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Research on Augmented Reality (AR) technologies for STEM education

Role:          Researcher Developer Presenter

Timeline:     March 2019 - May 2020

Tags:           User Research User Interview Software Development

Tools:          Unity Game Engine C# Android OS Vuforia Google Drive Google Docs Google Slides Dropbox 
Detail:         Research and mobile application development as part of NASA Space Grant Consortium

                     and National Science Foundation UNY Innovation Crops STEM Marketing

A middle school student testing the beta version of Sheen AR application for STEM education

UX SHEEN INTRO

Introduction

 

At the crossroads of innovation and education lies the Sheen project—a research initiative that I spearheaded as an undergraduate student under faculty supervision.

 

Conducted within the Department of Computer Science at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, the project aimed to leverage Augmented Reality (AR) as a transformative tool for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.

 

With the generous support of NASA's West Virginia Space Grant Consortium (NASA WVSGC), Sheen sought not merely to augment classroom learning but to revolutionize it.

Over a year, this research initiative birthed multiple Android-based AR applications, all designed to facilitate better learning experiences in STEM subjects for K-12 students.

Extension and Collaborations

 

The initial success of the Sheen project led to an extended commitment from the NASA WVSGC. This vote of confidence helped us not only sustain our efforts but also broaden our horizons.

 

As a significant milestone, the project was incorporated into the National Science Foundation's (NSF) UNY Innovation Corps (I-Corps) STEM marketing program.

This prestigious program served as a catalyst in steering the project in the right direction, offering invaluable mentorship and guiding me through the complexities of audience analysis and market fit. Through it, I was equipped with the tools and knowledge to conduct thorough interviews and data collection across diverse educational settings.

UX SHEEN EXTENSIONS

Problem Statement

 

Traditional teaching methods often struggle to make complex STEM topics, specifically in Biology and Chemistry, accessible to K-12 students.

 

In a world where digital literacy is increasingly essential, many teachers still face challenges in adopting new technologies.

My interviews revealed a divide: while some educators hesitated to incorporate novel technologies like AR, mainly due to a lack of training and familiarity, students were generally eager and ready to engage with such innovations.

 

The issue highlights the urgent need for more immersive and interactive teaching tools that cater to the comfort level of both teachers and students.

UX SHEEN PROBLEM

Purpose & Audience

 

At its core, the Sheen project aimed to remedy the gaps and shortcomings in traditional STEM education.

The primary objective was to introduce AR as an efficient and engaging medium for K-12 students, with a particular focus on Biology and Chemistry.

Future phases aimed to include engineering and mechanical topics, rounding out the holistic STEM experience.

 

Designed to be compatible initially with Android devices, I also envisioned extending the application to cater to iOS users.

 

Ultimately, Sheen aspired to serve a broad audience: from young students just beginning their educational journeys, to high school students looking for more advanced materials, to educators seeking novel methods to enrich their teaching strategies.

UX SHEEN PURPOSE

A model of DNA structure as seen within the beta AR application. Users could take the device which was running the application through the model for an in-depth look.

UX SHEEN INTERVIEWS

Interviews & User Feedback

 

One of the project's cornerstone achievements came through its acceptance into the NSF UNY I-Corps program. This facilitated a series of targeted interviews with a wide array of stakeholders—high school students, special education teachers, and online instructors.

 

The feedback offered a nuanced understanding of the educational ecosystem. While some educators hesitated to integrate AR technologies into their pedagogy due to a lack of familiarity, others—particularly those in special and online education—embraced it as a revolutionary educational tool.

 

Students, almost universally, were excited by the possibilities of AR, especially those who had the chance to test the beta versions of the application at science fairs. This feedback loop was not just encouraging but also crucial in shaping the project's future trajectory.

A model of the globe projected on the AR marker on the paper.

Research Milestones

 

My portfolio features a comprehensive research paper on the Sheen project, elaborating on methodologies, findings, and the potential for future research.

This paper isn't just an academic exercise—it serves as a blueprint for educators and technologists interested in the convergence of AR and STEM education.

 

Alongside this, the Sheen project also saw academic recognition. It was presented at the American Society for Engineering Education 2020 conference, secured first place at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering STEM awards, and was even featured in West Virginia Science and Research magazine.

Awards:

  • Research project presented during International Annual American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2020 Virtual/Montréal Conference

  • NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium (NASA WVSGC) Undergraduate Fellowship

  • 1st place Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) West Virginia Section STEM Awards

  • Project accepted for National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps short course program, STEM marketing

  • Third place during West Virginia University Launch Lab “Is there an app for that?” App based business competition & during West Virginia University Institute of Technology Launch Lab "Campus-wide Pitch" Event


Press Releases:

  • Greenbrier Valley Quarterly Magazine                                                                                       March 2020

  • West Virginia University Institute of Technology online news section                                       June 2019

  • West Virginia Science & Research                                                                                                 June 2019

  • Mountain Messenger Newspaper                                                                                                  July 2019

  • The Fayette Tribune Newspaper                                                                                                    July 2019

  • Featured on The Neuron, West Virginia Science and Research magazine            Summer 2019 Edition

UX SHEEN RESEARCH
UX SHEEN RESULTS

Results & Future Steps

 

The prototypes, developed using the Unity Game Engine and Vuforia online application, were tested with overwhelmingly positive results.

 

The opportunity to interact with the models at an unprecedented level—like virtually stepping inside a science model—was a highlight for many students. A math instructor found the 3D graphs and charts particularly useful compared to traditional 2D representations.

As the project mainly focused on technology, usability, and user research, the next phase is planned to venture into user experience and interface design. Although I've since graduated from the undergraduate program, the groundwork laid by the Sheen project opens promising avenues for future research.

↓ View the final research paper presented below

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