Augmented Reality in Higher Education

July 9, 2024

By Aida Mª Gómez López

Augmented Reality (AR) has burst into education like a technological whirlwind, dazzling students and educators. Imagine seeing three-dimensional models of molecular structures in your chemistry classes, or exploring ancient archaeological ruins without leaving the classroom. Since its appearance on the public radar with games like Pokémon GO, it has evolved to the point where it is revolutionizing the way we understand education, as it involves a 180° shift from traditional education. Now learning goes beyond the pages of a book, we are talking about truly immersive experiences that, as we will see below, achieve greater involvement on the part of students, as well as improve their learning outcomes.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is the term used to describe the set of technologies that allow a user to visualize part of the real world through a technological device with graphical information (digital information, images, videos, or 3D models) added by the user. The term was coined in 1992 by the scientist Thomas P. Caudell while developing the Boeing 747. The researcher noticed that the operators assembling the aircraft were spending too much time interpreting instructions and thought it would be helpful if they had a screen to guide them through the installation. Although the idea was unsuccessful, AR was emerging as a new field of research.

However, it was the famous game Pokémon GO, which popularized this technology in 2016, although at that time there were already many sectors that were using it to create more realistic experiences. Well, at the end of the day, AR helps us to generate experiences that generate knowledge about our environment and allows us to obtain such information in real time, because, this information can be seen through different devices such as, for example, our cell phones.

Augmented Reality Applications in Higher Education

Augmented reality is being widely used in higher education, with one of the most common applications being the visualization of complex concepts. In disciplines such as anatomy, chemistry, and physics, students can use AR applications to view 3D models of molecular structures, anatomical systems, or physical phenomena. This 3D visualization makes abstract concepts more tangible and understandable.

Innovative applications of this technology involve the creation of immersive and contextualized experiences that enrich the learning process and go far beyond the mere visualization of complex concepts. We can highlight:

1. Realistic simulations and practice: Realistic simulations allow students to practice skills and procedures in controlled environments. For example, in nursing programs, students can use AR applications to simulate medical procedures, such as catheter placement or medication administration, before performing them in real clinical settings. This allows them to gain hands-on experience safely and effectively. In other words, AR is used to create simulations and virtual laboratories, which is very useful for those disciplines that involve hands-on experiments that can be costly and dangerous. Thanks to this technology, students can perform laboratory practices in a virtual environment, allowing them to experiment and learn without risk.

2. Exploring virtual environments: AR allows students to explore virtual environments that complement their classroom learning. For example, in architecture or urban design courses, students can use applications to visualize 3D models of buildings and structures in the context of their physical surroundings. This helps them visualize how they would integrate into the real world. “Virtual field trips” are also a popular application of AR in higher education. Students can take virtual tours of places that would otherwise be inaccessible or expensive to visit, such as archaeological sites, art museums, or natural ecosystems. This experience allows them to explore and learn about different cultures and places without leaving the classroom.

3. Language learning support: offers interactive and immersive experiences that go beyond traditional methods. For example, students can use apps to scan words or phrases and receive instant translations, in-context usage examples, and practice exercises. This helps them improve their understanding and fluency in the language in a fun, hands-on way.

4. Creation of interactive educational content: allows educators to create interactive educational content that actively engages students in the learning process. For example, teachers can develop AR activities where students must solve problems, complete tasks or explore concepts in a virtual environment. This encourages student participation and engagement, promoting deeper and more meaningful learning.

5. Access to rich educational resources: provides access to a wide range of rich educational resources, such as interactive textbooks, 3D educational videos, and adaptive study applications. For example, students can use AR applications to scan textbook pages and access additional multimedia content, such as explanatory videos, animations, and simulations. This enriches their learning experience and provides them with additional information to reinforce their understanding.

In other words, augmented reality offers a variety of innovative applications in education ranging from the creation of realistic simulations to the exploration of virtual environments and access to enriched educational resources. These applications, as we have seen, have the potential to transform the way we teach and learn, offering more immersive, interactive, and personalized learning experiences.

What empirical evidence is there on the advantages of using augmented reality in the classroom?

Several studies offer promising results on the benefits and effectiveness of applying Augmented Reality in classrooms. We can highlight the following key areas where empirical evidence has been found:

1. Improved comprehension and retention of material: Several studies have shown that the use of AR in the classroom can improve understanding and retention of concepts. For example, a study by Wu, Lee, Chang, and Liang (2013) found that students who used AR applications to visualize complex concepts in biology showed a better understanding of the concepts compared to those who used traditional teaching methods.

2. Increased participation and motivation: AR can increase student engagement and motivation in the learning process. Research such as that of Dunleavy, Dede, and Mitchell (2009) has found that its use in the classroom can increase student interest and foster greater engagement with academic content.

3. Promoting active learning: By allowing students to interact with the content in a hands-on way, it promotes active learning. A study by Klopfer, Squire, and Jenkins (2008) on the use of an AR environment for teaching natural science found that students were more engaged and actively participated in the learning process.

4. Improved problem-solving skills: Providing students with virtual environments where they can experience and practice applying academic concepts in practical situations, helps improve problem-solving skills. For example, a study by Akçayir and Akçayir (2017) found that the use of AR applications in mathematics teaching improved students’ problem-solving

5. Facilitating collaboration and teamwork: AR can facilitate collaboration and teamwork by allowing students to work together on virtual projects and activities. Research such as that of Huang et (2010) has found that the use of AR in learning environments collaborative can improve communication and collaboration among students.

While the results are promising, it is important to keep in mind that the field of augmented education is still relatively new, and more research is needed to understand its impact in university classrooms fully.

Ethical Challenges and Considerations

While augmented reality offers many benefits for higher education, it also presents challenges and ethical considerations that must be addressed. One of the main challenges is accessibility. Not all students have access to AR devices, which can create a digital divide in the classroom, often linked to the socioeconomic status of families and which can lead to controversies for its implementation.

In addition, there is concern that the technology may distract students or take them away from the learning experience. It is important to find a balance in its use as an educational tool and ensure that students remain engaged with the academic content, without allowing AR to become a distraction or a mere game. Hence the importance of teachers having the appropriate training, as it will depend on them managing to use this technology effectively and being able to adapt it to the educational needs of students to obtain significant benefits in the teaching-learning process.

It is also important to consider privacy and data security. When using AR applications, students may be sharing personal and sensitive information. It is critical to ensure that students’ privacy rights are respected and that measures are taken to protect their data.

Conclusions

Augmented reality has the potential to transform higher education by offering more immersive, interactive, and personalized learning experiences. From visualizing complex concepts to creating simulations and virtual labs, AR offers a variety of applications that can enhance the educational experience for students. However, we must address the challenges it faces, some simpler such as teacher training, and others much more complex such as the ethical considerations we have seen previously, but in doing so, we will be maximizing the potential of augmented reality to enhance higher education and prepare students to succeed in an increasingly digitized world.

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Klopfer, E., Squire, K., & Jenkins, H. (2008). Environmental Detectives: The Development of an Augmented Reality Platform for Environmental Simulations. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(2), 203-228.

Akçayir, M., & Akçayir, G. (2017). Advantages and challenges associated with augmented reality for education: A systematic review of the literature. Educational Research Review, 20, 1-11.

Huang, Y. M., Chen, Z. H., & Liu, T. Y. (2010). A study on an augmented reality-based mobile learning system for marine education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 271-290.

Augmented Reality in Higher Education