In partnership with the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education and Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, the Franklin Institute Science Museum will develop, test, and pilot an exportable and replicable cyberlearning exhibit using two cutting edge technologies: Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). The exhibit's conceptualization is anchored in the learning research vision of the NSF-funded workshop Cyberinfrastructure for Education and Learning for the Future (Computing Research Association, 2005). The incorporation of VR and AR technologies into the Franklin Institute's electricity and Earth science exhibits is an innovation of traditional approaches to hands-on learning and will improve the quality of the learning experience for the primary audience of families with children and elementary school groups. The project has implications for future exhibit development and more broadly, will provide new research on learning on how to incorporate cyberlearning efforts into traditional exhibits. Fifteen participating exhibit developers across the ISE field will assist in the evaluation of the new exhibit; receive training on the design and development of VR and AR exhibits for their institutions; and receive full access to the exhibit's new software for implementation at their informal learning sites. The technology applications will be developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center--leaders in the field in Virtual Reality design and development. Front-end and formative evaluation will be overseen internally by the Franklin Institute. The Institute for Learning Innovation will conduct the summative evaluation. Research will be conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education on the effects of AR and VR technologies on exhibit learning.

Project Report

Karen Elinich, Ed.D. Principal Investigator Intellectual Merit In 2008, The Franklin Institute began to explore the use of augmented reality technologies in science museum exhibits as a tool for better integrating the experiential and interpretive aspects of hands-on engagement with scientific phenomena. Augmented reality combines real and virtual objects in the real environment. It changes in real time in response to manipulation, and it aligns real and virtual objects with one another. Our ultimate goal was to leverage these characteristics to strengthen the informal science learning experience that we provide for our visitors. The Franklin Institute is a science museum located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The organization dates back to 1824, with its origins rooted in the promotion of the mechanical arts. In 1934, the Institute opened its current incarnation as a hands-on science museum. Throughout its history, its paramount mission has been advancing the spirit of inquiry and discovery embodied by its namesake. Like at most science museums, traditional exhibit practice at The Franklin Institute has been to design a thematically linked series of devices that invite learners to encounter individual scientific phenomena in some interactive, hands-on way. To understand magnetic forces, for example, one must first feel the forces by holding two magnets near each other, so we provide bar magnets for play. To encourage extended exploration and provide interpretive content, a graphic panel with label copy is placed beside the magnets. The expectation—or hope—is that the learner will play with the magnets, read the graphic panel, play some more, refer back to the panel, make sense of the experience, and ultimately walk away having learned about magnetic force fields. This ideal scenario is occasionally manifested, but the far more prevalent reality is that the visitor engages with only one aspect of the experience; some visitors only play with the magnets, while others only read the label copy. As augmented reality technologies were becoming accessible in 2008, we wondered if they might be useful in exhibit design practice. As we explored the technology, we realized that they might help to integrate the interpretive and experiential aspects of our typical informal science learning experiences. The Augmented Reality for Interpretive and Experiential Learning (ARIEL) project was our effort to research and develop the transformative potential of the technology in service to informal science learning. Our project structure had three parallel yet interwoven strands: prototyping, learning research, and platform development. Each had its own focus and goals, but the findings and outcomes reinforce the activity and process in the others. For example, as we prototyped new device interfaces, we engaged the learning research to test learning impacts with student populations. The learning research findings then informed the next stage of prototyping. Likewise, the technical needs that became evident during prototyping informed the platform development process. The prototyping process resulted in the development and testing of seven augmented devices that enhance classic device experiences with electromagnetism, circuits, air pressure, pendulums, chain reactions, etc. The learning research track included extensive studies of learning designs that could occur using scaffolding around an augmented device. The software development track resulted in an open-source programming toolkit for exhibit developers to use when adding digital augmentations to an exhibit device. Broader Impact The ARIEL project served both public and professional audiences. Through the learning research part of the project, we engaged over 1,000 middle school students from high-needs urban schools with the project, providing opportunities for them to engage with new technologies as they explored the museum exhibits and encountered scientific phenomena. By installing augmented devices on the museum floor in exhibit halls, we also engaged our broadest audience of families and school groups with the technology. To reach professional audiences, we invited informal science professionals from the ASTC community to review our prototype devices and provide formative evaluation data for us. We also distributed the ARIEL Builder open-source software with colleagues and made the application freely available for download online. We also publicized its availability within the open-source software community. Our learning research studies have been published and presented widely. We have found our results to be of great interest to the computer-supported collaborative learning community as well as among researchers who study informal science learning environments.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)
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Arlene M. de Strulle
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Franklin Institute Science Museum
United States
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