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Students play out "live" history lessons

26 December 2012

Students using an iPad to play the interactive augmented reality game at Raffles Quay

Mr Koh (left) using a postcard that team member Deidra Wong's iPad detects as a "game" object
Photo: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings
History will no longer be a boring subject about dead people and events, with the latest innovative use of technology giving it a fresh breath of life. Researchers from the Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Centre at NUS has creatively tapped augmented reality (AR) to make the past come alive for students.

Named "The Jackson Plan" after the 1822 town plan of Singapore by Lieutenant Philip Jackson, the interesting handheld game combines a trip to Boat Quay to promote interactive learning among students.

Mr Raymond Koh, a research designer at the Centre who leads the project, came out with the concept about a year ago. Together with two other members, the team designed the game to incorporate vivid colours, light and sounds, puzzles and interaction.

The Jackson Plan revolves around a specific chapter in the history syllabus, just after Sir Stamford Raffles' founding of modern Singapore. Each pair of students is given a portable handheld device and a postcard of old Singapore on their trip down the Singapore River.

Players start with a fragment of the Jackson town plan and collect the other missing pieces to complete the adventure. Unlike a multimedia-guided tour, the new game applies AR to "embed" the curriculum content onto actual historical sites, as well as integrate a "live" camera-mode view and Global Positioning System (GPS) functionality, such that the portable device is able to zoom into the precise location of the players. Historically relevant virtual game content is displayed in physical spaces, such as bubbles of history information or overlaying scenes, at well-known monuments and old buildings.

Players "meet" and interact with virtual historical characters to discover clues and perform tasks to move forward in their quest. They can also look at the past and present Singapore by overlaying old and new maps, as well as actual real-life scenes, to locate the next game spots to complete the tasks.

Outram Secondary School took part in a pilot test over July and August this year. A group of 36 Secondary One students received the mobile AR game, while a second group of 36 was given an e-book version of the game without the location-sensing and AR component. Both versions had demonstrated an improvement in learning outcomes by up to 15 percent. The trial showed that students who used the AR version performed better by about 22 percent after the test when compared to the other group.

The NUS researchers are formalising a licensing agreement for the school to use the game as a history class supplement. Both parties are also discussing the possibility of collaborating on a new AR project.