Faculty of Education and Physics Collaborate to Develop Augmented Reality Simulations to Improve Physics Education – University of South Florida | Team Cansler

From gravity to electromagnetism, studying physics includes some of the most difficult concepts to understand.

Faculty of Education and Physics at the University of South Florida are working to help students better visualize such complicated theories through the use of augmented reality technology.

A recent $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will go towards developing simulations to improve student understanding and educational outcomes in general physics courses. Upon completion, these simulations are placed on a platform for other educators to use in a classroom, museum, or other learning environment for free.

A total of six augmented reality simulations – combining real-world experiences with highly visual and interactive computer-generated content – will be produced, covering some of the core concepts of the subject: magnetic fields, rotational motion, thermodynamics, optics, forces, and circuits.

“When you teach in large classrooms, you can really lose the practical component of the education, especially in a subject like physics,” said David Rosengrant, campus dean of the College of Education at USF St. Petersburg campus and principal investigator for this project. “Technology like augmented reality is a tool that we should use more often because it allows us to penetrate the world where many students consume information today: their phones and other devices.”

Over the next year, the Department of Education and Physics, in collaboration with USF’s Advanced Visualization Center, will develop a variety of simulations beneficial to educators and useful in the classroom. In some simulations, students hold and manipulate a cube that is displayed on a digital screen. Others allow students to change certain parameters of a simulation, changing the flow. Each allows students to better explore topics and enhance the learning experience

“During the pandemic we have seen everyone have had to change their teaching methods and it has created an expectation among students that more material should be accessed online. Augmented reality technology can facilitate this access and provide more exciting and deeper learning opportunities,” said Karina Hensberry, associate professor of mathematics education at the St. Petersburg campus.

After development, each simulation is refined during the testing phases. Educator focus groups will also provide user feedback for fine-tuning to ensure the simulation achieves desired learning outcomes.

The augmented reality simulations are expected to be introduced to students of the general physics 1 course in the course of the 2024 calendar year. These courses typically consist of 250-300 students in a large lecture hall.

“My students often say to me, if you show me how to draw what’s going on with this problem, I can understand it, but I have a hard time imagining it myself. Augmented reality will help them visualize what’s going on,” said Garrett Matthews, associate professor of physics at the Tampa campus. “I hope to incorporate this technology into both courses I’m teaching this semester and then convince my colleagues to do the same so that we can reach more than 1,000 students per semester.”

In using this interactive technology to teach students, researchers will measure how effective it is. They plan to conduct student interviews between those who have used augmented reality and those who have not, track profits, and analyze other relevant data.

The research team also plans to develop a curriculum around the use of augmented reality technology in physics classes that teachers – like the simulations themselves – will be able to use for free. The curriculum will align with Next Generation Science standards and make the simulations and curriculum available for all educators in the United States and abroad to access and use in grades 6-12.

Based on experiences and successes with the technology in the college classroom, the researchers hope to expand the use of augmented reality for physics teaching approaches to other settings and groups.

“Learning doesn’t just happen within the four walls of a classroom, so we’re looking at venues like museums, festivals and other opportunities beyond traditional schools,” Rosengrant said. “Situations where the public can learn about these concepts for themselves and see how physics plays a role in their everyday lives.”

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