Harnessing the Teaching Power of Augmented Reality

Lewis and Clark Community Coll­ege (L&C) in Godfrey, Ill., is using augmented technology to maximize learning, facilitate instruction, and reduce costs.

It all started in 2019, when the L&C welding program built a 16,000-sq-ft facility and equipped it with state-of-the-art welding machines and education tools, including 12 Miller AugmentedArc® augmented reality (AR) welding systems. The school uses the technology to introduce entry-level classes to the fundamentals of shielded metal, gas metal, gas tungsten, and flux cored arc welding processes as well as different joint types, welding positions, and applications.

Advancing Learning through Immersive Experiences

The program’s AR welding systems provide students with an immersive environment that enables hands-on training. The systems work by utilizing an AR helmet along with plastic components that represent different welding equipment and joint types. When the student puts on the AR helmet, these components come to life by taking on the appearance of 3D metal coupons and welding guns/torches. 

“When the students look at the plastic samples through the helmet, the computer converts the QR codes that are on the pieces of plastic samples into what they would see as a piece of metal and then a weld,” said Travis Jumper, associate professor and welding technology coordinator at L&C.

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A student’s AR view after welding. (Credit: Miller Electric.)

During AR welding, students also receive visual and auditory cues that simulate a real welding environment and provide feedback on how they’re performing. These cues allow them to build the muscle memory needed for proper welding technique.

Jumper admits that while the immersive AR environment helps prepare students for welding, it is not to be used in complete lieu of actual welding.

“These systems are designed to train muscle memory,” Jumper emphasized. “They’re not designed to be a full replacement of being in the shop and welding.”

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A student’s AR view shows visual cues during welding. (Credit: Miller Electric.)

Enabling Students to Move at Their Own Pace

The AR welding systems at L&C are implemented into the curriculum in a way that allows students to progress as quickly or slowly as they need. The welding program’s students use the AR systems until they earn a passing score of 90% on a particular skill. They then go into the welding booth to try the real thing.

This scoring feature allows students who come into the program with prior welding experience to move faster through the curriculum than those who have never welded, thus ensuring that each student’s individual learning needs are met. The scoring feature of the AR system has the added benefit of gamifying learning, as many students will battle each other to earn the highest score. 

“Those machines give a zero to 100 score on each of the five parameters, so the students really get competitive on who got the highest score,” Jumper said. “Without realizing it, those students are getting better as they compete.”

Using AR as a Second Teacher

The AR welding systems at L&C serve in a supportive role to the instructor by providing students with constant and immediate feedback on welding parameters. The systems also track students’ progress, giving them a visual overview on what they have mastered and what they must continue to work on. 

“It tracks travel speed, travel angle, work angle, contact-tip-to-work distance, all those welding parameters we as educators try to get the students to understand,” Jumper explained. “But what’s really handy for the student is it will actually graph each one of those parameters so they can observe what they need to fix.”

This feedback is invaluable to Jumper, who is tasked with teaching 4.5-hour class blocks that host 15 students. He can typically give one-on-one attention to all 15 students once per hour. But with the AR system, students don’t have to wait for Jumper to get back to them.

“They’re able to get assistance multiple times per hour instead of just once,” he said. “That’s the biggest advantage of it.”

However, Jumper reiterated that the AR system does not replace the educator or actual welding.

“It’s important that people understand that this is an add-on, not a replacement,” Jumper affirmed.

Reducing Costs without Skimping on Quality

Welding programs use costly materials to teach students how to move and position their bodies during welding. However, at L&C, entry-level students first learn the basics of welding without burning through metal coupons or consumables.

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Student uses AR to hone their shielded metal arc welding skills without wasting metal coupons or consumables. (Credit: L&C.)

“We’re not spending money on wire or rods or metal when students are fine-tuning their skills and figuring out how to stand or how fast to move,” Jumper said. Spending time on the AR system also leads to students making fewer mistakes when they do get in the booth for real-life welding. “They’ll be able to perform the welds in the shop quicker, so it’ll take less metal, less rods, and less passes to be able to pass an actual weld joint in the process,” Jumper said. 

The Future Looks Bright through the AR Lens

So far, the welding program at L&C has trained approxi­mately 70 students using the AR systems. This number would be higher if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, which constrained the use of the AR classroom for almost two years. For Jumper, one of the most valuable takeaways about the AR welding systems is that they enable the school to produce competent, highly skilled welders in a short period of time.

“We’re making sure we can get students trained as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”

This article was written by Katie Pacheco (associate editor of the Welding Journal) for the American Welding Society.