Photo: Mark Mckelvie

Ryerson lab uses technology to bring hands-on-learning to classrooms

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By Mark McKelvie

A Ryerson lab is using technology that combines physical and virtual elements by way of augmented reality to bring interactive hands-on learning to the classroom.

The Responsive Ecologies Lab (RE/Lab) at 483 Bay Street studies how technologies can be useful in our lives and promote our ability to learn.

Jason Nolan, associate professor of Early Childhood Studies and director of RE/Lab, thinks schools are putting too much emphasis on passive learning with the use of technology in the classroom.

The lab’s research comes at a time when more and more schools are investing in technology for their students. Programs like Bring Your Own Device in the Peel District School Board encourage parents to send their child to school with tablets and cell phones.

“Now [educators] want to start teaching code in kindergarten,” Nolan said. “Get [students] outside building models in the mud and understanding the logical process of something.”

The lack of firsthand experience is not something limited to young children. University students who work in the lab with Nolan say they don’t get the same hands-on opportunities in their lectures and tutorials as they do in the RE/Lab.

“Physical engagement is important after public school age especially when you’re trying to tackle problems that are yet to be understood,” said Ali Malazek, principal investigator of the RE/Lab and Canadian Research Chair.

“By re-engaging the body and bringing in computation at the same time, we form insights to tackle new problems.”

The rock-climbing wall in their lab gives a climber real-time feedback to help them move more efficiently. Four touch sensors attached to an Android tablet help those with communication issues input combinations of entries to string together sentences.

“We want to stick around in the real world, except when we want to go to places where we actually can’t go,” Nolan said.

However, there are obstacles to the introduction of this technology in schools.

“If we gave everybody their own personal chemistry kits or musical instruments it would cost school too much money,” Nolan said.

For now, Nolan accepts the use of iPads and computers in the classroom, but with certain conditions.

“Make sure you use technology to extend an experience beyond what it normally is, not replace it completely.”

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