Getting real: Learning with (and about) augmented reality

Trisha Templeton, teacher librarian at Daramalan College, defines augmented reality (AR), explores its role in education, and suggests some basic considerations for teachers getting started with AR.

The technology revolution, pervasive use of the internet, and plethora of personal devices have changed the way society engages in employment, recreation, education and personal endeavours. With these changes manifesting in all parts of society, educators need to adapt their pedagogical practices to ensure students are equipped with the necessary digital skills and strategies to thrive in the 21st century (Wolz, 2019). The integration of emerging technologies, such as augmented reality, is being trialled in classrooms to improve engagement, bolster ICT acuity, and meet the needs of the modern student. This article seeks to explain augmented reality, understand its role in schools, and suggest some practical and pedagogical considerations for teachers getting started with AR.

What is augmented reality (AR)?

AR overlays computer-generated images, sounds, 3D models, videos, graphics, animated sequences, games or GPS data on real-world environments (Townsdin & Whitmer, 2017; Oddone, 2019). These combined 3D visual representations require specific software that can be downloaded onto either smart-glasses, tablets or smartphones (Wu, Lee, Chang & Liang, 2013). AR information is triggered by a QR code, image or illustration using a mobile application to release the interactive content (Levski, 2018).

AR is already present in military equipment, flight navigation, the entertainment industry and various mobile applications, such as Pokemon GO (Pope, 2018; Townsdin & Whitmer, 2017). It differs from virtual reality (VR), which is more fully immersive and utilises a headset to navigate a computer-generated environment.

YouTube video: AR 101 - The basics of augmented reality by HowStuffWorks (2:19)

Applications in classrooms

The most sizable and unique benefit AR has on educational practices is its ability to use 3D images to illustrate complex concepts (Zak, 2014). Abstract or theoretical concepts (such as the solar system or ‘light years’) can be challenging to explain and conceptualise. By using AR resources, such as Galactic Explorer for Merge Cube, students can manipulate holograms, like the solar system, observing the comparative sizes of the planets and the distance between them. This manipulation creates an engaging and realistic experience which increases the frequency and depth of connections made between the student, the content and the real world (Hannah, Huber & Matei, 2019, p 278; Wu et al., 2013, p 44).

YouTube video: Galactic Explorer for Merge Cube by AR Critic (2:29)

AR can be used successfully in inquiry learning, recreational and informational reading, and visual arts, and can support the development of skills in literacy and numeracy, STEM and ICT (Saidin, Halim & Yahaya, 2015). By expanding learning beyond the classroom walls, it also provides opportunities to develop the critical digital literacy skills necessary for life after school (Wolz, 2019, p 3; Wu et al., 2013). In these ways, AR has relevance in the ‘design and technologies’ and ‘digital technologies’ learning areas, and the general capabilities: ICT capability, critical and creative thinking, and ethical understanding.

By supporting interaction between the real and virtual worlds, AR also increases engagement and boosts information retention (Saidin, Halim & Yahaya, 2015; Wolz, 2019). Its individualised interaction means that AR is self-paced and promotes independent learning. AR resources can be embedded into print or digital resources, and can be used across disciplines. Its multimodal nature gives diverse learners multiple entry points into the content (Levski, 2018).

Inquiry learning

Oddone (2019) and Foote (2018) both suggest that greater educational benefits arise from students creating their own interactive images and overlays, rather than using supplied ones. Tools such as Metaverse or Augment can be used in this way. Metaverse Studio is intuitive, with a simple storyboard function to frame transitions. Users can create a new experience from scratch or draw from the existing bank of public experiences. AR tools like these could support engaging inquiry tasks in any discipline, and have specific curriculum value within the science, history and geography inquiry skills sections.

YouTube video: Metaverse is everywhere! by Metaverse AR Platform (0:59)

Metaverse Studio enables students to create interactive augmented reality learning experiences. These experiences – games, quizzes, tours, scavenger hunts, choose-you-own-adventure stories and more – can be viewed via the Metaverse app. Both resources are free, and various online tutorials are available. Teachers and students in NSW public schools can access Metaverse Studio via their department G Suite for Education account (ages 13+). Further information is available via the department’s Digital Learning Selector.

