Augmented Reality in the Classroom

Augmented Reality

My latest obsession is Augmented Reality. For the least year I've been getting my head wrapped around what it is, how it works, what it can do, how I could use it in the classroom, and understanding why it's more than a passing fad.

Augmented Reality (AR) blends our personal sensory experiences with digital information. Your car's GPS is a good start to understanding - it knows where you are, what direction you're facing. You tell it where you want to go, and it shows your route on a map and describes the route with voice instructions. Now imagine your GPS screen projected onto your windshield such that all the digital streets align with what you see out the window. Imagine further that information bubbles appear above the stores you pass showing name, address, operating hours, and today's specials.

Right There In Front of Me

AR, I thought, was in something to come in the future, but Christmas 2011 my son received a shirt that came with the Zappar app ( When you view the shirt with the app you can interact with the shirt image. The app recognizes the image and places content in specific places over the live image of the shirt. As my son moved around, the content stayed in place relative to the shirt image. I admit to being underwhelmed with this - how long is that going to hold anyone's attention? Not long, for sure, but I was missing the point. I didn't even recognize that this was Augmented Reality. AR had already entered the commercial market.

Beyond a cute tech gimmick, what purpose can AR serve? How can it help me do my job? How can it help students learn and communicate? The first few things I saw looked and felt more like play, having fun with a new technology. Here are some examples of simple AR applications.

ARTattooAn AR tattoo target image will always look the same, but the user can change what happens when it is viewed with an AR app. Videos, images, sounds, animations, or any other digital content. (Particularly useful if you have to change your "I Love Mary" tattoo to an "I Love Alice" tattoo.)


Exploring more, I found other applications that caused me to rethink my understanding of how the real and virtual worlds interact and how we can use AR to create 24/7 learning environments. Consider these applications:


Viewing Augmented Reality Content

AR contact lenses
Right now, our devices are the information portals - the lens through which we engage with online content. AR still relies on the device, but it blurs the line between reality and data by making it appear as though they are in the same plane of existence. There are emerging technologies that more naturally brings AR content to the user. Google's Glasses are a wearable mobile device through which you can see the world and the digital data overlay. Being a connected location-aware device, the transparent screen displays relevant just-in-time information to the wearer. They could identify the store you're looking at, play a trailer for the movie poster you're viewing, or the type of tree under which you are having your picnic.

As cool as the Google Glasses are, there is something even more cool/creepy on the horizon. Enter the Solar Powered Augmented Reality contact lenses. These promise to display content you can see right from the surface of your eyeball. less creepy is Corning's "A Day Made of Glass." A vision of the future where every surface is an interactive glass display device that can both display and sense input.

What We're Doing Now With Augmented Reality

We have used Minecraft for the last year for student projects. Presenting the finished work was always a challenge - screen captures, video walk-throughs, or process papers help the viewer understand the primary features and learning points. This term we will experiment with Minecraft Reality which grabs a specified portion of the world so you can place it on a table and view it in three dimensions through your device. Students will use an iPad connected to a projector to give live tours and explanations of their structures. This video demonstrates how virtual Minecraft objects can be made to appear in reality through the device camera.

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Students have also used Google Sketchup to create scale model apartments for Math. Using their hand-drawn floor plan, we are seeking ways to overlay the digital Sketch-up model on the two-dimensional plan. As the viewer rotates the floorplan page, the model will also rotate. The viewer can move about, tip to different angles, and see the model from almost any angle,

Some Future Augmented Reality Plans & Ideas

We are starting work on a school channel using Aurasma (think something like a YouTube channel for AR content) and "placing" content around the school. The idea is that subscribers to the channel can explore around the school and when they hit a target location, the app will load a visual poem, soundscape, or video. Students can place an explanatory video over their finished product on display in the halls. We can also use this channel to link podcasts or tutorials to images in textbooks (think something like a flipped class using augmented reality), animated explanations of concepts linked directly to class posters and resource materials. In the library, imagine viewing a novel cover and having reviews, author interviews, bibliographic reference, student responses, appear through the AR viewer.

Imagine a world where students identify interests and learning goals, load the appropriate AR channel and then go out exploring. The channel overlays information, identifies connections, and provides opportunities to interact with the world more deeply than they could without the overlay. A walk in the park shows every tree labeled, animals identified by sight and sound, terrain information, climate charts, biome analysis. Or, the same walk can show a different student dimensional measurements of objects framing a rock in a vector box showing maximum length, width, and height, surface area and volume of the bounding box. It could overlay a cylinder on a tree showing volume and allowing the student to change the height and see corresponding changes in values. Another student might "see" a simulation of the water cycle within a plant. Learning then happens outside school, in community and nature with custom overlays prompting the student to make connections, explore, and engage.

Today we are exploring this new technology and trying to balance the Wow Factor with productive and effective use of Augmented Reality



Unlinked image sources

Providing a glimpse "inside" the body.

Real-time information about your surroundings (including today's deals, menu items, promotions, hours, etc.)

3D models jump out of pictures you can walk around, turn about, and explore from all angles by moving about the source image.

Fun applications that use Augmented Reality postage stamps

collector cards


  1. Marcelo Stavale Molina says:

    I'd like to mention the Aurasma App as a good AR app for education.

    • milesmac says:

      Absolutely! I have been experimenting with Aurasma - particularly interested in the power of channel subscriptions for augmenting a school space.
      Have you worked with Aurasma? Any project / integration ideas?

  2. Drew Minock says:

    We use Aurasma a lot in education and other great AR apps. Check it out

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