Emerging Lines of Work with Zachary Alstad

TERC staff have been central to the organization's 55+ years of success as a research and development nonprofit. As the landscape of STEM education continues to change, our talented staff have been adding to the diversity and range of our work. Their lines of work are shaping the field of STEM education and research. 

In this exciting blog series, we introduce you to the brilliant and talented individuals who are making a mark in STEM education. They will not only share their passion for their work but also offer valuable insights into their journeys that have led them to where they are today.

AugmentedEF: Revolutionizing Student Engagement with Augmented Reality  

Zac Alstad headshotZachary Alstad is a Senior Researcher at TERC. He and his team have been focused for the last nine months on AugmentedEF, a tech focused project that aims to develop a tool to support students with executive function issues, like ADHD, by harnessing the power of augmented reality (AR). In the following post, Zac shares his enthusiasm for the project and the progress they’ve already made in transforming how neurodiverse students can effectively engage with their work. 

The Challenge: Executive Function Issues and Engagement 

Staying focused and engaged in the classroom can be tough, especially for students with executive function issues. The goal of AugmentedEF is to create an immersive learning experience that not only grabs students' attention but also helps them develop essential study skills they can generalize elsewhere. 

As someone who's neurodiverse myself, dealing with ADHD and dyslexia, I'm deeply invested in creating tools that can empower students facing similar challenges. Drawing from my own experiences, I'm committed to making inclusive and highly effective educational technologies a reality. 

Augmented Reality: Enhancing the Real World 

Zac_VRglassesAugmented reality (AR) is a cutting-edge technology that seamlessly blends the virtual and physical realms, taking our perception and interaction with reality to a whole new level. Unlike virtual reality, which completely transports you to a digital world, AR overlays virtual elements onto the real world. With devices like headsets and smartphones, you can see and interact with computer-generated objects and information right in your surroundings. Students have greatly appreciated the opportunity to work with these new systems.  

AugmentedEF aims to harness the power of AR to improve student engagement in the classroom. AR makes learning interactive, captivating, and tailored to each student's needs. New implementations of AR involve students visualizing complex concepts in stunning 3D, playing around with virtual objects as if they were real, and collaborating seamlessly with their classmates in an augmented space.  

Incorporating AugmentedEF into the Next Generation of AR Tools 

The co-design process of AugmentedEF is a collaborative journey that involves working closely with neurodiverse co-designers from Landmark College. Together, we bring diverse perspectives and expertise to the table, ensuring that the development of AugmentedEF is rooted in the needs and experiences of the students it aims to support. Through open dialogue, feedback sessions, and iterative design cycles, we actively involve co-designers in shaping the tool's features, interface, and interventions. By centering the voices and insights of neurodiverse individuals throughout the process, we create a more inclusive and effective tool that truly meets the unique needs of students with executive function challenges. 

AugmentedEF's intuitive prompts gently guide students back on track when they lose focus, offering reminders or suggesting effective strategies to get them back on task. By continuously analyzing student data, the tool adapts and personalizes its interventions, ensuring that each student receives the tailored support they need to stay engaged and excel academically. The data collected can include head, positional and eye tracking information.  

None of this groundbreaking progress would be possible without the incredible team at TERC and our invaluable collaboration with talented co-designers from Landmark College. Their expertise, dedication, and unique perspectives have been instrumental in shaping AugmentedEF into a tool to hopefully empower students facing executive function challenges. 

We're also fortunate to collaborate with our exceptional software developers, MXT Reality, based in Seattle. Their expertise in AR development and their passion for projects related to neurodiversity have made them invaluable partners. MXT Reality's technical prowess and innovative solutions have played a key role in pushing the boundaries of what's possible in using augmented reality (AR) for education. 

As we venture further into the world of AR and explore its potential in education, AugmentedEF seeks to explore innovative solutions aimed at supporting students with executive function issues. By seamlessly blending the digital and physical worlds, we're creating a transformative learning experience that caters to the diverse needs of students. 

Read more about the project.

Get to know other Emerging Leaders at TERC!

Emerging Lines of Work with Zachary Alstad
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Zachary Alstad

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