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Technology in the Classroom: What Pokemon Go Means

Jordan Catapano

It has only been a short time since Nintendo’s Pokemon Go app game was released, but it already has proven to be a major disruption to the gaming market. Nintendo’s stock value has skyrocketed, and it has become one of the top 20 businesses in Japan. The app has been downloaded by more than 20 million people, making it the most successful app in history. Anytime something is this popular, education gurus generate “How to use technology in the classroom piece X” tips, and indeed these are already springing up for Pokemon Go. If our students are already spending so much time playing the hottest new game, then there certainly opportunity to leverage this technology in the classroom interest for learning. After all, this was the thinking behind the Minecraft: Education Edition movement, which took advantage of the immense interest children had in Minecraft. But there’s more to the Pokemon Go app than using it for learning. The app represents a major change in the way we engage with our environment, and has implications for the direction that technology in the classroom and society will be headed.

Technology in the Classroom: What is Pokemon Go?

I’m too old to have enjoyed Pokemon as a youth, but I’ve heard endless accounts by my students and have picked up a thing or two over the years.

Pokemon is a media franchise involving a card game, video games, a television series, and loads of merchandising. Pokemon are monsters that live in the real world, and the basic objective is for humans to capture and train these various monsters in an ongoing battle against other Pokemon and villains.

Pokemon Go is a newly released app by Nintendo that, according to Vox, “uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokemon “appear” around you (on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokemon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is.”

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Basically, Pokemon Go is the first big-hit augmented reality game that overlays a virtual world on top of our real one. When players look through their smartphone, they can see the Pokemon characters seemingly walking around our world. This is really amazing stuff! Of course, it leads to consequences as well. Just check out this horde of players supposedly chasing a “Wild charizard” around a park, or sympathize with this poor man’s home that has attracted players.

The game involves teamwork, training, battles, and loads of various options for how to play the game. It is a diverse and immersive experience. And it just might mean that how we teach is about to change dramatically.

Augmented Reality in Education

The real headline for our classrooms is not that Pokemon Go is the next new thing. It is popular now, but it will not be popular forever. The real headline is that augmented reality, which “Adds graphics, sounds, haptic feedback and smell to the natural world as it exists,” has found its first major portal into the public consciousness.

Augmented reality has been around for some time, but innovations with video games and smartphones are developing more opportunities for the average person to overlay their real world with computer-generated augmentation.

Augmented reality allows us to do more than just track Pokemon around the world through our smartphone screen. Tourists can enhance their visit with augmented reality tours. Soldiers can train or battle better with augmented reality viewers. Friends can dial numbers projected onto their hand to call each other. Visitors can hold up their phone and view pop-up reviews for restaurants and local attractions. As technology for smartphones, contact lenses, glasses, projectors, GPS, and image recognition improve, so too will the applications for augmented reality.

So here’s the point: Augmented reality is not going away. Rather, like all disruptive technologies, it will continue to impact the way we learn and interact in our environment. As teachers, it’s essential that we understand what augmented reality is, how it can be used in education, and how we can equip our students to engage in a world where such a technology plays a role.

There are some great resources for helping us understand how we might employ augmented reality in our classrooms. Edsurge.com writes about how “Augmented Reality is an example of a technology that can make classroom learning more transformational and engaging” and provides ways teachers can incorporate it into learning. There are popular apps like Aurasma and Layar teachers can use to overlay their own augmentations. Teachers can even follow AR innovators like Drew Minock (@TechMinock) and Brad Waid (@TechBradWaid) on Twitter for streams of advice.

We’ve already noticed that the Internet revolutionized the way we share and gather information. The smartphone and iPad revolutionized how ubiquitously we access information, media, social circles, and digital tools. And as augmented reality innovations continue, our students will be part of a world that revolutionizes how we view reality itself. Are we equipping them?

What to Teach About Augmented Reality

As teachers, we play an important role for how students understand the tools they use. We often assume that since students are young “Digital natives,” they automatically know how to make the most of the world of digital tools. We couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s important that we teach students about how to curate information from Internet sources and how to leverage social networks boost their connectedness. It’s important that we help students understand how tools like augmented reality can be used to help them get what they want out of life.

Here are three basic principles for using augmented reality – and many types of technology, really – that as teachers are important for passing on to our students.

Safety First

It’s one thing to enjoy technology from the safety of our couches, desks, and tables. It’s quite another to be using technology at the same time we’re interacting with our world. Already many injuries caused by Pokemon Go have been reported, such as when two men (adults, mind you, not even children) fell off of a 90-foot cliff in California. Others have wandered into dark alleys, have been mugged, and have walked into oncoming traffic. Users are even wandering into minefields and war zones. And can you imagine when people start driving and playing at the same time?

We must teach students the importance of safety first, as augmented reality can prove as much a distraction as a boon to our real-world experience. As we use augmented reality in our classroom, we can reinforce the necessity of looking away from our devices, of remaining aware of our surroundings, and of making good decisions that keep our health and safety at the forefront of our minds.

Appropriate Uses for Appropriate Times

Augmented reality, like all technology, is a double-edged sword. While it offers great advantages, it offers overwhelming distractions as well. It’s important that we teach students to understand the difference between learning and entertainment, between using technology as a useful tool for growth rather than as a distraction.

When in class, we can model examples of how augmented reality enhances the learning experience. At the same time, we can help students see that playing an augmented reality game during a science lesson is probably doing more harm than good at that moment. There’s nothing inherently wrong with cool games and features, but it becomes harmful when it debilitates us from doing something more useful.

Try to help students see the distinction between learning and playing, and understand when entertainment has an appropriate time and place.

Make Yourself Smarter

Do students know how to use augmented reality tools to make themselves smarter and stronger? Social media, like Twitter, is great for establishing connections and sharing information, but it can also be entirely devoid of meaningful sharing, too. Students aren’t born knowing how to wield a digital tool to boost their learning any more than they’re born knowing how a hammer helps build a house. They have to be taught.

Make it a point to show students the benefits of augmented reality, and how they can use the tool to learn more about what they want or need to know. Model your own personal uses, incorporate it into class when it appropriate, and discourage it when it’s the wrong tool for the job.

Hopefully you’ll take a crack at playing Pokemon Go sometime soon. It’s fun, and definitely something you can relate to your students! More importantly, plan on using this new app for opening up important discussions with your students about how to use augmented reality in a way that is both safe and advantageous.

Have you used augmented reality in your classroom? What do you do to help students to make the most of this exciting tool?

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.

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