Eastern Michigan University uses augmented reality sandbox to help students move mountains

Hands-on technology enables students to build topographical maps that encourage understanding of earth’s geological processes

YPSILANTI - For some students, topographical maps can look like nothing more than paper with squiggly lines. A professor at Eastern Michigan University sought to change that perception through augmented reality.

Katherine Ryker, an assistant professor of Earth science education, built an Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox to help both EMU and local students gain an interactive understanding of complex Earth processes.

The sandbox combines a box of sand, a camera, a digital data projector, simulation and visualization software and a computer. A virtual map is displayed on the sand, which can be manipulated to create geographical features.

The AR Sandbox combines a physical box of sand, a Microsoft Xbox Kinect camera, a digital data projector, simulation and visualization software and a computer. A virtual map is then displayed on the sand, which can be manipulated by students to create mountains, volcanoes, river channels or glacial deposits. Students can also hold their hands over the map to create virtual rain.

EMU is one of only three Michigan schools to have this technology. Western Michigan University and Ithaca High School, located in the middle of the state, are the others.

“It helps EMU students develop spatial thinking and improve their understanding of maps in an exciting and engaging way,” said Ryker. “It’s a hands-on way to learn about geography and geology.”

Ryker built the sandbox by hand during December 2015 and January 2016, with funding from an eFellows grant, courtesy from EMU’s Faculty Development Center. The grant supports faculty in obtaining resources needed to successfully pilot innovative, technology-based projects that enhance student learning.

The sandbox has attracted campus-wide attention from academic departments, ranging from children’s literature to the ROTC, each interested in utilizing the sandbox to fit their curriculum.

 “It’s exciting to see that it is a technology with a diverse set of applications outside of just geography and geology,” Ryker said.

The Augmented Reality sandbox is currently housed in the Geography and Geology department in room 202 of Strong Hall.

To visit the Augmented Reality Sandbox, please contact Katherine Ryker: kryker@emich.edu. To learn more visit the the Geography and Geology department website.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

August 26, 2016

Written by:
Media Relations

Geoff Larcom