Augmented Reality Teacher Briefing now available; but with a word of warning

Augmented Reality (AR) is one of the disruptive technologies we have identified as suitable for teaching in secondary school.

AR is a live, direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

A longer definition is that AR is a real-time direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment that is enhanced or augmented by adding virtual computer-generated information to it. Accordingly, an AR system: (i) combines real and virtual objects in a real environment, (ii) aligns real and virtual objects with each other so that as the view to a real object changes, the augmented object connected to it changes accordingly, and (iii) runs interactively, in three dimensions, and in real-time. AR technologies enhance human perception and help seeing, hearing, and feeling the surrounding environment in new and enriched ways. This is achieved by making people sense virtual objects, which appear to coexist in the real world. AR can also be used to hide visual elements of the real world to allow people to focus on specific aspects (Diminished Reality).

AR TBAR is distinguished from Virtual Reality (VR) systems in which the user is immersed in a computer-generated environment that completely replaces sensory input from the real world.

The AR Teacher Briefing is now available, but before we enthuse about this and other new and emerging technologies it is prudent to inject a note of caution. There is often public disquiet about new and emerging technologies, especially those that are seen as disruptive. Government and industry are often bemused by this rejection in the face of what seems to them the obvious benefits of such technologies. The rejection of genetically modified foods by the public in the United Kingdom is one such example.

Phil Macnaghten

Professor Phil Macnaghten and his co-workers have investigated this by recording talk about emerging technologies in a range of focus groups composed mainly of lay people with little technical knowledge about such technologies. Interestingly the analysis of the talk revealed five underlying cultural narratives describing attitudes/beliefs towards such technologies that embodied this disquiet. These narratives were:

  1. Be careful what you wish for – the narrative of Desire
  2. Being kept in the dark – the narrative of Alienation
  3. Messing with nature – the narrative of the Sacred
  4. Pandora’s box – the narrative of Evil and Hope
  5. The rich get richer – the narrative of Exploitation.

We believe that it would be wrong to dismiss such concerns out of hand and also that it is important for teachers to be aware that they might exist amongst their pupils. There is an analogy here with the idea of pupils’ alternative constructs in science. Simply telling pupils that such ideas are wrong in no way helps them to change their minds. Similarly dismissing concerns about new technologies that are in fact based on deeply believed ‘cultural narratives’ would almost certainly be counterproductive. Our position is that we would not want the teacher’s position to prevent pupils acknowledging their sympathy towards the narratives. Overall we want pupils to use critique in an informed but not overly skeptical way and engage with the narratives in a way that is neither completely dismissive nor totally accepting.

Phil’s research goes further than simply identifying such concerns. He wants the public to be engaged in the innovation process much earlier; having a voice that informs what science and technology ‘does’ in society. He is concerned with the democratization of the development and deployment of technology. This is very much in line with the thinking of the Disruptive Technologies Project.

You can see and hear Phil describe his research in this short video clip:

And as a cautionary tale this science fiction short describes a future world in which robotics and AR overlap:

So given what Phil’s research has revealed and the sci-fi cautionary tale above, what might we want our pupils to consider when speculating about future uses of AR?


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