Concept of reality in field of technology can be defined by contrasting virtual and real world. This idea of describing reality and virtuality as two end points of a continuum was first presented by a group of researchers in 1995 (Milgram et al., 1995) with a simplified design that outlines the matrix of mixed reality environment. Position of AR in Figure 1 defines it as medium similar to a real environment that introduces some elements of virtuality.
A definition of AR can be deducted from definitions of “augmented” and “reality”.
While augmenting means to make something greater or to enhance, reality stands for everything we experience around us. Therefore, Augmented Reality (AR) is a greater version of our perceived reality, a real world experience enhanced with an overlay of additional media.
The first definitions of augmented reality do not come from education studies, but have been presented in technology engineering and programming field, and as such define understanding of technical components and software principles integrated in production of augmented reality.
AR can be defined as “a situation in which a real world context is dynamically overlaid with coherent location or context sensitive virtual information” (Klopfer and Squire, 2007: 205). In that case, AR provides users with technology-mediated immersive experiences in which real and virtual worlds are blended.
Although the primary purpose of AR development was entertainment and marketing, the digitalization of the education sector has led to the expansion of AR into a specific educational technology field (Wu et al., 2013). AR today has the potential to revolutionize learning in schools more than any other technology has done in the recent past, and educational experts recognize that potential:
Augmented learning uses electronic devices to extend learners’ interaction with and perception of their current environment to include and bring to life different times, spaces, characters, and possibilities. It offers opportunities for transformation of learners’ perspective and their learning context.(Sheehy, Ferguson, Clough, 2014,p.1)
Educational interactions with augmented reality, as mentioned by Sheehy, Ferguson and Clough (2014), are offering new possibilities for updating the learner-centered approach.
In using both educational and technical definition to develop an understanding of AR, it is clear that an interdisciplinary approach is of crucial importance. Researchers from different disciplines agree on the fact that using augmented reality as a learning tool enhances students’ experience and engagement (Chen et al., 2017; Bujak et al., 2012; Radu, 2014; Bacca et al., 2014). On the other hand, it has been suggested that some students can be prone to paying too much attention to virtual information and for that reason some educators believe AR is an intrusive or distracting technology (Bacca et al., 2014). Given these differing opinions and findings, there is a need for further research on possible benefits and obstacles involved with the implementation of augmented reality in education, which is the focus of my research project. Read more about it HERE
Theoretical framework of learning with AR tools
Augmented reality learning tools, like other technology-based learning media, offer some benefits for learners and limitations in its use. Balance between benefits and limitations can justify meaningful implementation of new tools in education. From theoretical assumptions to practical testing, those benefits and limitations are researched and a body of empirical evidence is growing. Bujak et al. (2012) have collected current research findings and created a framework for learning with AR tools that I use as a basis for my work.
When a student uses computer-technology to access educational content, they must have knowledge and skills of interacting with a computer (using a mouse, accessing menus, files, imputing data using keyboard, recognizing letters on keyboard). Bujak et al. (2012) identifies this as an additional learning cost imposed on a student, which leaves less cognitive working memory for learning content. The same authors recognize AR technology as more appropriate than traditional desktop computers because it uses more natural interface which can reduce extraneous cognitive load. Another study (Tang et al., 2003) has found that students’ mental effort is reduced when AR technology is utilized, compared to computer-based environment.
In learning context, physical actions in learning are beneficial for later information recall (Glenberg, Brown and Levin, 2007). Physical actions in learning process are usually facilitated by using manipulatives, especially in primary school. Bujak et al. (2012) divides manipulatives in three categories:
• Physical manipulatives: useful to prompt a physical action needed for learners to develop association and learn, but limited to display one concept without instructional guidance
• Virtual manipulatives: easily paired with pedagogical aspect of a manipulative, but lacks natural physical manipulation of an object in real world
• AR manipulatives: combine physical and virtual manipulation into physical experience with added virtual information or instructional guidance
Physical limitation in utilization of manipulatives can be present in settings that include young learners (Bujak et al., 2012). Their fine motor skills and coordination is developing and might not be in line with requirements of advanced AR software. Hornecker and Dunser (2009) warned that children might not have sufficient hand-eye coordination to work with mirrored systems or to interact with two objects at once. Di Serio, Ibáñez and Kloos (2013) have identified another possible obstacle in AR utilization in education – if the students are not holding the tablet stable enough over the real image (maintaining superimposed digital content stable), the augmented content tends to glitch, making it difficult to be perceived or read.