Abstract concepts and STEM

Abstract ideas and content such as chemical structure, bonds and particle chemistry can be problematic for some students due to the challenge of visualising theoretical postulations (Furio et al., 2017, pp 2-3). Tactile, visual tools may strengthen understanding and comprehension, as students gain a better view of the content and use their sensory faculties while constructing new knowledge (Magana, Serrano & Rebello, 2018). For example, the AR VR Molecules Editor app provides opportunities for students to explore, build, analyse and manipulate 3D molecules to improve understanding of the key concepts. Merge Cube and the Merge Explorer app allow students to manipulate an animated figure for a more immersive learning experience of human anatomy (Wu et al. 2013). Google’s 3D and augmented reality search results also offer similar three-dimensional models of human body systems, as well as cellular structures and various other concepts in chemistry and biology.

YouTube video: The world's first AVR chem app: ‘AR VR Molecules Editor’ by STEM Island (0:38)


The emergence of augmented reality books is a growing trend in children’s publishing, with publishers seeking to supplement traditional texts with AR features (Levski, 2018; Zak, 2014). AR books are viewed as a way of reaching a generation accustomed to interacting with screens and digital content. Offering engaging content, they’ve been cited to improve reading rates in children and adolescents (Levski, 2018; Zak, 2014). While these texts can be found across genres, they’re most commonly found in fiction and informational resources for children and young adults. Titles range from classics such as Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood to more modern young adult fiction, such as Jack Hunter - The French connection.

Vimeo video: Jack Hunter trailer by Jack Hunter (1:17)

Other books containing augmented reality features include:

  • ‘Sleep Sweet’ by Julianne DiBlasi Black
  • ‘The Archmage Tower’ by Søren Jønsson, Brian Bak Jensen and Leslie Crislip Nielsen
  • ‘Ocean Monsters: Interact with Lifesize Sea Predators!’ by Nicola Davies
  • ‘iStorm: Wild Weather and Other Forces of Nature’ by Anita Generi
  • ‘An Elephant in our Garden’ by Patrick E. McLeod and Jeffrey A. Arnold.


Numeracy skills can also be enhanced using AR. Wu et al. (2013) suggest that students can learn geometry, trigonometry, spatial relationships and collaborative problem-based learning by using AR to supplement their understanding. For example, GeoGebra’s augmented reality app allows users to place objects on a surface, examine them from different positions, take screenshots and perform mathematical modelling. The app can be used to investigate logical construction, coordinate geometry, and area, volume and surface area of polygons/polyhedra. Similarly, using tools like MeasureKit – AR Ruler Tape adds a real world element to measurement activities, allowing students to more easily apply their theoretical knowledge of concepts in measurement.

YouTube video: Getting started with GeoGebra Augmented Reality by Brzezinski Math (2:12)

Visual arts, history and geography

An interesting use of AR is the ability to access and engage in an authentic exploration of real objects in an artificial space (Wu et al., 2013). For example, MERGE’s 3D Museum Viewer allows students to access life-size 3D artifacts from curated collections in the classroom. Apps like Google Expeditions and Google Arts & Culture allow students to interact with historical artefacts and visit real or fictional sites around the world, including museums, galleries and geographic landmarks. Google Arts & Culture can be used with Google Street View and Google Expeditions, and then all embedded into G Suite. On site, many art galleries and museums also offer embedded AR to give visitors access to additional information about displays.

From an assessment viewpoint, students could support their own creative pieces by embedding their rationale using QR codes on their paintings, sculptures, photographs or collages (Zak, 2014). Extending this idea, teachers could also use QR codes, in any discipline, to facilitate differentiated learning for a diverse classroom.

