The Aurasma App and AR in Education

Imagery is a powerful force for perception and understanding. Being able to “see” something mentally is a common metaphor for understanding it. An image may be of some geometrical shape, or of a graph or diagram, or it may be some set of symbols or some procedure.

(The Open University 1988, cited in Goldstein et al, online).

This article is shared directly from JillToddICT , a blog written in 2014. Take into account that 5 years mean a lot when talking about technology. On the other hand, well written articles can offer a good insight and overview for future comparisons.
Anyone up for collaboration on such piece? Comment or contact directly 🙂

What is augmented reality?

Being able to ‘see’ something in our mind’s eye enables us to understand concepts. Most of us, but not all, can conjure up an image of a cube in our mind, we can turn the cube to ‘see’ its four vertices and its six faces. We are able to do this because, at some point, we have seen and interacted with a cube. However, visualisation becomes more challenging when we have not had a direct experience. Augmented reality (AR) is beginning to permit us to ‘see’ things that otherwise have been impossible. With the development of AR our individual powers of visualisation will no longer need to be solely relied upon.
Carmigniani and Furht (2011) cited in Wasko (pg 17, 2013) defined augmented reality as being a real-time direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment that has been enhanced/augmented by adding virtual computer generated information onto it.
Essentially, we are beginning to create digital content that interacts with our environment. This interaction can appear in the form of text, images, videos or 3D models. An application on a device, such as a tablet or smartphone, is required to view such content.
There is an ever increasing range of AR products available; some of which appear to have great potential in terms of their educational value and impact. One such product is the AR development lab, whereby a virtual 3D image appears in the real world. In the future a story may virtually/literally come to life in front of our eyes. Another device is the Google Glass, which is a pair of glasses that interact with the user. The glasses can record what the user sees, bring up directions for a route and can take a photo or video – to name but a few of its functions.
These AR technologies will at some point, in our future, become embedded in our day to day lives. This expectation is reflected in the predicted sales figures for Google Glass, which is estimated to be, annually, in the region of $1.5 billion (Wasko, 2013).


Aurasma is AR in its infancy, as its 3D imaging is limited. However, it is an App, which is free and widely available (from the Apple or Android market) for educational use. Aurasma has not failed to impress students within a classroom setting, as images ‘magically’ appear. 2D pictures, known as the trigger images, are displayed around the room and through using the Aurasma App (on a tablet, iPad or phone) the learner views these trigger images. When the App recognises a trigger image another picture appears or a video begins to play – This image is known as the overlay.

The Student Perspective

According to Wasko (2013) there is a key difference between AR and virtual reality. With AR the student is the avartar; their environment is the space around them. Whereas, virtual reality is computer based, and the avartar is the character the user controls on the screen. With virtual reality you interact with the world ‘inside’ the computer; with augmented reality you interact with the world around you. Dunleavy et al (2009) cited in Wasko (2013), argued that student engagement is dulled because the classroom environment is not rich and complex. In the classroom students can only ‘practice a task’. AR, Dunleavy claims, has the ability to create complex environments to really engage students, so they can ‘perform the task’, and not merely practice it. Squire and Klopher (2007) cited in Wasko (2013) discuss how students, using AR, will be able to experience real-life situations, such as a chemical spill or a disease outbreak. Students will be able to ‘work’ in these environments in order to learn, hence they ‘perform the task’. These are, as mentioned in Wasko (2013), ‘enhanced learning environments’ – rich and complex.
The possibilities of AR in the future seem to be infinite. For example, AR could be used to build an enhanced learning environment for a history lesson, whereby students walk down a street and virtually go back in time. The view is supported by the Horizon Report (2011), whereby they discuss how locations can be’tagged’ with information related to the past. Maybe, the future student will wear Google Glass in order for these active environments to be seen.
At the moment some educators are starting to become familiar with AR by using Apps, such as the Aurasma. From my experience when using Aurasma students have become engaged and have enjoyed the structure of the lesson. The student is, by the nature of the lesson, more in control of their own learning. The teacher becomes more of a monitor than the knowledge source.

