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Sophisticated new tools help students

Internet, digital devices enhance studies from art history to geography
Wency Leung, Vancouver Sun

Long gone are the days when classroom teaching aids consisted of flimsy, ink-stained overhead transparencies and clunky slide projectors.

New and highly sophisticated technologies, ranging from electronic portfolios to three-dimensional virtual reality tools, are making their way into B.C. university classrooms and laboratories, changing the way students are taught.

It's not just computer studies and engineering faculties that are piloting these technologies either.

Internet and digital tools are being used to enhance the study of everything from art history to geography.

At Simon Fraser University, geography professor Nick Hedley is using augmented reality technology--the combination of real-world and computer-generated data--to teach students about geographic spaces and landscapes.

With a technologically-sophisticated generation of students, "it is no longer acceptable for us to talk about traditional cartography or GIS [geographical information systems," Hedley said. "If we're training our students in a way that's sophisticated, in a fluid manner, they come out of the program with very, very powerful tools."

As a specialist in geographic visualization and spatial cognition, Hedley developed an augmented reality tool designed to give students the ability to test their hypotheses and interact with the geography they're studying in a virtual environment.

The tool superimposes rendered images of three-dimensional graphics onto a view of the real world shown on a screen.

Students can manipulate and examine the rendered images by rotating or tilting a turntable with corresponding symbols.

While they handle the turntable in real life, students see themselves on-screen, interacting with the three-dimensional images.

The technology allows students to learn about landscapes and spatial relationships in the same way they've gathered knowledge since they were babies--by picking them up and examining them, Hedley said.

For instance, instead of teaching students about the relationship between the sun and the moon by explaining it to them and showing static two-dimensional photos, they can actually move around three-dimensional images of the sun and the moon and get a deeper understanding of how that relationship works.

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