How Augmented Reality Helps Teachers Reach More Students

Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming more and more important in our everyday life. In the classroom, AR technology can enhance learning by providing students with interactive and immersive experiences, enhancing their understanding of complex concepts and allowing them to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios. The use of AR can make learning more accessible while increasing the engagement of all students. EdSurge recently spoke to local experts about the benefits of incorporating AR into the classroom.

How is augmented reality different from virtual reality?

You’re not alone if you get confused between the terms augmented reality and virtual reality (VR). Both technologies have made their way into classrooms, and educational researchers are wondering about their differences and impact on learning. We asked Robert Spierenburg, Managing Director of All Things Media, to explain how AR and VR differ and what that means for the classroom.

Renee Dawson
Educational Technology Specialist at Atlanta Public Schools

“Augmented reality is when you take something you can already see in the world and add an interactive or experiential layer on top of it. So it doesn’t replace what you see. We won’t kidnap you into a magical fantasy world. We stay in our world and give you superpowers per se,” says Spierenburg. In contrast, virtual reality is a technology that creates a fully immersive digital environment that hides the real world and replaces it with a virtual one. Spierenburg continues, “A lot of people think they’ve never used augmented reality, but the backup camera in your car uses AR to draw those lines that guide you when reversing.”

AR can be used in the classroom to create interactive learning experiences that enhance traditional teaching. For example, an AR app can create interactive 3D models of historical artifacts or scientific specimens for students to learn from and explore. AR can also create digital overlays on printed textbooks, allowing students to access additional content such as videos or animations on their mobile devices. Spierenburg compares AR to a safety net for students. “It gives kids that safe space to try things without impacting the real world.”

McGraw Hill AR activity for meshes of three-dimensional solids
It gives kids the safe space to try things without impacting the real world.

How does augmented reality engage all students?

Renee Dawson, an education technology specialist at Atlanta Public Schools, sees firsthand how AR positively impacts students and shares, “AR engages students who are typically the least engaged. It serves as a bridge for students to connect in the classroom.” Dawson recognizes that AR “levels the playing field” for many students by allowing students to have experiences that they might otherwise not be able to explore — whether that be as a result of socioeconomic situations or physical barriers.

With AR, students can look at things up close or gather background knowledge on topics. it encourages deeper learning. Dawson, who previously taught special education for 15 years, also views AR from a perspective of equity and accessibility, stating, “It gives everyone in the classroom access to anything that comes to mind, in any sandbox environment, and in a variety by ways.” Spierenburg explains that one of the advantages of using AR over VR is the ease of integration into the classroom. “You don’t need any special hardware. You can just use your phone or other mobile device.”

McGraw Hill AR activity on balancing algebraic equations
Rob Spierenburg
Chief Executive Officer at All Things Media

How can educators be sure that incorporating AR into their classrooms is actually paving the way to their core standards and learning outcomes?

Educators can easily do this by using McGraw Hill AR, a free app McGraw Hill developed in partnership with Verizon for Verizon Innovative Learning, an education initiative designed to help bridge the digital divide with the goal of To teach 10 million students digital skills by 2030. Spierenburg, whose company helped develop the app, explains that each activity is directly aligned to a standard and has a companion lesson plan at Verizon Innovative Learning HQ, a free online education portal that Empowering educators to help introduce new ways of learning Integrate next-generation technology into the learning experience. “These lesson plans are really special for my teachers,” adds Dawson. “They felt the plans provided the support they needed to implement AR in the classroom without much training.”

“The app really gives the students more freedom of choice in their learning,” says Spierenburg. “Every activity in the McGraw Hill AR app is based on an observe-explore-assess approach, where you first watch an annotated animation as it happens. Then there’s an interactive component where the student can perform the actions themselves.” This is followed by an assessment section, which is a self-assessment with questions that align directly with what students will see on standardized tests.

There will be students who will take the lead – the innovators and early adopters. There are always students who come first and they pull everyone else with them.

How can school leaders break through some of the misconceptions surrounding AR and help reluctant teachers to adopt and normalize augmented reality in their classrooms?

Some schools are fortunate to have a technology specialist who can teach collaboratively and model the integration of AR until the classroom teacher is confident of flying alone. Dawson encourages teachers to take a step back and “rely on the students more because they have an insane thirst for technology, and they’ll probably figure it out quicker than we can.” Spierenburg also welcomes this learner-centric approach, where Teachers facilitate learning and advance students. “There will be students who will take the lead – the innovators and early adopters. There are always students who come first and they pull everyone else with them.”

From a developer perspective, Spierenburg also wants teachers to value the effort to break down classroom barriers. The McGraw Hill AR app is device independent, meaning it works on Android or iOS. A web version of the app that works on Chromebooks will be available soon, in addition to a Spanish-language version. Also, the app is very user-friendly, making it quick and easy for students to get started. Spierenburg says, “I think it’s about picking the student up where they are in terms of device and language, wherever they are, and wherever it fits into their learning experience or journey. That is our goal and we have worked very hard on it from a technical point of view.”

McGraw Hill AR action for the Boston massacre
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We’ve seen AR mostly in math and science. What does AR look like in the humanities?

The McGraw Hill program publishes a social studies and language arts component that integrates the two content areas. Spierenburg describes an example of the Boston Massacre in which the students watch a re-enactment of various witnesses and hear their different perspectives. “Each of these perspectives is actually the testimony of the various on-site witnesses at the trial. As you select a witness, you’ll learn about the story and combine language skills with reading comprehension. It gives the humanities a relevant context.”

Dawson is equally excited about the use of AR in math and science classes. She shares how a certain student who had trouble solving equations in the past used the AR scale to instantly balance an equation. In fact, many students reach a deeper level of learning through an interdisciplinary approach. Spierenburg describes a math and history activity where students learn about the Pyramid of Giza and also learn how to draw a cross-section of a square pyramid. “We sneak in another layer of learning and the kids love it.”