Augmented reality, or AR, involves dynamically superimposing digital information and artefacts on real-world settings to supplement our perceptions and understandings of those settings. The name derives from the notion that the digital data ‘augments’ the ‘reality’ we see around us. With strong support for the development of AR from a number of major technology companies including Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, important innovations are now occurring in this area.
AR is distinct from virtual reality (VR), which involves a fully digitally simulated experience rather than a layering of digital information over our perceptions of reality. However, both AR and VR are part of the larger phenomenon of extended reality (XR), while the term mixed reality (MR) is sometimes used synonymously with XR, and sometimes synonymously with AR (for more detail, including a discussion of the augmented-virtual continuum, see the virtual reality page of this website). Both AR and VR may have a place in the proposed notion of the the Metaverse, promoted notably by Facebook (for more detail, see the web 3.0 page of this website).
AR may in fact be defined in a broad conceptual way, or a narrow technocentric way, as follows:
In a broad conceptual view, AR refers to the dynamic presentation, in a real-world setting, of digital information and communication channels which are contextually relevant (with certain non-contextualised exceptions such as some app-based 3D models); in a narrower technocentric view, AR refers to the “direct superimposition of digital information and communication channels on our perceptions of a real-world setting” (Pegrum, 2019, p. 57) … As AR is advancing, the conceptual and technocentric definitions are in the process of merging, with the direct superimposition of digital data
on our perceptions becoming the norm.
Source: Pegrum, M. (2021). Augmented reality learning: Education in real-world contexts. In T. Beaven & F. Rosell-Aguilar (Eds.), Innovative language pedagogy report (pp. 115-120). Research-publishing.net. https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2021.50.1245.
Today’s AR interfaces are most commonly accessed on smartphones or tablets, where AR browsers or apps overlay digital text, images, videos or objects on a user’s view of the real world, as seen through the viewfinder of the camera on the mobile device and displayed on its screen. A combination of geographical markers (which rely on GPS and geofencing) and visual markers (which rely on image/object recognition or, at the simplest, scanning of QR codes) may be used to trigger these digital displays. Such displays can now also be accessed through headsets or head-mounted displays (HMDs) to provide a more immersive experience; in the future, we may see the use of more wearables like augmented reality glasses (such as Google Glass) and even augmented reality contact lenses.
It is increasingly possible for users to input information, interact with virtual objects or creatures, create texts or multimedia artefacts tagged to real-world geographical locations, and engage with other users through AR interfaces. The layering of many people’s comments and artefacts over a given location is sometimes called deep mapping.
Companies working on dedicated AR interfaces include Layar and Wikitude (see the Wikitude images above and below). Google Lens and Pinterest Lens allow identification of real-world images and objects (as well as text translation in the former case). This is an area of considerable ongoing experimentation, with companies appearing and disappearing: note that the formerly well-known Junaio app was discontinued in 2015, and the educationally popular Woices was discontinued in 2017.
The simplest educational uses of AR involve superimposing rich digital data, artefacts and/or interactive objects on worksheets or books, which become visible once they are scanned with a smartphone or tablet. One of the first popular pieces of software used by teachers and students to do this was Aurasma, later renamed HP Reveal, and now discontinued. Other similar tools include Augment, BlippAR and Zappar.
But AR can also take students outside the classroom into real-world environments, in which case it corresponds to contemporary trends in situated and informal learning. Where students co-operate and collaborate on learning trails or games using mobile AR apps in their everyday settings, a social constructivist element is evident. Where students create multimedia artefacts to record, consolidate and share their learning, creativity and digital literacies come to the fore.
Educational companies which create learning trails, treasure hunts and games, and which increasingly offer educators and students user-friendly tools to create their own versions of these, include LDR and Rockmoon in Singapore. Platforms that can be used for the creation of such trails include Actionbound from Germany, and The Station, TaleBlazer and Twine from the US (note that the formerly popular ARIS platform is no longer supported). The MASELTOV Project in Europe has carried out interesting work in this area, resulting in the production of a language learning app. There is now also growing educational interest in commercial pervasive games enabled by AR, as detailed on the gaming page of this website.
For a recent overview of the promise of AR for education, work and other areas of life, you might like to check out some of the following links. Bear in mind that in many ways, videos demonstrate AR better than still images because they can capture its dynamic, changing aspects:
- Knowledge Transfer: The Promise of Augmented Reality (Gaia Dempsey, 2015)
- Microsoft Hololens Partner Spotlight with Case Western Reserve University (Código, 2015)
- A New Way of Seeing the World (Epson Moverio, 2016)
- AR, VR, MR: Making Sense of the Magic Leap and the Future of Reality (Wired, 2016; note that AR and MR are similar concepts)
- Prosthetic Reality (CNet, 2017)
- Augmented Reality (The Medical Futurist, 2019)
- Empowering Educators to Create Immersive Learning Experiences (Telstra Enterprise, 2019)
- Getting Real: Learning with (and about) Augmented Reality (Trisha Templeton, 2020)
- 10 Best Examples of VR and AR in Education (Bernard Marr, 2021)
For examples of educational AR apps, check out the catalogue below from Chris Beyerle at edshelf:
More references about augmented reality are available on the Publications on Mobile Learning page.
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