Within the framework of a European project, CDEI, an Augmented Reality educational game was developed for the class room (for students aged 8 and up) in 2011. The game in essence was no more than a multiple-choice questionnaire but then a questionnaire that responded to answers given by adding augmentations to the screen of a computer. These augmentations were in the first place visual but could also take the form of audio or text. Technically the game consisted of a face recognition module embedded in an AR engine on top of which, by means of a CMS, games could be created. Currently four games exist, each in several languages and one in two graphic versions. Some of these games are online, other games have to be downloaded to be played offline. The last project framework in which we tested, propagated and created AR games was the European project IDentifEYE.

From the moment Beata Staszynska and I (together with ever changing partners) started testing the game in 2011 we were learning what effects Augmented Reality provokes and under what conditions these effects are more or less powerful.

These are our preliminary observations:

  • Augmentations that are triggered by Augmented Reality in theory can be audio, tactile, aromatic and taste-related – but in practice they are predominantly visual. As such, they are a product of the modern age in which visual information is everywhere. This means that young individuals accept the visual effects of Augmented Reality without hesitation.
  • Augmented Reality is (still) a new and niche technology. Since new technologies currently are part of the communication grammar of young individuals, Augmented Reality, like quite a few other new technologies, immediately triggers student engagement. This effect is enhanced by the fact that Augmented Reality is a niche technology. Most students will not have experienced Augmented Reality before. Therefore, students will be even more engaged by the technology, prone as young individuals are to test out any new technology. For young individuals the use of Augmented Reality will feel like “fun”.
  • As a new technology, as a part of the communication grammar of young individuals, Augmented Reality triggers trust. Young individuals, according to f.i. Sherry Turkle (Alone together, 2011), open up far less critically and much more trusting and empathetically to apps and objects like robots that are powered by technology than they would do to living individuals. Augmented Reality therefore is ideally suited to use to address “difficult” or very private subjects.
  • The openness and trust that are generated by new technologies such as Augmented Reality can on the other hand also lead to an uncritical endorsement of consumerism.
  • Augmented Reality’s most used effect in marketing and communication is to trigger interest by the user for specific objects or points of interest in the environment of the user. The interest that is triggered concerns objects or points of interest that are visible on the screen of a device or are for whatever reason invisible but are located at a place to which a device is pointing. Following this logic, Augmented Reality can be used to trigger interest in anything. It can therefore also trigger interest in ourselves when we are visible on the screen of a device. As such, it is a rare technology that is capable of evoking reflexivity.
  • The visual quality of Augmented Reality enables a different kind of presentation of insights: rather than logically explaining a process step by step, the visual elements can create an experience in which processes become clear without the need for a rational effort by the receiver to understand the information. As such Augmented Reality reaches students that are less served by a transfer of knowledge by means of the traditional transmission model of teaching.
  • Like many new technologies Augmented Reality is interactive and immediate. It therefore appeals to students that have a short span of attention.

Since the topic of our first game concerned online identities, we also had the following observation:

  • Online identities have an “emergent” quality: they are triggered by the online actions of an individual and by online actions by individuals and institutions around them. There is no clear, causal chain of actions, leading from cause to effect. Therefore, regular top-down teaching is not suited to address the emergent relation between data sharing and online identities. Since Augmented Reality itself as a technology also is “emergent” (a trigger evokes augmentations but this process is, just as the relation between data sharing and online identities, “emergent”) it is a great instrument to show “emergence” – it escapes unjustly presenting a causal explanation. Following this logic, Augmented Reality is very useful to use to address any “emergent” process.

In summary, Augmented Reality will be easily accepted by students in the class room and will trigger high engagement. It is very suited to address “difficult” or private subjects and can evoke reflexivity among students while at the same time being experienced by them as “fun”. It can clarify complex, emergent processes. In addition, Augmented Reality reaches students that are less well served by the traditional transfer of knowledge and will reach even those with a very short span of attention. The downside of Augmented Reality, like any new technology, is that it can lead to uncritical consumerism.

Our AR games, based on Augmented Reality, do all of the above. They nevertheless need to be embedded in a lesson plan that has specific characteristics to reach their full potential, linked to the characteristics of Augmented Reality:

  • The lesson may not be based on a top-down transfer of knowledge, as was found out already in the CDEI project by coincidence. A pilot teacher who had a bad day fell back on her traditional, top-down style of teaching while playing the game in a class room, after which the pilot lesson evolved just as any other traditional lesson, notwithstanding the fact that an AR game was being played. Students obediently repeated after the teacher what they thought she wanted to hear. Education innovator Dylan Wiliam calls this “playing a game of “guess what’s in the teacher’s head”” (Embedded formative assessment, 2011).
  • The lesson must be interactive and must convey a sense of immediacy. The student engagement that is triggered by the game, especially of those who are rarely engaged in the class room, must be supported to be maintained.
  •  Since the game evokes student openness and trust, students may become not only far more spontaneous but may also forget to keep certain boundaries. This might especially occur when private themes are touched upon in the game, such as friendship and love. During the CDEI pilot sessions 12-year olds in one class room started discussing the sexual aspirations they had online. Thus, elements of prophylactics must be in place in the lesson to help guide students through their emotions.
  • The downside of the technology, empowering an uncritical consumerism, needs to be counterbalanced in the lesson. For students in the age group 8-11 this means that they need to feel empowered in their sense of agency since their psychological development does not yet allow for independent critical thinking. For students in the age group 12 and older this means that their newly acquired mental skills to think more independently and critically need to be stimulated.

The characteristics of the lesson plan that is fit to provide Augmented Reality in the class room are quite different from the characteristics of every-day lessons. Teachers therefore need not only be instructed how to implement an Augmented Reality-based lesson plan, but also need to understand what it in it for them in order to agree to leave their regular comfort zone.

Training thus is needed to supports teachers to:

  • Apply interactive didactics;
  • Apply elements of prophylactics;
  • Understand the effect of new technologies on students;
  • Empower students aged 8-11 in their sense of agency;
  • Empower students aged 12 and older in their independent, critical thinking skills;
  • Understand why using an AR game actually makes their day-to-day teaching easier.

This is exactly what we developed in the project IDentifEYE: a five session training module for teachers to create their own lesson plans using Augmented Reality (in the form of our game) consisting of modules that:

  • Provide an introduction on and good practices of interactive didactics and prophylactics;
  • Provide insights in the concept of identity and the impact of new technologies on identities;
  • Empower a sense of agency among students. This is executed by means of addressing student learning types and empowering student “growth mindsets” (for students aged 8-11) and by means of addressing student “identity labels” and empowering less strictly defined identity labels;
  • Empower critical thinking skills by introducing students (12-14) to the analyses and good practices of Zygmunt Bauman (Identity, 2004; Liquid life, 2005; Liquid times, 2007);
  • Transparently describe the impact of all the training modules on the every-day teaching practice of teachers as well as on their students.

The IDentifEYE training will be published shortly in six languages: English, Greek, Polish, Lithuanian, Spanish and Dutch. If you want to receive a notification when it will be published, please let me know at onno.hansen@gmail.com.