As the COVID-19 pandemic roared and plagued the entire world, education, particularly in those underdeveloped areas, faced challenges as virtual learning took over the traditional in-person education format. Students from rural areas and/or disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are especially impacted by this forced transition, as they lack the resources their urban peers enjoy: science laboratories, museums, field trip opportunities, etc.

As students, we recognize the disparity in educational resources across different geographic locations. With limited hands-on experiences, students from rural areas generally have more difficulties understanding and retaining the knowledge they learned in the classroom. Practical and experimental experience helps students master the concepts substantially easier, but underprivileged students don't have such an opportunity.

There are many different methods to approach virtual learning tools designed for youth from rural areas, but unlike other online tutoring platforms that focus on the theoretical aspect of education, we focus on the applied and hands-on facet of learning. We thus took on an innovative approach to resolve this issue: Augmented Reality (AR).

What it does

LeARning is a free virtual learning tool based on AR technology. The core of our project is a collection of models built using echoAR, a cloud platform for AR/VR, covering a range of subjects from science, to history, to art. Any user with a phone and internet connection could easily visit our website and scan the QR code provided to gain a virtual hands-on experience with any discipline of their interest.

An example of LeARning's capability is to create a virtual chemistry laboratory in the student's home. With limited access to science facilities, students from rural areas (especially during a pandemic) can hardly obtain any experience with scientific experiments. With LeARning, however, young people can easily operate an experiment without any costs or safety concerns. Another example is the display of a museum's artworks. Utilizing AR enables students to transform their home into an art gallery, one in which they could enjoy and closely examine the artistic elements on paintings previously only known in textbooks. To make all this more accessible to students, we also coded a website using Qoom, allowing anyone to access it online whenever they need to.

Note that because of the complexity of each academic discipline, it is impossible to build a comprehensive app within the given timeframe of the hackathon. Nevertheless, we wish to continue this project after the hackathon to make it more comprehensive and user-friendly, possibly creating an app that students can download on their phones and tablets.

How we built it

After hours of initial brainstorming, researching, and outlining, we decided to collaboratively work on this project by assigning Chris to website development and architecture, Hedwig and Anna to echoAR 3D models construction and animation, and Tim to design and research.

Ultimately, we constructed our prototype project with two concepts new to us: web development and AR technology. We learned to use HTML and CSS to code the website, and to build 3D models and animations with Blender and Unity.

Challenges we ran into

As four high school students competing in our first hackathon, it was challenging for us to navigate many of the unfamiliar technologies we wanted to use. With no prior knowledge of AR/VR development, HTML, CSS, or JavaScript, we had to slowly learn and build a website from scratch. Online coordination also proved difficult without the vibe of an in-person Hackathon.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are especially proud of the fact that we learned to apply new technological tools to help better education in economically disadvantaged areas. The technology that once seems aloof and impersonal becomes a tangible promoter of social equity and justice. Although our project is only a prototype now, we are confident that with time, LeARning can become an education equalizer in society. We also found the process of learning web development and 3D modeling extremely rewarding.

What we learned

We learned so much about web architecture, 3D animation, echoAR, and other general hacking techniques. This is an enriching experience for us in terms of coding and software development. It was also fulfilling to realize and engage in the application of these technologies in real life for social good.

What's next for LeARning

As this is our first Hackathon, there are still many imperfections in LeARning. Looking forward, we wish to expand the scope of LeARning by introducing more academic subjects and topics that students can watch in AR. We also wish to develop a mobile app for students to download on their iPhones or Android phones

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