Augmented reality in higher education: five tips to get started

Matthew Ramirez demystifies the use of AR in university study

March 5, 2015

Google Glass, the smart watch and augmented reality: all have been predicted to create great waves in the education sector, but a lot of this impact is still to materialise – a real shame for AR, which I know from my own experiences can add huge value.

Examples of AR for educational purposes – like the British Museum’s Ancient Egyptian trail or The Augsburg Display Cabinet experience at the John Paul Getty Museum – are increasing in number but there is still some way to go before we can say AR is in common use. However, recent research conducted by Jisc showed that students were more serious than ever about technology, with nearly a third (32 per cent) saying tech facilities played a part in their choice of university. 

Combine that statement with the fact that students are open to innovative ways of learning, with more than a third interested in virtual lectures (37 per cent) and dedicated mobile apps (35 per cent) to help them study, and it is easy to understand why universities are keen to up their tech game.

The most common reason for AR remaining on the peripheries in higher education is not lack of appetite, but rather a general lack of knowledge about how to get these programmes off the ground.

At Jisc, we’re supporting universities that want to take AR into the lecture theatre. The focus of this work has been to ensure the technology is able to seamlessly integrate with the existing learning environment, rather than users having to spend time adapting to new ways of learning.

One example of this is the SCARLET project, a Jisc-funded pilot exploring the use of AR to enhance the experience of learners working with special collection materials. The aim of the project was to give students access to fragile ancient texts, allowing them to zoom in on fine detail not visible to the naked eye, as well as providing commentary from academics and other learning aids.

As an emerging technology, it is a safe bet that AR will begin to play a key role in the workplace too, so engaging students with this type of technology will set them up with lifelong skills.

But getting started is always the hardest part, which is why Jisc has dedicated a session at its Digital Festival on 9 and 10 March (for which Times Higher Education is media partner) to showcase good practice in AR and demonstrate the best way to develop resources.

Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Consider the application: AR works especially well where it is difficult to expose students to real-life environments. One example where this has been used to good effect is cARe, a Jisc-funded project run by City University London to provide simulated clinical training to nurses, allowing them to enact scenarios based on patient care that mirrors the real world.
  2. Simplify the subject material: If you work in a maths or science discipline you might not think AR is applicable to you, but actually it’s an excellent conduit for conveying abstract concepts. Using interactive visual simulations can better articulate complex themes that have no frame of reference in users’ minds. If you’re trying to communicate a topic that might be considered difficult, AR can be an effective route in.
  3. Visualise your users: Think about who will be using the app and what learning environments they are used to. AR can be beneficial in very visual subjects, such as architecture, construction and engineering. Students are more likely to embrace technology when it feels natural and transparent, and is aligned to what they are used to doing.
  4. Use resources you already have: The first question you should ask is: ‘What assets do I have that could be repurposed for my AR project?’ An app developed by Jisc with Leeds College of Music is a great example from further education that could quite easily be replicated in higher education. The institution was able to reuse existing digital media to help students to become more proficient in the use of music production equipment.
  5. Test your ideas: Initial feedback might have told you that your student group is receptive to working with AR, but if you fail to consult them during the development cycle you could deliver something that is a long way removed from what they were expecting. Whatever you are creating, it is hugely important to test with a pilot group, ensuring the students find the solution useful and effective (and hopefully enjoyable too).
  • The Jisc Digital Festival, for which Times Higher Education is the media partner, takes place on 9 and 10 March. For a full programme and to register for free, visit www.jisc.ac.uk/digifest

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