The Educators Perspective

Aurasma, as a Web 2.0 tool, is powerful as it allows the educator to become the producer as well as the consumer. The educator, with this application, becomes the creator; they are able to create lessons/lectures according to their students’ needs. In McLoughlin and Lee (2007) the term ‘prosumer’ is used to describe this ability that Web 2.0 affords its users. They can create information for their own purpose and needs, for any target audience, at any level. They are no longer simple consumers of the Web.
From the perspective of the educator, the ability to create your own AR auras is highly valuable as it goes beyond the function of most Apps. Most Apps are designed to help with a particular concept. However, what purpose the App has is determined by what the creator had in mind – they are ‘preset’. Therefore, generally speaking, most Apps can only touch upon the objective of the lesson/lecture, as it has not been specifically tailored to the student’s needs. Aurasma is a generic tool, and gives the teacher the ability to personalise content.
As mentioned in cARe, Creating Augmented Reality in Education, (online, 2014) Aurasma has a web based interface that is accessible and easy to use. Most users, given a little time and practise, should be able to create their own augmented reality ‘auras’. The user creates their own trigger image (2D picture) and overlay (2D picture or video). Aurasma’s web based interface allows the user to upload these images and ‘join’ them together. This creates, what Aurasma has called, an Aura. As mentioned earlier, the Aurasma App then recognises the trigger image and generates the overlay image for the learner to see.
Aurasma’s interface is accessible; however, to really begin to create more interesting auras, access to other technologies is needed. Aurasma becomes increasingly interactive when using videos as an overlay. These videos can be created by the user, using a range of technologies such as Screencast-o-matic. However, this does mean that the user needs to be confident in using an array of technologies in order to produce a variety of auras.
Another potential barrier for the educator is that the Aurasma programme has to upload images and video as the interface does not permit hyperlinks. According to YouTube’s Terms of Service it is illegal to download any of their material. Owing to this, Aurasma has a limitation – Youtube videos cannot legally be used to create an Aurasma aura. This is a key factor, as many teachers share their material via YouTube.
However, Rampolla (2012), talks about the ways in which AR will transform education. He sees, as mentioned earlier, AR as a tool to enhance storytelling; but goes beyond this and sees AR as creating a world that allows its users to interact, to participate and become active learners, where problem solving and project based learning is at the centre . The 3D aspect of AR technology will permit the learner to virtually view challenging concepts. For example, it could be used to see how the earth moves around the sun and how day turns into night. This will aid a student’s conceptual understanding in many subject areas.

What Does This Mean For The Educator?

As mentioned in Ertmer et al (2010), as educators we need begin to employ new technologies within our learning environment; moving technology from being a ‘supplemental’ feature to an ‘essential’ part of our teaching and learning. The ‘supplemental’ way in which teachers use ICT is described by Condie (2007) who suggests that teachers have become increasingly skilful in their use of ICT, but that it is mainly utilised for administration purposes such as report writing and assessment records. Ertmer discusses how technology, within the past decade, has become an ‘essential’ part of many other professions, such as, banking, travel agencies and the police force, to name but a few. These technologies have had an impact on the way in which these professions deliver their services. Education has not yet undergone this level of technological shift; the way we educate today is similar to how we educated 20-30 years ago. As described by Lawless and Pellegrino (cited in Ertmer, 2010) using technology to provide teacher directed lessons is not good practice – our technological pedagogy needs to go further than a power-point presentation.
From my perspective, Aurasma is providing the first significant wave of change, showing its users the possibilities of a pedagogical other, whilst enriching the quality of teaching and learning. For possibly the first time, the educator is recognising how technologies can be utilised beyond that of the IWB and electronic register.
Yet, a study of AR in education has highlighted a need to be very selective as to when and how to use AR technology. Kerawalla et al (2006) found that children using AR became less engaged in their learning than those taking part in role-play. They found that the children had not interacted with the AR. In comparison the children were immersed in the role-play, creating characters and roles. What we must not forget is that different concepts require different learning strategies. Some may benefit from AR and others from activities such as role play. For example, role play may benefit a student’s understanding of the distances between planets, as they use the playground and themselves to illustrate this concept. Whereas, AR may help with the understanding of how the earth moves around the sun. A students’ pedagogical diet needs to be diverse, curious and creative (Designing for blended and learning, online). AR may possibly enhance this, but cannot be taken as an exclusive tool for learning.

Pedagogical Theory

Mortimore, 1999 cited in Designing for blended and learning (online), stated that pedagogy is ‘…any conscious activity by one person designed to enhance learning in another.’
Zhao (2003) cited in Mishra et al (2006), argued that software applications are designed principally for business , not educational use; and owning to this, software does not lend itself easily to the educational process. Furthermore, when incorporating technology, as part of the pedagogical practice, we need to ensure that the subject matter is the content to be learnt, not the technology. Technology is merely a vehicle for understanding other concepts.
As mentioned earlier Squire and Klopher (2007), cited in Wasko (2013), see AR as giving students real-life situations in order to gain knowledge and understanding. Lave and Wenger (1990) cited in ICT eLearning (online) support this view, believing that learning should be in a genuine setting, with genuine tasks. A trainee hairdresser, working in a salon, is an example of situative learning. However, it is impractical for all facets of learning to be situated. This is where, according to Squire and Klopher (2007), cited in Wasko (2013), AR has a place in our educational establishments, as it can offer a virtual simulation of real-life events and situations; in essence it will allow role-play. Wasko (2013) implies that through this virtual role play students will be engaged in problem based tasks, where they will interpret a situation, analyse data and make plans to solve a problem. The Horizon Report (2011) supports the view that AR will provide an ‘authentic’ learning situation through its ability to layer; AR has the flexibility of contextual layering, where any environment create an ‘active’ experience for the learner. Therefore, AR permits a form of situated learning, albeit virtual.
In many aspects AR supports the connectivism theory of learning, as in such ‘enhanced learning environments’ discussions and difference of opinions will arise. Moreover, decisions in an AR environment may have to be made, which forces the student into making connections between facts, ideas and concepts. These principles lay in the foundations of the connectivist theory.
Al-Huneidi et al (2012) discusses how new technologies support the Constructivism and Conservation theories of learning. The constructivist theory concentrates on how students construct their own knowledge from their own experience; their own experience being grounded in social interaction. The student is the active creator of their knowledge. The Conservation theory sees collaboration as vital in the learning process, and in this sense supports the Constructivism theory. Interaction, according to the Conservation theory, has to be ongoing for learning to be successful.
Each of these pedagogies has a place in the virtually ‘authentic’ environments that are the inventions of the AR technology. With such changes the teacher’s role will be to evaluate the students understanding and to help to guide and refine their thinking, correcting any misconceptions.

Are Teachers Equipped To Use Aurasma Within Their Classroom Setting?

Many schools, in the UK, have begun to invest in new technologies, such as iPads or tablets. However, such resources usually have to be shared between different curriculum subjects and year groups. European countries are no better equipped. Whilst teaching in Rotterdam, on an ICT project, the divide between the school’s technology and the tech-savvy students was plain to see. The school had one room with Wifi and eight iPads available for all the students. This is a barrier, as teachers wishing to use the iPads for a lesson have to gain access to the room with the Wifi, then iPads have to be shared between at least two students.
The lack of access to such devices could be a limiting factor in a teacher’s understanding of these technologies, and their true potential. Plomp et al (2009) cited in Buabeng-Andoh (2011), supports this view arguing that access is a vital requirement in order for ICT to become integrated in education. At the moment it would appear that a school’s technological dearth is related to the financial challenges they face. However, as noted by Bloxham (2013), ‘71% of 16 to 24 year-olds own smartphones’. Therefore, it could be argued that educators need to look toward what technology their students bring to the classroom, and not the resources of educational establishment, in order to create interactive lessons/lectures. Ackerman (2013) suggests that BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) allows teachers and students to create authentic learning, where students recognise the link between their classroom learning and the outside world. However, the implications of this are far reaching as students from a poor background, such as those on free school meals, may not be able to afford these technologies.
From my personal point of view an educational establishment cannot rely upon students to arrive with the technology required, and deemed essential, for that lesson. There are many issues related to smart phones being allowed within the classroom setting. One is that students can text during lessons. Some may argue that this is the same as passing notes in class, but it is not. A teacher has the ability to confiscate the note; once the text message is sent there is no ‘throwing it in the bin’, it has gone and in seconds has been received by its recipient(s). There is also an issue of privacy when students use their smartphones within a lesson, for a student can take a photo of someone, without their consent, and place it somewhere on the web. These issues are still prevalent when using the establishment’s technology. However, the teacher is able to confiscate the device with less disruption when it belongs to the school, and is able to check the device’s history to identify any misdemeanours.
Morgan (2011), describes how there is a ‘digital divide’ between students and staff, with the students possessing more web 2.0 skills. Despite this, Morgan found that students do not utilise these skills in their educational activities. He argues this is because the technologies are not being demonstrated within lessons/lectures. Morgan suggests that two factors need to be addressed to aid the integration of ICT into the classroom. One, a pedagogical framework to guide teachers, and the other is examples of how to employ these technologies.
I see permanent access to new technological devices as essential for teachers. It would give teachers the opportunity to explore web 2.0 technology, which is the first step in changing pedagogical practice. If I had not been given an iPad then my exploration of web 2.0 technology would have been limited; I would not have spent time investigating the potential of Aurasma. Access, time, exploration and practise are, from my viewpoint, essential factors. Another factor is being able to contact an ICT expert, who can wisely inform you about the plethora of Apps and programmes available. I agree with the findings of Morgan (2013), whereby ICT would be better employed in the classroom given a pedagogical framework and examples of how to use web 2.0 technologies.

Aurasma and AR so far

There are visible benefits that Aurasma brings to the learner. It allows the educator to create a more independent environment for the learner. The learner, when using Aurasma, is able to work at their own pace, revisiting images to help clarify their understanding. It enables the lesson/lecture to be increasingly dynamic and interactive, and less didactic in structure. To this extent the learner has more control. In addition, the learner is able to use the Aurasma technology beyond the classroom, as once the device is tuned into the specified channel the App no longer requires wifi. Therefore, Aurasma can be used on trips or within the playground and gardens of the educational establishment.
Although AR promises to bring the dull classroom to life, we do need to question whether or not this will all be good. When we read a book most of us are able use our imagination to builds pictures, we are the creators of these images, and they are personal to us. Even though AR is a tool which enables us to virtually see what would otherwise be challenging to visualise, are we not, through the use of AR, in danger of confusing reality and fiction? (Lister, n.d., online)
My own experience of the using Aurasma has been very positive. I have found both the App and the computer based interface accessible and easy to use. I have been able to create whole lessons based entirely on using a device, without having to compromise my intended learning outcomes. It has never failed to perform and has provided students with an independent, engaging lesson where progression has been evident.
Augmented reality is slowly integrating itself into our everyday life. Commercial enterprise is seeing its advertising potential; an example is the ‘Pepsi’s London Bus advert ‘(Kastrenakes, 2014). In terms of advertisement this may be gimmicky and short lived, but we will have to wait and see. Hopefully, AR will become an embedded feature within the education system as it potentially provides another avenue for teachers to explore and utilise; promising to have an impact on learning, both as a tool and as a pedagogical other. With further advances in technology AR will allow the learner to ‘see’ and, therefore, understand those elements that are too challenging to visualise. However, as technological change happens within the classroom the teacher will need to adapt, and possibly adopt a new pedagogy. The pedagogy technology brings may follow previous theories of learning, such as connectivism or constructivism, but with it new theories may emerge and may need to be fostered. This adaption is possibly hindered by technology not initially being designed for educational use and further by an absence of a pedagogical framework (Zhao 2003, cited in Mishra et al 2006 and Morgan, 2011). However, technology will continue to advance and we need to become creative and adaptable with its use. AR may very well provide us with a highly interactive environment that education has been awaiting. The passive learner may become the ever increasing active learner (The Horizon Report, 2011), and the walls of the classroom may begin to disintegrate as education begins to amalgamate with these new technologies.


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