Lehigh students bring 21st century technology to ancient art

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Student at Lehigh University Art Galleries participating in [AR]T ADVENTURES augmented reality game

Last week marked the culmination of Lehigh’s first ever in-class student-created augmented reality project, [AR]T ADVENTURES, developed in partnership with the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) for an introductory course in art history.

Augmented reality (AR) is a feature that students are most likely familiar with through games like Pokemon Go or as interactive filters on Snapchat or Instagram. Programs that use augmented reality show digital elements moving around within the live picture of the real world on the screen. Students in the course Ancient to Medieval Art and Architecture held a reception on Dec. 5 at the Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) Lower Gallery to showcase the augmented reality games they built and to share their experiences working with the technology.

Innovating in the Galleries

Over the course of the semester, and with guidance from Library and Technology Services’ (LTS) senior instructional technologist Steve Sakasitz, seven groups created games tied to different themes that related directly to the course curriculum, such as the human figure, religion and belief, or nature and the environment. Every game incorporated three pieces on display at LUAG, as well as three other pieces discussed in class that may be housed in museums anywhere on earth. The groups created their games with Metaverse, a program that allows users to make augmented reality games even without comprehensive knowledge of coding.

The forty-two students enrolled in the ART001 course demonstrated their projects to guests and other students, who could play the games by scanning QR codes for each theme with the Metaverse app.

Sakasitz said he expects to see an increase in the integration of immersive technology tools in courses to enhance teaching and learning, as well as direct application to research at Lehigh. This winter, LTS plans the installation of a collaborative, student-focused development space, where students can gain hands-on experience and experiment with 2D, 3D, VR, AR, and other emerging technologies, he said. 

Immersive technology transforming the classroom

Students said they never expected their projects to be using technology this advanced to learn about artwork from so long ago. “When you take an art history class, you expect it to be like reading a book, looking at old pieces,” said Emma McGillis ‘22, a graphic design major. She said incorporating a technology component like this into an art course was interesting and unexpected.

This connection felt more natural to Professor William Crow, LUAG Director and course instructor. He cited that games were often central parts of daily life in the ancient world, like the board game senet from ancient Egypt or the Olympics in Greece, and decided to continue that legacy with more modern equipment. “Just like a pencil is a type of technology that we might use to help our learning,” he said, “these new tools like augmented reality can be… used as a pretext to learn more about art history.”

Crow says that these pieces of art on their own often remain silent to many visitors. The addition of AR is intended to help draw people in by “guiding the user through the encounter and providing relevant contextual information” while they play what feels to them like a fun and simple game on their phones, he said. This format allows students and scholars to slip in significant data without ever risking boring the visitor.

“Research in education, cognition, and technology provides evidence that digital tools such as augmented reality have the potential to increase learning and retention,” said Crow. “The process of manipulating and then sharing the information learned about the works of art will allow you to understand the materials in more elaborate, in-depth, and personalized ways.”

Milling around the gallery playing each other’s games, students summed up their experiences with the merging of art and technology. Yael Schmoisman ‘22, an architecture major, said “It was cool to do a final project that combined the humanities side with the whole techy side.”

Mike Hoben ‘22, also an architecture student, remarked on how well the project had turned out. “Everybody did a great job,” he said. “Besides some game issues, like technical difficulties, the formatting was great, the information was correct, it was really the best version we could have hoped for.”

CITL Director Greg Reihman said, “We in the Center are always looking to collaborate with faculty to bring great ideas to life in the classroom. Steve Sakasitz is doing great work experimenting with educational uses of augmented reality, and William Crow is a fount of pedagogical insight and innovation. It is inspiring to see how they enabled the ART001 students to create new ways of using AR as an educational technology.”

Faculty interested in learning more about incorporating immersive technologies into their courses are invited to attend the CITL Winter Workshop on January 9, 2020. Other session topics will include essential instructional technologies, new feature updates, designing multimedia assignments and data analysis projects, and introducing 'Serious Play' into courses.

Story by Rowan Brown ‘23

  • Student at Lehigh University Art Galleries participating in [AR]T ADVENTURES augmented reality game
  • Students gather at LUAG to demonstrate their augmented reality course projects
  • Students using Metaverse augmented reality app to scan QR codes for themes created in [AR]T ADVENTURES augmented reality game
  • Guest at Lehigh University Art Galleries participating in [AR]T ADVENTURES augmented reality game