Augmented Reality at UWE

Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality

In 2013, the Horizon Report produced by Educause featured six educational technologies to watch in the coming years. One of these was wearable technology that would enable Augmented Reality (AR) to reach its potential and seamlessly integrating digital content into the education ecosystem. Three years on and we have seen a significant increase in wearable technology entering the consumer market and companies such as Apple and Nike taking full advantage of this new sales potential. But what about AR?

Firstly, what is AR, what are the potential benefits to education, and how can you get involved here at UWE?

AR is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world. You may remember Google Glass a project that used a specific pair of glasses to display information to the wearer, and although the project stopped it has already been reported that a new version will be released aimed at the business market. AR has made most of its impact via the use of smartphones and tablets. Publishers have been harnessing the power of AR on Magazines to engage their audience with rich media content that is lifted off the page and displayed on the screen of the readers smartphone or tablet.

What are the potential benefits to education?
In the UK, smart devices are becoming more commonplace, and the numbers of students owning these devices are starting to mirror US ownership figures wherein 2015 92% of students owned a smart device – exceeding laptop ownership of 91% for the first time (Educause, 2015).

This ubiquity has lowered the barriers to access for AR and educators can now start to harness the power of AR,  developing content that is richer and more engaging than some traditional methods. To date, research has found the use of AR in the classroom provided improvements in students memorability and engagement, both key to effective learning.

Examples of AR in education
UWE has already been using AR. The UWEMobile app allows a student to navigate their way around the campuses, and find key locations such as the Library or Cribbs B. Outside of UWE, other examples of AR in education include treasure trails where students use AR to discover information and links about relevant subjects. Within the classroom, research by Cuendet and Sébastien (2013) utilised AR to guide learning and help students learn the principles of organising a warehouse. Participants need to learn and understand the trade-offs between how fast goods can be stored and the storage capacity of the warehouse. Researchers developed a device called a TinkerKey. The device would augment information (fig 1) onto activity sheets. The sheets allowed students to physically move objects such blocks and cards into positions on the sheet, representing their own warehouse designs. By using special markers on the blocks and cards, AR was triggered to change the state of a block or perform a specific action such display a step-by-step 3D animation of the process.

Article: Designing augmented reality for the classroom
Article: Designing augmented reality for the classroom Author: Cuendet, Sébastien Journal: Computers and education ISSN: 0360-1315

Fig 1

During the project, the system was used to teach carpentry students the Rabattement technique (fig2). A technique that transforms paper-based designs (2D) into full 3D objects. Using the TinkerKey, student were able to visualise how the process works and via a series of activities, students would gradually move through more complex activities, with visual support from the TinkerKey.

Article: Designing augmented reality for the classroom Author: Cuendet, Sébastien Journal: Computers and education ISSN: 0360-1315
Article: Designing augmented reality for the classroom
Author: Cuendet, Sébastien
Journal: Computers and education
ISSN: 0360-1315

Fig 2

This use of AR in the classroom afforded flexible management of the classroom. The academic was able to walk between each table and place specific cards onto each student’s activity sheet. These cards triggered an action, such as allowing the student to move to the next activity or display (via AR) an alternative approach the student had not yet discovered. It also allowed the academic to manage high-performing groups by enabling them to run multiple simulations, but still keep control and provide additional information to the lower-performing groups.

How can you get involved here at UWE?
We are already working with academic colleagues on AR projects that will enhance the student experience in a number of different ways. Furthermore, we are in discussions with partners in professional services about how AR can help their roles.

If you would like to know more and get involved in a pilot within your department or program, contact us and arrange a chat with the EIC team.


Clouds Over Sidra

Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s multi award-winning documentary Clouds Over Sidra is a powerful demonstration of the 360 degree video format’s ability to engage emotions whilst addressing a serious issue. By allowing the ‘viewer’ to see through the eyes of 12-year-old Sidra, the piece explores the tension between ‘directed’ and ‘undirected’ narrative in its empathetic depiction of life in a Syrian refugee camp.

I think these notions of what we (the creators of these experiences) seek to convey, and what we leave open to discovery (or not), plays to a major concern when such technologies are utilised in immersive learning and journalism. Namely – to what extent do we allow our audience/learners the freedom to explore? And how much do we feel the need to ‘direct’ them towards (our own) desired outcome?

