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A. Rahn, H.W. Kjaergaard

VIA University College (DENMARK)
Understanding the workings of the biological human body is as complex as the body itself, and because of their complexity, the phenomena of respiration and lung anatomy pose a special problem for nursing students’ understanding within anatomy and physiology.

Against this background, the current project set out to investigate how and to what extent the application of augmented reality (AR) could help students gain a better understanding through an increased focus on contextualized visualization.
The overall aim of the project has been to uncover the pedagogical affordances of AR and increase student learning through its application, an area in which there seems to be very little research. In the context at hand, AR was expected to help create a realistic visualization of parts of the body “in situ” unlike videos and models that are outside the bodily context and often too simplified. In addition, AR use was expected to encourage students to be active and explorative and exert an influence on their individual learning paths. We expected these factors to facilitate student learning processes and enhance learning outcomes.

Context and approach:
The project is open and exploratory in its approach and inspired by visual culture pedagogy. It explores its data through processual and experimental methods in cultural analysis, framed by predefined explorative questions and a “ReflexivityLab” approach in the data analysis.
The setting is an anatomy course with 30 1st-year undergraduates at one of the schools of nursing at VIA University College, Denmark. An app was developed that would allow students to visualize the workings of a set of lungs “inside” a student’s body using AR technology and an iPad in contrast to earlier used visualizations, e.g. pictures, videos, and models. In groups of 4-5, the students worked with the app and with questions inspired by an inquiry based science education approach (IBSE).

Observation and video recording of student actions and responses took place. In addition, students were asked to evaluate the experience and how it differed from other methods of instruction. Finally, they were asked to reflect on the potentials of AR in relation to their learning and training.

Preliminary results:
Data analysis is underway, but preliminary results show very active students, many exchanges of reflection, and continual use of the AR visualizations during the solving of the set tasks.
Students state that they gain a deeper understanding of lung function and better understanding of physical dimensions – things that are normally difficult to understand on the basis of text or an immobile plastic model. Students also stress the importance of the possibility of choosing an individual, explorative approach in order to get a comprehensive understanding.

Future directions:
So far, the pilot indicates multiple potential pedagogical uses, just as the reasonably simple prototype has indicated directions for further technical development. Students expressed a desire for more of this type of learning material to help them understand complex, “hidden” processes. In a next step, more organs should be included in the AR functionality in order for the relations between various functions to be visualized. Finally, to have an app that registers respiration in real time based on data from the live person could add even more to the power of the application of AR.