Augmented reality could be the geology classroom’s killer app

Fancy a tabletop Meteor Crater, anyone?

Enlarge / Fancy a tabletop Meteor Crater, anyone? (credit: Scott K. Johnson)

One of the most important challenges in teaching geology is bringing the outside world into the classroom. During a pandemic, obviously, an inability to safely bring students into the classroom doesn’t make that any easier. Fortunately, digital tools can provide new ways to access the world beyond whichever room you find yourself in.

Geology is a very spatial science and can require a lot of 3-D visualization. Simple physical models (not to mention rocks) have long been used to aid teaching about things like faults or crystalline mineral structure. But these things can be surprisingly costly and occupy a surprising amount of storage space. This is an obvious place where technology can come in, serving up an endless variety of objects, simulations, and real-world data—if there’s an easy way for students to access it.

Augmented reality (AR) visualizations are increasingly capable of delivering on that promise. Ars talked to Martin Pratt about his work as part of a Washington University in St. Louis group that is developing apps for classes, both for specialized devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens and for the phones most students already have.

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