Augmented Reality

7 things you should know about 

 Augmented Reality 

1 What is it? 

The goal of augmented reality is to add information and meaning 

to a real object or place. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality 

does not create a simulation of reality. Instead, it takes a real 

object or space as the foundation and incorporates technologies 

that add contextual data to deepen a person’s understanding of 

the subject. For example, by superimposing imaging data from 

an MRI onto a patient’s body, augmented reality can help a sur- 

geon pinpoint a tumor that is to be removed. In this case, the 

technology used might include headgear worn by the surgeon 

combined with a computer interface that maps data to the per- 

son lying on the operating table. In other cases, augmented reali- 

ty might add audio commentary, location data, historical context, 

or other forms of content that can make a user’s experience of a 

thing or a place more meaningful. 

3 How does it work? 

A range of technologies can be used for augmented reality. Many 

augmented reality projects use headgear or a similar device that 

projects data into the user’s field of vision, corresponding with 

a real object or space the user is observing. In the case of a 

technical course on PC maintenance, for example, augmented 

reality might overlay a schematic diagram onto the inside of a 

computer, allowing students to identify the various components 

and access technical specifications about them. PDAs or other 

portable devices can use GPS data to provide users with con- 

text—including visual, audio, or text-based data—about real 

objects or places. Augmented reality is not merely a companion 

text or multimedia file but a technology designed to “see” a real 

object or place and provide the user with appropriate informa- 

tion at the right time. Augmented reality is designed to blur the 

line between the reality the user is experiencing and the content 

provided by technology. 

5 What are the downsides? 

Many augmented reality projects rely on specific or custom- 

ized hardware, and the mechanisms that correlate data added 

by technology with the real world are often technically complex. 

Despite falling costs for hardware overall, augmented reality proj- 

ects can be expensive to develop and maintain. 

Today’s augmented reality projects typically focus on individual 

users and may not lend themselves to team activities or group 

learning. In addition, augmented reality projects may resemble 

entertainment, raising questions about their pedagogical value. 

Educators must be careful to ensure that activities have educa- 

tional merit and that students do not become infatuated with the 

technology alone. 

7 What are the implications 

       for teaching and learning? 

Augmented reality is one way to bring experiential and location- 

based learning to students by supplementing existing worlds 

rather than creating new ones. Augmented reality installations 

can be built to take advantage of existing or low-cost infrastruc- 

ture. The use of nearly ubiquitous devices such as cell phones 

may permit rapid experimentation and evolution of augmented 

reality applications. 

By combining technology familiar to students with locations that 

students see as their own, augmented reality has the potential 

to move learning out of the classrooms and into the spaces 

where students live. Encouraging informal learning that is easily 

accessible may prove particularly effective in engaging students, 

extending learning to spaces that might help them form connec- 

tions with content, the locations that provide the context for it, 

and the peers that they share it with.

Who’s doing it? 

Augmented reality has been put to use in a number of fields, 

including medical imaging, where doctors can access data 

about patients; aviation, where tools show pilots important data 

about the landscape they are viewing; training, in which technol-

ogy provides students or technicians with necessary data about 

specific objects they are working with; and in museums, where 

artifacts can be tagged with information such as the artifact’s 

historical context or where it was discovered. 

Within the academy, educators are beginning to provide students 

with deeper, more meaningful experiences by linking educational 

content with specific places and objects. In many disciplines, 

field trips are part of the course; by supplementing these explo- 

rations with mobile technologies and data-collection devices 

(including digital cameras), the lessons can be extended beyond 

the field trip. In some cases, augmented reality technologies have 

been integrated into educational games. In MIT’s Environmental 

Detectives, for example, students learn about environmental sci- 

ences and ecosystems by finding clues and solving a mystery on 

the MIT campus using PDAs fitted with GPS devices. 

Why is it significant? 

Because every object or place has a history and a context, mak- 

ing that content available to individuals interacting with those 

places or things provides a richer experience. To the extent that 

instructors can furnish students with a broad context for under- 

standing the real world, students are more likely to comprehend 

what they are learning and to remember it later. Information can 

also come from students themselves. Students in an archeology 

class might use an augmented reality system to capture their 

thoughts or impressions when working with artifacts. That con- 

tent can then be made available to others during subsequent 

lab sessions, allowing them to have a deeper understanding of 

the subject matter and a richer learning experience. Augmented 

reality might also make higher education and specialized content 

more accessible to the general public, transporting lessons from 

the campus to the community. 

6Where is it going? 

Computing devices, especially wireless ones, are becoming 

more powerful and increasingly widespread. At the same time, 

costs for these devices are falling. As computing hardware—both 

wired and wireless—approaches ubiquity, new opportunities 

emerge to use technology to enrich individuals’ experiences of 

objects and places. Because all areas of academic inquiry ben- 

efit from background and context, augmented reality has the 

possibility of enhancing education across the curriculum. By 

exposing students to an experiential, explorative, and authentic 

model of learning early in their higher education careers, aug- 

mented reality has the potential to help shift modes of learning 

from students’ simply being recipients of content to their taking 

an active role in gathering and processing information, thereby 

creating knowledge. 

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