YouTube video: MERGE Edu 2019 by MERGE (1:27)

Location based learning

As Wu et al. (2013) suggest, location-based learning (such as field trips and excursions) can also be augmented by AR. This technology has been adopted by some organisations and national parks to enhance their education programs. Visitors can use their devices and inbuilt GPS systems to access pertinent information about the site they are visiting (Townsdin & Whitmer, 2017). For example, in Queensland, the MyRanger mobile app can be used within Springbrook National Park and David Fleay Wildlife Park to discover more about these areas, and to experience their animals come to life via AR. Students and teachers can also create their own virtual field trips or immersive tours using tools like Google Tour Creator.

AR in the library

As with technology access broadly, school libraries play a pivotal role in enabling access to augmented reality to support learning. There are several ways in which a school library can introduce emerging technologies such as AR to their patrons. These include:

Augmented reality texts

Augmented reality texts are one of the most cost-efficient ways of introducing AR technology to students, enabling learners to experience the technology without the associated setup costs for hardware and software (Brigham, 2017; Foote, 2018). Magana, Serrano and Rebello (2018, p 526) report increased student understanding when multimodal resources (like information texts embedded with AR) are used, compared to traditional texts. This is especially true for subjects with abstract concepts like physics. AR texts are currently offered in many schools and academic libraries, and some libraries offer a smart device loan scheme to assist with offsite learning using AR.

YouTube video: Augmented reality physics book by ARLOOPA Augmented/Virtual Reality (1:26)

Makerspaces and AR installations

Makerspaces convert students from users of content to creators of knowledge as they allow students to pursue individual projects in and out of class time, and facilitate independent and cross disciplinary learning. Many libraries have designated makerspace areas to facilitate creativity and critical learning and free play. These areas also allow teachers to experiment with new technology for their own personal benefit or to embed into their teaching practice (Slatter & Howard, 2013).

An extension of makerspaces are AR installations. These areas, known as sandbox programming, are permanently devoted to experimentation, exploration and demonstrations of AR/VR technology (Townsdin & Whitmer, 2017). Some examples of AR installations include TinkerLamp and zSpace. TinkerLamp was the forerunner of AR technology and required a screen, a projector, experimentation board and an interferometer (Furio et al., 2017, p 3). Whereas the more modern zSpace consists of a computer, stylus and specialised glasses (Foote, 2018).

YouTube video: Endeavour to transform | zSpace by Microsoft Education (4:35)

At this stage, sophisticated installations are not yet common in schools, due to their cost. In contrast, Merge Cubes may provide a more accessible entry point for schools, as they are less expensive and more flexible for group use (Pope, 2018).

Library outreach and marketing

Library tours, displays and other promotional programs have an immense capability for AR. AR embedded posters and displays are an innovative method to engage students, and to convey useful information about seasonal events, special collections, library skills and services (Townsdin & Whitmer, 2017). It’s also possible to gamify library maps with embedded GPS tagging as a method of incentivising students to explore the various library spaces and facilities (Balci, 2017; Townsdin & Whitmer, 2017).

YouTube video: Finding books at the library with augmented reality by Clara Sofie Rose (1:57)

Creation of school specific AR models

Ultimately, students need opportunities to create their own 3D objects and AR resources, aligned to the curriculum. As part of this approach, Hannah et al. (2019) propose that images are curated and integrated into the library management system. This method allows all the resources that are created in the school, by both staff and students, to be stored for future use, while acknowledging the authorship and intellectual property ownership of the images. However, the curation of 3D images requires new vocabulary and ontology and further exploration of the relevant literature. Therefore, it makes sense that AR installations, and associated AR hardware and software, are centralised in the library, and the teacher librarian could work with staff to develop appropriate retrieval terms for the school community.

Getting started with AR

While AR technology is still slowly maturing, opportunities increasingly exist for free and low-cost AR to support student learning in novel, engaging ways. As Southgate et al. (2019, p 66) advise, teachers should consider the following when selecting and using AR resources:

1. What does it offer that is superior to other educational tools?

  • What is the educational value of the AR resource?
  • Does it facilitate an experience that students cannot access in real life?
  • How will the AR resource improve my lesson?
  • Do students and teachers have the required devices or technical infrastructure?

2. Is the AR experience developmentally appropriate?

  • How will students respond to the content and format?
  • What might be the challenges and potential barriers to learning?

