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Augmented Reality (AR) for Learning

What is Augmented Reality?


Augmented reality (AR), as I understood it going in to this exploration, is a context that is created by the blending of both “real” reality, as in the users actual physical environment, and virtual or digitally generated content. In practice this can look like a screen interaction that displays a live feed or photo of what is visible to the device's camera overlaid with a digital image that exists within or interacts with the surrounding environment in some way.


It turns out I was right. Merriam-Webster defines Augmented Reality as:

an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera).

Augmented reality is popularly used in games where players interact with fantastical elements inhabiting their own physical space such as PokemonGo, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and Jurassic World Alive.



A woman sitting in bed with a computer on her lap on the computer is an animated Pokemon character. It is grey and cute.
Jamie and an Espurr Pokemon Writing this Blog Post

But is it Good for Learning?


While Augmented Reality can be fun and engaging, my kids can’t get enough of taking pictures of Pokemon in our house using Pokemon Go, to this point I had not to seen any exemplary examples of its application in learning. In the past I had downloaded a few AR apps to play with, including the WWF Free Rivers app which has an explicitly educational aim, but none have really struck me with their strong pedagogical applications. In the Free Rivers App, which allowed you to create and interact you’re your own river based eco-system the AR feature seemed pretty much incidental to the learning. The river happened to be on my bed or dining room table but there was no reason it had to be. It did not seem to harness the power of location in the way that the AR games I had seen had done. I had also tried the Wonderscope story app with my kids which brings stories to life in the room around you. Again, while it was fun for awhile it did not really make use of our environment in a meaningful way and the kids lost interest after the novelty wore off.


For this blog, therefore, I chose to undertake a quick survey of some popular AR apps and their learning applications to see if there were rich opportunities for learning that I wasn’t aware of. Here is what I found:


Metaverse – The AR creation app Metaverse bills itself, in part, as an educational tool. Its homepage features a longish video of teachers raving about how engaging it is in the classroom without explaining how they use it. Where I first got a clue about its potential application though was by exploring its use in creating scavenger hunts. I can definitely see how a scavenger hunt could be used to promote learner engagement with the natural environment or their local community or how a teacher could set up an interactive in school scavenger hunt around a particular topic. Its website says that it is a free tool though I didn’t dig too deep in this regards and it definitely seems worth checking out. There are lots of tutorials available about how to use it in education in a variety of ways and as a creation tool it is really open ended. There certainly seems to be promise here and I would love to hear if anyone is using it in their classroom.


Night Sky Guides – As I read more about AR I realized I had used a successful learning AR app in the past and that was Skyview and other space related AR apps. This group of apps allows you to lift your device to the sky and see the stars and other heavenly bodies mapped out and labelled for you. My family has used these apps regularly to identify planets and stars. We even used one to help us figure out where in the sky to look for the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in December 2020.


Digital Dissection and Lab Tools – Another class of educational AR apps I discovered was apps that allow you to undertake virtual labs such as dissections (you pick a frog or a human cadaver) or chemistry experiments. While the visuals and tech seemed impressive in these apps and they may have a bit of a novelty appeal for students I couldn’t help but ask why AR? Like the rivers app I mentioned above, it seemed unnecessary and even distracting to place the science content in my environment. While the cadaver dissection app boasted that the dissection would take place in my real life environment just like real-life dissections I was left wondering who is standing in an empty morgue doing AR dissections on an iPad? And for those of us not in the morgue who cares if the dissection table is a digital one or our own coffee table? But maybe I am just being cynical here.


Ingress – One of the most interesting applications of AR that I found was the game Ingress. Like other AR games, it is meant to be played out and about in a public environment. It casts the players as agents in a futuristic clash between factions trying to control a mysterious power. You can check it out in the trailer here. What Ingress offered for me was not necessarily a clear cut connection to pedagogical application, but rather a glimpse of the promise of AR for narrative applications in learning. Ingress came the closest amongst the AR applications to being a digital story or an immersive serious game. It made me imagine the possibilities for AR games as rich and complex as novels which could be studied as art in their own right, allowing for exploration of the elements of story and theme through study similar to a novel or film study. As well, it allowed me to conceptualize scenario based learning that is explicitly place-based such as games which allow students to take on interactive roles in scenarios tied to local history or responding to climate change, etc. as they move through their community, interact, and complete tasks.


Well those are some of the more prominent and promising uses of AR that I was able to find. I hope that it is helpful and informative. On a final note, I did see an app that uses AR to sketch a crime scene so maybe there is something about people who hang out in morgues and the use of AR? This did remind me though that AR could be useful in apps which bring the mathematics of daily life alive or that are designed for measuring and designing. I will have to look more into that another time.


Are you aware of other applications of AR in learning or can you imagine new ones? I would love to hear.

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