Intro to

Augmented Reality

Using Snapchat to introduce new designers to AR

KEY WORDS:      Education design, augmented reality, user experience, Snapchat

ROLE:                     Education designer. Solely responsible for curriculum development and outcomes

CLIENT:                 Stanford Residential Education

TIMELINE:            7 weeks, Spring 2019

TOOLS:                  Lens Studio, Snapchat, Adobe Photoshop, Pen & Paper

 

INTRODUCING DESIGNERS TO AR

Overview

 

In Spring of 2019 I developed a 7 week class, titled "Intro to Augmented Reality: Making Art with Snapchat," for the Stanford Residential Education program.  With the help of 8 students, we learned how to design with Snap Inc's Lens Studio and developed some complex, beautiful, and bizarre augmented reality experiences.

My first simple experiment with Lens Studio. Here I used one of my own drawings as a face mask.

A rudimentary understanding of how to take advantage of AR techniques is useful to any designer, engineer, or artist (as a prototyping tool, method of self expression, etc), but it is often difficult to learn a new medium without structure. Existing AR courses are geared heavily toward technical, code-oriented projects and may not be suitable for newcomers.

New designers need an intuitive, low-cost, and fun curriculum that will introduce them to AR for the first time. This course is designed for accessibility in terms of cost and equipment-- all activities can be completed with only a smartphone and laptop

How might we create an intuitive, low-cost, and fun way to introduce new designers to augmented reality?

Course Goals

"Intro to Augmented Reality" is the fifth course I developed for the Stanford Residential Education (SRE), and I was extremely excited to tackle AR in the classroom. Here was a chance to demystify AR for new designers who may be intimidated by the technical requirements of the medium! Yes! 

Ultimately, I wanted my participants to walk away from the course with the following three things:

1. Exposure to different AR uses
2. Working knowledge of  AR software
3. A desire to continue exploring AR

Course goals

I chose to teach using Snap Inc's Lens Studio because it was available for free, relatively easy to learn, and could immediately port AR experiences to a phone for testing on the go. Crucially, Lens Studio can also be used without any prior coding knowledge, a plus for those without a strong technical foundation.

Developing Curriculum

My curriculum map for a 7 week "Intro to Augmented Reality" course

"Intro to AR" followed the philosophy of "learning as doing" and our time was structured to create as much space for hands-on learning and experimentation as possible. Each week I gave a brief introductory lecture on the day's topic, then would facilitate and troubleshoot as students discussed their practice projects.

In order to provide structure while also allowing for exploration, I split our 7 week course into two components: a survey of different key AR technical components, and a guided study of the students' choice.​

Original 2019 syllabus for "Intro to Augmented Reality: Making Art with Snapchat"

Class time

After the course was announced, all eight available seats were taken in less than six hours. Our class was made of a mix of underclassman of different majors. The majority had some experience with image-editing software like Photoshop but none had worked with AR before. 

 

The enthusiasm and dedication everyone showed to learning Lens Studio was fantastic! I was consistently impressed by how students pushed their creative visions in their software; in particular, recreating popular 2019 memes was a major motivator across projects-- one student learned 3D modeling software from scratch to create a cult-favorite video game character and incorporate them into their lenses. We also learned some lessons along the way about copyright law (Note to self: Mountain Dew boldly guards their copyright).

Students testing out AR filters during class

Encouraging relevant cultural creation was a key factor to course engagement. In sum: let your students make memes and they shall learn. Student final projects leaned into a diverse group of techniques including facial mapping, 3D animation, lenses reactive to facial movements, and more.

Course Outcomes

"Am I going to keep experimenting with AR after the class ends? Of course! Couldn't believe how easy it was to start, I'm not going to stop now."

- Student, age 19

In an exit poll, all eight students said they will continue using their AR skills in their own projects in the future. Students mentioned a range of potential projects they intended to pursue including prototyping apps to preview jewelry, creating local lenses for events, and experimentations with self expression.

3. A desire to continue exploring AR
2. Working knowledge of  AR software
1. Exposure to different AR uses

Course goals: achieved!

All final student projects are available to experience below. Scan the QR code in Snapchat's camera and test them for yourself!

Student final projects

Reflection

Of the classes I taught at Stanford "Intro to Augmented Reality" was by far my favorite-- facilitating and watching my students use their skills to make beautiful, clever, and funny projects was one of the most joyful parts of my undergraduate education.

Key Takeaways

  • A coding background is not required to use AR.

  • Students are extremely motivated by the ability to recreate memes and are willing to learn substantial technical skills to do so. 

  • You can rarely predict how someone will use the knowledge you help them develop; people are endlessly creative.

  • There is a substantial unmet need for entry level AR courses at universities.

  • Teach to learn! There's no better way to improve your knowledge of a subject than to show others how to do it.

A sincere thank you to my eight students, Stanford Residential Education, and to Snap Inc.

The idea for this course was catalyzed by my attendance of the 2019 Snap Summit, where Snap Inc. demonstrated its new features and gave attendees the chance to learn how to use Lens Studio.

I immediately thought how perfect this software would have been when I was an underclassman creating my first prototypes! How could I share this knowledge with others? What do I wish I had been taught about AR when I was younger? I tested a few different AR programs and within a week I pitched "Intro to Augmented Reality" to Stanford Residential Education. 

Getting ideas at the 2019 Snap Summit in April

In the future, I plan to retool "Intro to Augmented Reality" into a free extracurricular for local high schools and release a series of tutorials covering some of our lessons. I'm also creating a guide for how to incorporate AR creation into Snap or other social apps.

 

I'm eager to share this course with students again!