3. Are there any ethical, legal or safety considerations?

  • For example, how will risks of injury be mitigated if students are walking around holding devices?
  • Are there any privacy, cultural or copyright considerations when producing and publishing new AR content?

With these considerations in hand, teachers are well positioned to experiment, building their own capacity – and their students’ – to learn about and through AR.

References and further reading

Balci, L. F. (2017, November 17). Using augmented reality to engage students in the library [Web blog post].

Brigham, T. (2017). Reality check: Basics of augmented, virtual, and mixed reality. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, (36)2, 171-178. doi: 10.1080/02763869.2017.1293987

Coates, C. (2020, September 17). How museums are using augmented reality. [Web blog post].

Cuendet, S., Bonnard, Q., Do-Lenh, S. & Dillenbourg, P. (2013). Designing augmented reality for the classroom. Computers & Education, 68, 557-569. doi:

Foote, C. (2018). Is it real or is it VR? Exploring AR and VR tools. Computers in Libraries, 38(3), 33-36.

Furio, D., Fleck, S., Bousquet, B., Guillet, J. P., Canioni, L. & Hachet, M. (2017). HOBIT: Hybrid optical bench for innovative teaching. [Paper presentation]. 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Denver, CO, United States. doi:

Hannah, M., Huber, S. & Matei, S.A. (2019). Collecting virtual and augmented reality in the twenty first century library. Collection Management, 44(2-4), 277-295. doi: 10.1080/01462679.2019.1587673

K, A. (2019, May 21). Augmented reality in education [Web blog post].

Levski, Y. (2018). 10 augmented reality books that will blow your kid’s mind [Web blog post].

Magana, A., Serrano, M. & Rebello, N. (2018). A sequenced multimodal learning approach to support students' development of conceptual learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 35(4).

Oddone, K. (2019). Even better than the real thing? Virtual and augmented reality in the school library. SCIS Connections, 110.

Pope, H. (2018). Virtual and augmented reality in libraries. Library Technology Reports - American Library Association, (54)6.

Sagar, P. (2018, December 22). The impact of augmented reality in education [Web blog post].

Saidin, N. F., Halim, N. D. A. & Yahaya, N. (2015). A review of research on augmented reality in education: Advantages and applications. International Education Studies, 8(13).

Santos, J. F. & Esposo-Betan, S. M. (2017). Advantages and challenges of using augmented reality for library orientations in an academic/research library setting, Proceedings of the 2017 IATUL Conference.

Slatter, D. & Howard, D. (2013). A place to make, hack and learn: makerspaces in Australian public libraries. Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 62(4), 272-284.

Southgate, E., Blackmore, K., Pieschl, S., Grimes, S., McGuire, J. & Smithers, K. (2019). Artificial intelligence and emerging technologies (virtual, augmented and mixed reality) in schools: A research report. Newcastle: University of Newcastle, Australia.

Spina, C. (2014). Keeping up with… augmented reality.

Townsdin, S. & Whitmer, W. (2017). Implementing augmented reality in academic libraries. Public Services Quarterly, 13, 190-199. doi: 10.1080/15228959.2017.1338541

Thisideablog. (2018, August 21). Day 9: Merge Cubes in the makerspace [Web blog post].

Wolz, K. (2019). Building faculty competence and self-efficacy for using ZSpace virtual reality (VR) software in the classroom (Thesis). Retrieved from ePublications at Regis University. (920)

Wu, H., Lee, S., Chang, H. & Liang, J. (2013). Current status, opportunities and challenges of augmented reality in education. Computers & Education, 62, 41-49.

Yeh, H. C. & Tseng, S. S., (2020). Enhancing Multimodal Literacy using Augmented Reality. Language Learning & Technology, 24(1), 27–37.

Zak, E. (2014). Do you believe in magic? Exploring the conceptualisation of augmented reality and its implication for the user in the field of library and information science. Information Technology and Libraries, 33(4).

How to cite this article – Templeton, T. (2020). Getting real: Learning with (and about) augmented reality. Scan, 39(10).

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