Another dot in the blogosphere?

The promises of AR?

Posted on: June 28, 2017

I saw this tweet and read the embedded article because it was not the first time the announcement appeared in my Twitter stream.

I processed the article with a critical eye and an educator’s perspective.

IKEA’s augmented reality (AR) application is a visualisation tool. You can place furniture that is not actually there in your home. There is some value in this because you want to see how it might fit a larger context.

Then there is AR that does not add value beyond novelty. The “AR” of Pokémon Go simply places cartoon monsters as overlays in reality with the help of your phone camera and screen. Take this Psyduck vs cat tweet, for example.

Pokémon Go players know that they can turn the camera off and play the game more effectively without this visual AR because this does not drain attention, battery, and processing power.

What is actually augmented about the game is the need to be at a location to catch Pokémon, spin stops, and battle at gyms. This is more like location-based gaming than AR gaming.

My point is this: Labelling something AR or AR-enhanced does not necessarily make it better.

Even IKEA’s AR is a relatively low level application. The concepts and realities of older AR ideas made bolder promises. For example, consider this three-year-old video by Layar of how AR might enhance print experiences and enable deeper learning by actually augmenting reality.

Video source

Using visual and location-based information, AR might also be able to let you know what an eatery serves, what its operating hours are, what its ratings are, what specials it has, etc.

Give this promise to Hollywood and it will paint a dystopian picture of how AR will overwhelm the senses and invade privacy.

Video source

Whether used for good or bad, these promises and applications of AR might seem gimmicky.

Ten years ago, however, BMW dreamt how AR might be used in the performance support of technicians.

Video source

The age of the video and idea are as old as the resolution of the video. However, BMW had the right idea. A slightly less complex, but no less useful application are heads-up displays (HUDs) and windshields.

Video source

Google Glass tried to take up the mantle, but the timing, expectations, and enabling technologies were not just right.

Today the promises of AR are shallow (like the current iteration of Pokémon Go) or broken (like performance support). They are shallow because the design of AR for use in context lacks imagination. They are broken because the technology or context is not quite ready.

The technology has improved and will only get better. The same cannot be guaranteed about the human capacity to innovate in context.

In education, AR might languish in augmented “learning journeys” or textbooks. These are essentially location or station-based resources that are called on demand.


Video source

A more powerful use of AR lies not in the technology, but in task design instead. It is empowering learners and giving them agency to create artefacts as evidence of their learning.

This idea of visible learning is not new, but it is underutilised because the expert model and the demands of curricula and testing relegate it to good-to-have instead of must-have.

That is the reality now and no amount of technology is going to augment that. Only changes in teacher mindset and behaviour, as evidenced with different task designs, are going to make a difference.

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