Tablet+: free apps that are great for digital literacy projects

Many educators ask us for creative ideas for using tablets and smart phones in educational settings. These tools are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in homes, libraries, and classrooms making it increasingly difficult to come up with new and interesting ways to use them for teaching digital literacy skills.

In today’s post we’re going to focus on two app categories: augmented reality and photogrammetry. Fantastic free apps exist in both of these categories that allow educators to create innovative digital literacy projects.

AUGMENTED REALITY APPS

Augmented Reality (or AR) apps allow you to use your smart phones or tablets to in some way change (or augment) the world around you. These AR apps work like invisible QR codes that allow you and your learners to augmented existing images with new information.

Our favourite AR app that we’ve used is Aurasma. Aurasma is free to download and free to create content for. While it can take a few minutes to get used to Aurasma’s creation interface, once I got the hang of it I found it more powerful and considerably cheaper than AR alternatives like Layar.

With Aurasma you could have students embark on augmented reality scavenger hunts in libraries, searching for clues on the covers of books. You could have students write alternate histories for museum displays that only are revealed once someone scans the display using the app.

Using this app encourages learners to combine their digital literacy skills (like creating videos, image editing, smart phone/tablet use) with traditional literacy skills like reading and writing. AR apps can also encourage learners to be critical of established narratives (for an example of this, look at the Tecumseh Lies Here project that uses Layar to encourage students to question traditional historical narratives surrounding the death of Tecumseh).

In the free version of Aurasma, only people who subscribe to your channel can view the augments you create, making this app less-than-ideal for creating augments that anyone can see (to see a break down of the paid vs. free version of Aurasma, click here). But in an educational setting where downloading and learning how to use the app is part of the instruction, the free version would suit most needs.

If you’re interested in other app and web resources for Augmented Reality, check out this great list compiled by ISTE.org.

PHOTOGRAMMETRY

In a nutshell photogrammetry is the process of stitching together several photos of an object to create a 3D image. Photogrammetry simplifies the creation of 3D images and allows users to make realistic representations of real-world objects. This process can be a great way to create models for 3D printing.

We’ve had good experiences with an app called 123D Catch. This app is available for free on Android, iOS, Windows, and on the web – making it available for nearly every platform you’d want to use.

To use 123D Catch you move around an object taking pictures of it from as many angles as possible. Once you’ve taken anywhere from 15-50 pictures, the app stitches those photos together to make a 3D object. Ryan from the MakerBus created a video discussing how 123D Catch could be used to create 3D models of historic buildings – watch the video below for an overview of how to use the web version of 123D Catch.

This app has fantastic applications for digital history and heritage. It empowers learners to create photo-realistic models of heritage objects and buildings. Using this app learners can digitize heritage objects of personal significance and with the help of a 3D printer, create replicas of these objects.

123D Catch is also a good starting point for getting people excited about learning how to use more advanced 3D modelling software. While free software like Blender is a powerful and extremely useful 3D modelling tool, learners often need to work their way up to using such complex software. Even more user-friendly software like Sketchup can be daunting for learners, especially if they want to create realistic 3D models.

If you’re interested in exploring alternatives to 123D Catch, check out this blog post explore open-source photogrammetry software.

What apps do you think are great for digital literacy projects? We’d love to hear your suggestions. The MakerBus team uses a number of different apps in our digital literacy courses, so look for more posts like this in the future.

If you liked this article, why not follow the MakerBus on twitter (@DHMakerBus) or like us on Facebook (/dhmakerbus)? We post some of the most creative maker projects found on the web every day. If you #getonthebus, we promise a fun ride!

-The MakerBus team

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