formations and various objects from the pictures that were in the PDFs. By scanning these pictures, they were given access to more information and clarifications through the ARTutor application. The students had to work together, exchange opinions and reach a consensus; we hoped this would lead them to appreciate field work as well as group work and to recognise the educational value of this particular Geosite.
In order to achieve these objectives, specific formations and items were chosen. The sequence of sedimentary rocks which formed at the bottom of the lake that used to be present during the two major volcanic effusions is at direct opposition with the structureless lava depositions (Figure 1). These were augmented with sketches on how a layer is deposited at the bottom of a sedimentary basin and a video showing underwater lava effusions. The picture of the pump monitoring geothermal activity which was put at the site was augmented using information about countries like Iceland that rely upon geothermal sources in order to cover their energy needs and by videos of geysers (Figure 2).
The gypsum crystals of different sizes that all students collected made a great impression on them. Their pictures were augmented using additional information on how the crystals were formed (Figure3). The pictures of caves that were in abundance at the site of the volcano were augmented with pictures of dead birds and insects due to the presence of carbon dioxide and videos of how it can be detected by lighting up a piece of paper that eventually stops burning (Figure 4).
After completing all their tasks and interacting with the information that was presented to them, students had to answer questions by choosing among multiple answers. By scanning the correct one they got hold of a picture showing the geomorphological development of the area. Each group of students got a different picture and they all had to work together to put these pictures in the correct order so as to present the geomorphological evolution of the area.
The activity that students mentioned repeatedly was the collection of gypsum crystals as well as studying the different kinds of rocks. They also mentioned the augmented reality application and commented positively on the information and videos that they were given access to. The majority of the students had never heard of this site before and had absolutely no idea that a volcano – even a dormant one – was in the vicinity of their place of residence, so they were really intrigued by this fact. A lot of positive comments were made on the collaboration among the students and the chance to work as a group. Some of the comments made by the students were:
- “We would like more time to spend using this application and even more information.”
- “This way we actually understood what we were seeing at this specific site.”
- “Working as a group was really positive!”
The instructors were asked to comment on the whole experience from planning this field trip to watching students’ reactions and evaluating the level of their engagement and satisfaction. They reported that after setting the learning goals, the design of the augmented reality activities was problem-free. The platform was very helpful when uploading the augmentations chosen and they only had to check the signal reception at the volcano site so that they could confirm that there would be an internet connection during their visit. The quality of the content and the integrity of the materials could not be questioned, since they were uploaded on the educational platform after a great deal of consideration and rigorous screening on the part of the instructors. The students were not lost in the loads of information that self-directed navigation on the Internet might have led them to, nor were they distracted (Fahy, 2004).
Following the educational outing, the instructors expressed how positive this experience had been for the students, who enjoyed working together in groups, had fun locating the spots from the pictures and were amazed by the information provided to them through the AR application. All in all, the true potential of such a field trip was appreciated and taken full advantage of and, as they reported, it was something that they would definitely like to do again. They also pointed out how important such endeavours are for preserving our geological heritage.
Preserving sites of geological significance means recognising, recording them, and raising awareness among people on their invaluable contribution to understanding the way planet Earth functions. Our planet has a lot of stories to relate and they are all connected to Geosites, while literacy in earth sciences is the key to deciphering them. Educational outings such as the one presented in this article are the best way to get students acquainted with the planet’s geological heritage and introduce them to the concept of Geoconservation. Earth has endured devastating episodes induced by severe conditions, as has been recorded at different sites, and the past can definitely be a lesson for the future through education.
It is this generation’s duty to keep telling these stories to the next generation and if this is to be achieved, then employing Geosites as places of worth-keeping heritage is of utmost importance. The small-scale survey included in this field trip shows in the best possible way how much more efficient and fun at the same time teaching outdoors can be made by the use of AR activities.
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This article has been published in European Geologist Journal 48 – Geological heritage in Europe. Read here the full issue: