Augmenting Education in the Online Classroom

Augmented reality (AR) is a growing field that offers new ways for teachers to engage students. Augmented reality allows people to view objects on their mobile device with content overlaid on the screen. For instance, when looking at a storefront, the user might see a list of current sales or a coupon. The user sees both the object and added content at once; hence, their reality is “augmented” by Internet content.  

AR content is discovered through an app that triangulates GPS and compass information to tell users when they are near tagged locations. These locations are shown as points of interest that hover on their screen or can be identified on a map. The users can point their mobile device at a street and see where there is AR content to view. Once they are close enough to the point of interest to see it through their mobile device, the app picks up the image through their camera and overlays the AR content onto the screen.

Teachers are just now starting to experiment with AR in education. Thomas Cochrane, of the Auckland University of Technology, had students use the technology to create architectural tours of Auckland. They tagged structures with information about their history, design, etc., that would be of interest to others. The tags could contain a variety of media, from text to images to videos and podcasts, as well as links to websites. Others could then follow the tour on their cell phones or tablets. The system worked so well that one student’s project was adopted by the Auckland City Council as a tourist information guide.

AR technology is not new to New Zealand, as the city of Christchurch used it to show historical photos of buildings overlaid on rubble after the 2011 earthquake. Not only could it show tourists pre- and post-earthquake views, but it also was used to get public input on proposed rebuilding designs.

The success of the first project led to a second iteration, where students from New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, and the U.K. collaborated in developing projects relating to their own neighborhoods. Students linked their projects via a shared Google Map, which allowed them to learn about areas outside their country through each other’s projects. For instance, one student created a map of Irish history, myths, and legends.  

Augmented reality allows students to become both researchers and content creators, heightening engagement in the material and providing them with the pride of creating public content. It also connects theory to practice by requiring students to demonstrate the application of concepts to examples.  

The process can be used in a wide variety of disciplines besides architecture. 

Students in a history course can make historical tours of their city, perhaps focusing on a single event and how it impacted the area. Students in a civil engineering course could identify the basic structural principles that went into construction of the bridges in their town. They could create drawings that sketch out the fundamental structure of the bridges in terms of categories. Zoology students could create a tour of their local zoo or other animal habitat with information about the different animals. Art students could create a tour of their local art exhibit with information about styles and artists overlaid on the work. Business students could tag a street or shopping district with information about how each business’s practices are influenced by the location.

Finally, students exhibiting projects that they create for their courses, such as posters, models, art, etc., can create AR content for them that provides viewers with background information, and even a means to comment on the works. This provides a means for students to engage in conversations with those who view their projects, as well as publicize them to the wider public and draw additional interest. Augmented reality content can also be connected to book or magazine images, allowing students to add their own content to textbook diagrams, or apply course concepts to content that they find in magazines. 

While developing AR projects requires some technical know-how, it should not be beyond the reach of the average instructional designer, who can help a faculty member set up a project. Cochrane also found that his students took to it remarkably well. He had students do projects in two steps. First, they created their own Google Map, or a single map if they are collaborating, at They then added points of interest to the map, which created the AR locations. The points of interest are basically website dialogue boxes that allowed the student to add links to content such as Flickr images, YouTube videos, blogs, etc.   

The second step was copying the Google Map content to Wikitude, a website that allows users to create public AR overlays. After the user creates a Wikitude account, the entire Google Map is exported as a KML file to the Wikitude site, and published. Now others can see the content either online or on-site using the Wikitude app or other AR apps such as Layar and Junaio.

A faculty member who wants to worm his or her way into the waters of AR can start with the first step, having students create virtual tours of their area on Google Maps and sharing the maps with other students. This will provide them with the experience of applying course concepts to actual locations and creating content for others to view. Once comfortable with this initial step, the faculty member can then move to copying the content to Wikitude for a genuine AR experience. 

Cochrane, T., Narayan, V., & Antonczak, L. (2015, 22-24 June, 2015). Designing Collaborative Learning Environments Using Mobile AR. Paper presented at the EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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