Pokémon Go augmented reality app catches the Department of Education’s attention

Pokémon Go has become an international sensation, with over 20 million downloads in the U.S. alone. And that’s caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education.

Edward Metz, the program manager for Small Business Innovation Research, and Russell Shilling, the executive director of STEM, of the U.S. Department of Education wrote a blog post for global incubator 1776 about how Nintendo’s megapopular iOS and Android app is raising awareness of augmented reality (AR) games, especially in education.

“There are already examples of AR being used in education interventions that are designed to improve student outcomes,” the pair wrote.

Augmented reality overlays computer-generated images and content onto the real world. When people look at their phone’s camera view onscreen in Pokémon Go, they see their surroundings … and cute, virtual creatures like Pikachu and Squirtle. AR is different from virtual reality, which is also being used in education, where the user is fully immersed in a virtual experience that replaces the real-world environment.

So what other AR programs are stirring up education? Metz and Shilling mentioned Happy Atoms, a real-world and virtual “ball-and-stick” chemistry modeling set; EcoMobile, an app that turns students into citizen-scientists exploring a virtual pond; and Fetch: Lunch Rush, which combines AR with a physical game board to help children add and subtract.

“These games, apps, and platforms offer just a hint at the potential for how augmented reality can enrich student learning,” Metz and Shilling wrote. “With high-speed Internet access and devices in more schools (and ongoing efforts to build on that growth), there is an opportunity for more AR-based interventions to be designed, developed, and used as part of a classroom or school experience.”

Educators are having fun with Pokémon Go, too. We even spotted teacher Steve Isaacs catching a Rattata in our biweekly #ClasscraftChat on Twitter. It’s just another example of how play and learning fit together—no matter what your age.

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