Magic Leap isn’t just a technology for gaming or entertainment, it has great possibilities for education and training. Based on a first-look at the device, let’s look at what has to offer that is different to other AR devices out there and which areas of education it would benefit.
Magic Leap – what it is and how it works
The Magic Leap allows you to place holograms in the real world around you. The holograms are visual representations of 3D objects and can be moved and changed in size. It works by wearing the headset and placing a battery pack in your pocket. You can use either gestures or a clicker to select things and the clicker enables a laser pointer to select the object you’re interested in. Like any kind of glasses you have a restricted field of view, but the Magic Leap offers a slightly bigger ‘visual picture’ than the HoloLens. What this means in practice is that if, for example you were looking at a vertical object such as a skeleton you would need to look it in sections or move physically away from the image to see it in its entirety. One distinguishing feature from HoloLens is that it has eye-tracking. This means that potentially there could be apps that allow you to interact with content by blinking or winking rather than having to do hand-gestures.
Value for Collaborative Learning
You can cast to other Magic Leap users via the Lumin app which allows multiple other Magic Leap users to see the same content that you are seeing, but you need to be in the same physical space. This would work well in a classroom situation where you are able to share between the student and teacher but not so well for distance learning where the student and teacher might be in separate locations. It is not currently possible to screencast or mirror the device to an ordinary screen, so that limits the collaborative possibilities within the classroom.
Visualisation and Layering
The Magic Leap 1 allows you to place holograms around yourself and explore them. This kind of 3D visualisation in your environment is unique to augmented reality and has real benefits for the classroom. Concepts that are difficult to visualise via a 2D screen such as geometry or STEM concepts come alive in a completely new way in this technology. Imagine explaining the rock cycle with a full 3D animation that students can walk around. Geology in general is badly served by 2D or textbooks. In the Magic Leap you could create a layered experience where you could move down through the rock strata. In chemistry you might create an experience that allows you to experience diffusion by standing inside a hologramatic representation of this process.
One of the greatest and most under-used features of this technology currently in existing augmented reality apps is the concept of placing your learning in an environment. The Magic Leap allows you to create up to 5 environments that it remembers, so any holograms that you have placed within those environments are still there when you return. This has a great application for creating a narrative-based experience in the Magic Leap. Students could add different content to different areas of a room or set of rooms and cast the experience to other students to explore their content.
The Magic Leap can identify eight hand positions and it can locate the centre of the hand as well as each finger. For educational applications this has a lot to offer in terms of building experiences where the students can interact with objects and pull or push them in a natural way. Examples of this might be in physics for teaching levers and rotation or the many possible applications in the teaching of engineering concepts. There still isn’t the accompanying haptic feedback to actually feel the levers but it still gives a revolutionary way for students to create and understand interaction in 3D.
What would be the ideal app for education? Following the many educators I spoke to in my work with HoloLens, I think that this technology would be most valuable in schools where students could be the creators. An app that allowed the students to upload 3D models that they had created would be a breakthrough for this technology. It might, initially at least, be similar to this CAD app for Magic Leap under development by Onshape. In the longer term, the more creativity we can place in the hands of students and instructors the better.
The whale in the room
Obviously we can’t talk about adoption in the education sector without dealing with the whale in the room, the cost. Certainly wide-scale adoption in the education sector is going to be prevented in the short to medium term by the cost of the headset. Here Magic Leap might take a leaf from Microsoft’s book and look at leasing models and collaborations with universities to try to encourage adoption. More likely however, is that, although this technology has the power to be transformative for education, we’ll need to wait for Magic Leap 2 or 3 before we see a more affordable headset. In the meantime though, it does no harm to start thinking as educators, how this technology could be used and what differences it could make to the current generation of learners.