Header _image _-_learning _with _holograms _970_x _349 Part 2

HoloLens, an interactive holographic computer, and Microsoft’s latest creation, was recently trialled at Canberra Grammar School. But students weren’t content with just testing the cutting-edge technology, they took the process a step further and developed their own HoloLens app.  Read Part I here.

Doing it for themselves

During the recent HoloLens trial at Canberra Grammar School (CGS), five senior students from the CGS Cadets group acted as self-proclaimed “Quality Assurance Officers”. Jack Carey, Robin Hodda, Sam Reading-Thompson, Joseph Fergusson, and Damian Camilleri were on hand to provide feedback, as well as test and refine the apps that were built by Pearson.

But as the students witnessed HoloLens in action – and realised the potential it had to deepen understanding of complex and abstract classroom topics – they took on a more proactive role. In two short weeks they built an app, HoloElements, from scratch.

“Our first experience with HoloLens was through an app called Galaxy Explorer. You hear a lot about the grand scale of the universe, but you can never really picture it,” says Fergusson. “HoloLens made that easy – we could see the solar system, all the planets’ orbits in scale, and other universes. That’s when we started to think about the power of HoloLens as a classroom utility.”

The students agreed that Pearson’s science app, HoloChemistry, was especially beneficial for learning about molecular make-up and the sort of structures that form when atoms bond. They describe HoloChemistry as a ‘Lego experience’. Students could put the ‘Lego’ pieces (elements) together to build a molecule. With HoloElements, the students wanted to provide an opportunity to explore each individual element, at a deeper level, so they zoomed into the subatomic level.

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“We wanted to be able to visualise the elements on the periodic table. We wanted to be able to see the protons, neurons, and electrons,” says Camilleri. “The subatomic aspect is difficult to grasp from a textbook so we thought that this was definitely something that would be helpful.”

The students make it sound so easy, but they did encounter challenges along the way. They faced a new platform, new programming language, and new method of programming. It was a steep learning curve but one they appeared to thoroughly enjoy.

“Usually you develop something on your computer, wait a long time, and then run it,” says Fergusson. “With HoloLens you can actually debug problems while you’re wearing it. So you can be using the application you’re developing, while you’re developing it – which is amazing.”

The students also noted the ways in which HoloLens differs to virtual reality (VR) systems. While they agreed that VR is a powerful form of technology, it’s the ease of using HoloLens and the fact that it’s a more collaborative experience that makes it better suited to the classroom.

“VR is such an immersive experience – you’re completely closed-off and have no idea what’s going on around you but HoloLens augments the reality around you and provides a tactile experience,” says Carey.

Hodda appreciated the interactivity of the system. “The teacher and student interaction could still happen with HoloLens and that’s something that’s really powerful about this device,” says Hodda.

Lessons learnt and future directions

Matthew Purcell, Head of Digital Innovation at CGS, managed the project and witnessed students becoming increasingly interested in using HoloLens to understand classroom content at a deeper level. But he believes more trials are needed before we can discover the true learning outcomes of using HoloLens in the classroom.

Before the device can be used to deepen student learning, however, we need to develop more apps. And this is a huge undertaking in itself.

“If you want to use it to teach a large amount of content, you need enormous development teams and enormous amounts of resources,” says Purcell.

The trial also uncovered a chicken-and-egg style dilemma.

“It’s an expensive device and there are very few apps available for it,” says Purcell. “In order for people to buy it, there needs to be lots of apps available. In order for developers to want to build the apps, you need a lot of people to be buying the device.”

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The students point out that while HoloLens is an incredibly versatile platform, they encountered a number of setbacks of their own.

“It would be great to have a bit more power. This is something that jumped out while we were developing – you have to be really mindful about what you create,” says Reading-Thompson.

They also found the field of view to be problematic. When viewing larger holograms, the ‘letterboxing’ became prominent. And given the chance, they would make the device even smaller and lighter. But, all in all, the students agreed that HoloLens is something special.

“It’s definitely really cool and it’s such a breakthrough,” says Fergusson. “This sort of thing hasn’t been done on such a portable level before. And we criticise it for being a bit too big and not powerful enough but it’s very much an emerging technology and, so far, it’s really impressive.”

Indeed, the fact that HoloLens is an emerging technology is exactly why the trial took place in the first place.

“This was such a worthwhile trial. I mean, I could sit here and say that everything went swimmingly but it didn’t,” says Purcell.“We did come across problems but now we’ve identified them and can learn from them. We needed to go through this process. With any new technology you can expect challenges, and HoloLens is no exception. However, learning from these challenges allows you to better the technology to ultimately build a powerful tool to make a positive impact upon student learning.”

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