No matter how old you get, there’s something fun about playing in a sandbox. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), a group of interdisciplinary researchers from Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and College of Engineering will be developing high-tech sandboxes to provide hands-on learning for students. Villanova Center of Excellence in Enterprise Technology (CEET) Director and professor of Computing Sciences Frank Klassner, PhD, was awarded a three-year, $300,000 NSF grant for the project, titled “Enhancing the Augmented Reality Sandbox's Software and Hardware to Support Quantitative Simulation for STEM Education.” Villanova faculty members Lisa Marco-Bujosa, PhD, assistant professor of Education, Kabindra Shakya, PhD, assistant professor of Geography and the Environment, and Virginia Smith, PhD, assistant professor of Civil Engineering are helping oversee and bring this technology to labs on campus.
The technology is based around projecting a colorful augmented reality display onto sand in a real sandbox, and it was created by a researcher at University of California, Davis in 2012. The box was originally used in public exhibits for science education but has since been adopted by universities and research centers around the world. It allows users to evaluate hydrological processes through the shifting of the sand. The height of the piles of sand within the box equate to different elevations of land masses. Virtual water can then be added to show how it flows within the changing landscapes.
“There are a lot of learning situations where students benefit from seeing the scenario from different perspectives,” Klassner said. “These technologies help students make instantaneous relations, which helps them learn the overall discipline much more comprehensively."