In primary education, children are sometimes required to understand abstract concepts (such as mathematic numeric operations) and physical representations are often used to facilitate associations and learning (Bujak et al., 2012). Other studies have confirmed that associations and learning are improved when related information is presented spatially close to represent relation (Sweller, 2010; Ginns, 2006).
Spatial and temporal contiguity is presented as a benefit in majority of studies using AR technology in various educational subjects. First example is connecting the content with the learner’s active workspace, which has been shown to increase student’s learning in experiment done by Kester, Kirschner and van Merriënboer (2005). In lesson covering electrical circuits, students were reported to learn better when diagram and properties of circuits were shown in one display rather than in two separate displays (Kester, Kirschner and van Merriënboer, 2005). Same principle can be applied to sequential instructions – Tang et al., (2003) reported benefits for students performing a multi-step task when instructions are integrated with task materials. For example, Pathomaree and Charoenseang (2005) report that students were faster and more successful in constructing lego-structures because of AR feature that displays specific information at the appropriate time.
More AR systems are being developed to utilize a specific visualization feature – observation and manipulation of learning content that is difficult to access with traditional tools (Bujak et al., 2012). For example, Nischelwitzer et al. (2007) have developed a system that allows students to examine and assemble virtually presented internal organs while learning about human body. Such systems enable spatial visualization with less material preparation and more individual control over content. A similar system was developed for simulating plant growth and report on the practical benefits of manipulating the amount of water and light in the environment. A process which would be time-consuming if real plants were used (Theng et al. 2007).
Collaboration is facilitating deeper learning because of multiple simultaneous interactions, students engage with content and other learners’ perspectives at the same time (Bujak et al., 2012). Collaborative work with computer-based systems is difficult because students need to shift gaze and attention between computer screen and peers constantly (Sheldon and Hedley, 2004). Computer-based systems might not offer the individual control over virtual content in collaboration, but Bilinghurst et al. (2001) highlights features of immersive virtual-reality for collaboration around digital content. On the other hand, virtual environments don’t allow students to interact in non-verbal cues (Bilinghurst et al., 2001). Features of augmented reality allow students to use the best from two mentioned systems, students can engage with digital content and each other in the same space (Sheehy, Ferguson, Clough, 2014). Bujak et al. (2012) emphasizes the advantage of collaboration around same digital content that can be observed in comparison to real physical objects, simultaneously using verbal and non-verbal interactions within the group. AR technology allows each student to have individual perspective and control over content, which can facilitate higher-level discussions around investigated material (Evans et al., 2011)
Social context emphasizes accessibility for everyone, including low-income groups. Bujak et al. (2012) states that AR manipulatives that are designed as cards or graphics activated with simple camera (tablet, smartphone or web-camera) might be accessible to more students. With popularity and availability of smartphones, they expect more students will use AR tools for learning outside the classroom, at home.
Augmented reality tools can enhance learning due to features that combine personal relevance of students’ physical environment and the personalization of the virtual content, which results in students that describe experience as magical (Bilinghurst et al., 2001). AR systems, unlike immersive virtual environments, do not separate students from the reality, but transform and enhance it with digital elements. These interactive features are reported to spark curiosity (Di Serio, Ibáñez and Kloos, 2013) and enhance engagement (Chen et al., 2017; Radu, 2014; Bacca et al., 2014). Bujak et al. (2012) concludes that long-term sustainability of enhanced learning experiences could change with students’ emotional accustomization to new technology.