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The emerging field of augmented and virtual reality in higher education

Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) have long been considered as potentially revolutionary technologies for teaching and learning, but it is only recently that affordable consumer technology has become capable of handling the demands of AR and VR.

AR and VR technologies stem from a gaming background, but as many higher education students now have access to mobile, content-aware technologies (e.g. smartphones, tablets), educators have adopted AR in both formal (e.g., college, university) and informal learning environments (e.g., museums, parks, zoos).

In terms of theoretical foundations, AR and VR are primarily aligned with constructivist and situated learning theories. AR positions the learner within a real-world physical and social context (Dunleavy and Dede, 2014) and enhances it with content, images, video, or 3D models. VR immerses the learner in a virtual world where the learner has an avatar that represents them in some form, interacts with digital agents, artifacts, and contexts, for example in Second Life or SimSchool (Dawley and Dede, 2014). Since VR environments are often as complex as the physical world, it is important to emphasize the learning outcomes in designing learning in these environments, for example, some VR environments have an inbuilt narrative responsive to input from the learner (as in games), while others are designed for exploration.

Augmented reality and virtual reality are separate but closely related technologies. Augmented reality is characterized by the incorporation of digital information including images, video, and audio into real-world spaces. AR aims to blend reality with the virtual environment, allowing users to interact with both physical and digital objects. VR enables users to step into an immersive, computer-simulated alternate world where sensory experiences can occur. Head-mounted devices such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive can deliver both AR and VR experiences.

If you are interested in exploring what AR and VR could do for your students, the Office of Open Learning can help you navigate the technology and plan for effective pedagogical use of these tools.