While not an explorable virtual environment (360 video allows you to ‘look’ around rather than ‘move’ around) the documentary works by completely wrapping the viewer in a visual landscape – with the mundanity and enormity of life playing out around them.

“Presence is still coming into a definition, but we know two things about it: It feels good, and it’s different from verisimilitude. With presence, you do get a profound sensation of space, causing you to forget you’re staring at a screen. Presence is fragile, but when achieved, it’s so joyful and sustaining that those who touch it tend to fall silent.”

– Virginia Heffernan, New York Times

Much more than a static or linear artefact, the documentary is structured around the editing of long scenes (or ‘situations’) with continuous flow conveyed through the young girl’s narration and Mckenzie Stubbert’s musical score.  It is very much Sidra’s story that pulls you through the experience, and when her friends enthusiastically gather close around, you really feel their warmth.

#cloudsoversidra #unitednations #syria #virtualreality

A photo posted by (@vrseworks) on

There’s great potential for this format in education. Not only are the results effective, but the workflows used to create them are significantly less taxing than those used to create purely 3D digital virtual environments. Indeed flat 360 video (which lacks full 3D’s depth of vision) can be produced on pretty standard digital cameras (albeit in a pretty elaborate setup) with some freely available ‘stitching’ software.

360 degree video is more than simply a tool for cautious storytellers who are nervous about giving up narrative control or digital designers who think any form of ‘storytelling’ is restrictive. It’s a challenge to the traditional view of documentary media – adding ‘presence’ to a set of existing film tools to create powerful immersive experiences.

You can view Clouds Over Sidra for free:

  •  through the flat 360 web viewer (with a mouse) using an HTML5 compliant web browser such as Chrome
  • or in 360 3D (using an Android or Apple device’s motion sensors) through the free Vrse app

Also, check out YouTube’s 360 Degree Video channel for a taste of the freely available 360 flat and 360 Google Cardboard-ready videos being uploaded.

Image taken from: a still from Clouds Over Sidra a virtual reality film created by Gabo Arora and Chris Milk in partnership with the UN’s advocacy at the World’s Economic forum in Davos

Virtual Reality

The recent rapid expansion in devices that enable immersive experiences in virtual reality (VR) has led to a real upsurge in interest, not just amongst gamers, but across a wide range of users of VR in industry and education. The Virtual Reality World Congress will be held in Bristol on 12th April – a great opportunity to interact with the developers of exciting new technologies, and the technologies themselves. We’ll definitely be there! We write about VR a lot on this blog, as it’s a significant area of research and development interest for UWE. The University has some great examples of using virtual education techniques in health sciences,  law, finance, psychology, architecture and forensics, just as examples.

Crime scene image 1_001The forensics virtual crime scene, developed by Dr Carolyn Morton, Maddie Edwards, Manuel Frutos-Perez and me, is one example of augmenting learning through using virtual technologies that demonstrates their potential. At UWE we have a full, physical crime scene house, where students can undertake simulated forensic investigations of crimes; a really great way for them to learn. But the physical crime scene takes time to set up and change, so the virtual simulations are an added opportunity for more practical experience that can be used at any time to help the students to hone their investigation skills.  Below is a short video where Carolyn takes us on a walk-through of one of the virtual simulations, from the scene of the crime to the courtroom.

There are 2 more simulations for the students to choose from; Carolyn works closely with police and forensics services and the crime scene simulations are based upon similar real cases.

My latest project is a virtual reconstruction of the Neolithic stone circle of Avebury Henge in Wiltshire, U.K., as it is likely to have appeared circa 2,300 BCE. I’ll be working with history and heritage students at UWE later this year to explore how these kinds of reconstructions might enable us to experience these ancient sites in a way that is impossible in the modern-day physical world. At the moment I’m ditch-digging (without hurting my back!) and the video below is a brief demonstration of how that is done in a virtual environment. The unfolding story of this project will be told on my blog “Ancient and Virtual” so please feel free to take a look.

So, I can’t wait to go to the VR conference on the 12th April to see all the new developments in VR devices!