Six Uses for Augmented Reality in Primary and Tertiary Education

Image: Eric Rice
Image: Eric Rice

Educators have taken to exploring the educational possibilities of Augmented Reality (AR) in the classroom and the very real opportunities afforded by this sense-expanding technology. A generation in love with gimmicks, AR has taken the public fancy. The cutting edge technology has been gradually working its way into our collective conscious through such hi-tech marvels as Google Glasses, AR business cards, and the GE Smart Grid. As AR gains recognition, however, educators are finding that this form of pseudo-realism technology can be applied toward a higher purpose: enhancing the educational experience. The use of AR in the classroom is nothing short of a revolution in our learning culture.
At a basic level, there is no doubt that the use of AR in education adds a layer of attraction to a student’s studies. Knowing that coming to classes means a chance to play with cool hi-tech toys means that students are less likely to play hooky or skip first class on Monday after partying hearty. Students who have AR in the classroom actually enjoy coming to school—they are motivated.
Memory Aid
Furthermore, since AR involves a number of senses, students will by definition be more engaged in their studies. In one study, AR was used for specific learning activities, for instance problem solving. The technology applied to these lessons provided for a level of interactivity that had not previously been experienced by the students. As a result, the lessons were pleasurably engraved on their long-term memories. (1)
AR is nothing if not flexible. Augmented reality spans the generation gap and can be employed with students of all ages, making it useful for preschool, elementary, high school, college, and postgraduate studies. AR also has a wide application in that any and all subject matter can be enhanced with AR technology. In addition to this consideration, AR can be used to tie seemingly disparate subject matters together.
For example, students studying The Diary of Anne Frank might “travel” from Frankfurt, where Anne was born, to Amsterdam. They can “tour” the attic hideaway of the Franks, and see what route Miep Gies might have taken to bring food to the residents of the Achterhuis. Students can “walk” past Nazi Brown Shirts and “converse” with them in German. They can see the indigenous flora and fauna of the areas in which the story takes place. They can “experience” a gas chamber.
The use of AR in this study unit would offer an interdisciplinary exercise melding social studies, history, geography, biology, literature, German language studies, and more, in a way that would impress upon the minds of the students, the entirety of the Anne Frank story forever. This type of study breaks the tidy mold of compartmentalized studies and offers a potent delivery system for learning retention.
AR system software is portable and easy to install in just about any setting. Using the software is as easy as walking and talking. There is almost no learning curve to the use of AR, while AR itself can be a bridge to enhanced learning and learning retention.
Independent Problem Solving
AR changes the learning culture so that instead of acting as compliant sponges for teacher-imparted information, students perform as scientists. Acting as researchers, students investigate topics with an open mind and with an eye toward building knowledge and solving problems. Cook examined this aspect of augmented reality in his 2010 work, Augmented Contexts for Development (ACD) which expanded on Lev Vygotsky’s seminal education theory, Zones of Proximal Development (ZPD). (2)
In his work, Cook described how architecture students created a “vlog” to record their impressions of a field trip. The students employed physical as well as digital representations of structures at one and the same time, synchronizing these tools to better inform their interactions with the subject matter and with each other. The students pooled their combined knowledge from this exercise to round out their perceptions of the material, answering their own questions as they arose, from examining AR overlays and experiencing situated visualizations.
Sense Substitutions
Haptic interfaces can offer tactile feedback for blind students or those with vision impairment. An example of such an interface is the Haptic Lotus, a handheld device shaped like a flower. The petals open and close to offer clues about the environment. Sound-rendering systems can be used to change visual data about locations and objects into aural information. Those students with hearing impairments, on the other hand, may experience the sounds and rhythms of music by way of color visualizations set to the beat of a song.
Once upon a time, augmented reality was seen as the newest futuristic technology. Something for fun perhaps, with little application to real life situations or need. Over the past decade, however, AR has begun to prove its worth as something that can add texture and context to our everyday lives and enhance and augment the learning experience. As educational institutions increasingly promote the use of AR, educators will expand their own knowledge of this technology and learn new ways to use this adaptable, engaging, and multipurpose tool in the classroom.

Varda Epstein is a journalist and researcher specializing in education and a Communications Writer for Kars for kids, a car donation charity whose proceeds underwrite educational programs for children and adults. Write to Varda at
(1)  Luckin R, Stanton Fraser D. Limitless or pointless? An evaluation of augmented reality technology in the school and home. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning. August 2011; 3(5): 510-524.
(2)  Cook J. Mobile phones as mediating tools within augmented contexts for development. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning. 4 October 2010; 2(3): 1-12.

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