10 uses for augmented reality in special education

Anyone who’s witnessed a child’s eyes light up after using augmented reality can attest to its power to capture and hold a student’s interest.

For students with significant behavior and academic needs, engagement is key, said Tiffanie Zaugg, assistive technology coordinator for Prairie Lakes (Iowa) Area Education Agency.

Zaugg first started working with AR five years ago during a pilot program involving three classrooms with students with significant disabilities. After a year, student engagement increased by 70 percent, on-task time increased by 65 percent, positive behaviors increased by 25 percent, and accessibility increased by almost 40 percent, Zaugg said. “With AR, students are engaged and willing and wanting to learn,” she said.

Tim Youngdahl, a speech-language pathologist also from Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, agreed. “It’s like a world within a world for students,” he said. “I think it’s truly endless what you could use it for.”

Here are 10 ideas arranged by target area that you can share with your staff:

10 uses for augmented reality in special education

Key terms to know:

  • Aura: The video, sound, or other multimedia that appears on the screen and is layered over the image of the real environment.
  • Trigger image: A static object or image tied to an aura that will make the aura start playing when a person using an AR app points their device’s camera at the image.
Target area: Inclusion/independence
1. Create private channels for accommodations. Using an app such as HP Reveal, staff can create private channels of augmented reality auras that only certain students have access to. “You can tailor it to an individual student so that no one else is seeing that student’s accommodations,” Zaugg said.
2. Embed virtual assistance into activities. AR can also provide students with more independence, Youngdahl said. “I can send a student home to practice pronunciation, and he can pull up the AR himself and hear my voice saying the word,” he said.
3. Let students check their own work. For homework or independent work, staff can create an aura of the assignment with the correct answers embedded. Using his own device, a student can see the correct answer appear as an augmented reality image over his paper, Youngdahl said.
Target area: Behavior
4. Create social stories tied to locations or objects near an activity. Make social stories that are tied to an object or sign at a relevant location, Zaugg said. For instance, a lunch room sign could trigger a video reminding the student of appropriate lunch room behavior. “You never have to say, ‘Where did I put that student’s social story?’ because it’s in the environment,” Zaugg said.
5. Create a list of positive activities and behaviors for handling emotions. Using images that represent different emotions, such as a smiley face for happy or an angry face for mad, create an aura for each emotion that lists positive activities for dealing with that feeling, Zaugg said. For instance, a picture of an angry face could trigger a video with ideas for what the student can do when he feels angry. Attach these images to a keyring for easy access.
Target area: Engagement
6. Create interactive word walls and word banks. Make word walls interactive by adding auras to each word, Youngdahl said. “Students can go over to the wall with their devices and see the AR pop up with an image or a short video demonstrating the word,” he said. Embed auras on word walls throughout the school building, he said.
7. Have students create their own auras. Offer students the opportunity to use augmented reality to show what they know for a project or assignment, Zaugg said.
Target area: Transition
8. Ease students into new environments with virtual introductions. Have the student’s new teacher create a short 30-second video introducing himself and his classroom. Using an AR app, tie that video to a trigger image of the teacher’s picture. “For some of our kids, it really helps taking them through that environment virtually, so they know their surroundings prior to getting there,” Zaugg said.
9. Build school-parent relationships. Get parents involved in doing AR activities with their children at home, Youngdahl said. “When I first started doing this, I sent home a letter to parents explaining how to do it,” he said. “It’s been great because now I’m actually more of a presence in the home, too. Their parents can see my face and hear my voice.”
10. Infuse multimedia into life skills activities. Use family members and friends to create engaging how-to videos embedded into activities. For instance, whenYoungdahl’s students were learning how to make popcorn, he had his son record short videos of himself making popcorn at home. “The kids thought it was so cool to see the man on the video pop up with each instruction,” he said.

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504 and education technology as it relates to special education for LRP Publications.

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