Learning in Artificial Environments

Like a few of my classmates, I have found myself intrigued with many of the readings this week, moving from one article to another as I become more involved in the different aspects of this type of learning, with each new article giving me something new to ponder on. The idea that most caught my interest was that of immersive participatory augmented reality simulations as posited by Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell, and the link to gaming environments. I have long been fascinated by the idea of using game elements in the classroom to increase student engagement and motivation, and AR simulations provide the means to implement this. The technology-mediated narrative and the interactive, situated, collaborative problem solving affordances of the AR simulation were highly engaging, especially among students who had previously presented behavioural and academic challenges in the classroom (Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell).

Winn notes that cognition is embodied in physical activity, that is embedded in the learning environment, and that learning is the result of the adaptation of the learner to the environment and the environment to the learner (Winn, 2002). This idea is corroborated by further research suggesting that learning and cognition are complex social phenomena distributed across mind, activity, space, and time.  A student’s engagement and identity as a learner is shaped by his or her collaborative participation in communities and groups, as well as the practices and beliefs of these communities (Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell).  The idea of collaboration using Participatory Simulations is reiterated by Collella in the Participations Simulations Project using the Thinking Tags. Participants personal connections to the educational situation enable them to bring their previous experiences to bear during the activity, establish strong connections to the activity and the other participants, and to be able to draw upon their experiences for the future (Collella, 2000).

The idea of using the area around my school to create an AR activity, such as the one presented in Alien Contact, fired my interest in creating such a project. This would be a great way to embody physical activity, science and math into an already familiar environment using digital resources to create the simulation. I was also intrigued by the idea that the narrative was an important component to the activity. This is a gaming feature to engage the students the background story is most important. The problem solving using science and math is embedded in the story. The most significant affordance of AR is its unique ability to create immersive hybrid learning environments that combine digital and physical objects, thereby facilitating the development of process skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communicating utilized through interdependent collaborative exercises, its ability to blend a fictional narrative with the real and familiar physical environment such as the school playground (Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell).

However, as all of the participatory simulations I discovered used specific technology, perhaps not available to all schools, my questions are these:

How can we use technology already in the hands of our students, such as smart phones or tablets, to engage them in AR participatory simulations?

How can we best leverage the hybrid environments of digital and physical artifacts to create a rich, collaborative inquiry integrating math and science?

How can we interest teachers in integrating AR type simulations into their classroom program?



Vanessa Colella (2000) Participatory simulations: Building collaborative understanding through immersive dynamic modeling, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9:4, 471-500 doi:10.1207/S15327809JLS0904 4

Dunleavy, M., Dede, C., & Mitchell, R. (2008). Affordances and limitations of immersive participatory augmented reality simulations for teaching and learning. Journal of Science Education and Technology,18(1), 7-22. doi:10.1007/s10956-008-9119-1

Winn, W. (2003). Learning in artificial environments: Embodiment, embeddedness, and dynamic adaptation. Technology, Instruction, Cognition and Learning, 1(1), 87-114. Full-text document retrieved on January 17, 2013, from: http://www.hitl.washington.edu/people/tfurness/courses/inde543/READINGS-03/WINN/winnpaper2.pdf


  1. “How can we interest teachers in integrating AR type simulations into their classroom program?”

    I feel that adequate professional development is needed to buy in teachers to integrate AR type simulations into the classroom. This is obviously more complex than it appears because one or two workshops will not be sufficient for most teachers. Possibly, a focus group can be created for teachers in a district to collaborate and support one another. As well, teachers need sufficient resources (e.g. technology) to access these simulations as well. Government funding or grants should be supplemented for teachers in order to encourage them to use these digital technologies.

    1. One of the things that has been happening in my district is that there are focused initiatives for numeracy learning which require teachers to attend workshops and meetings over the course of the year, and sometimes, well into 2 or 3 years, depending on the initiative. Right now I am involved in a cross panel math initiative for our family of schools which includes our secondary school and all the elementary feeder schools which is a three year commitment. I believe that in order to integrate different types of technology effectively we need to invest in this type of training for teachers so they are comfortable and efficient using them.

  2. Hi Anne!

    Last summer, Pokemon Go spread like wildfire, created the strangest of headlines involving accidents, mass public gatherings, and even crimes like theft via lures! To answer question 1, I feel using mobile apps like Pokemon Go that harness the power of smartphones to create augmented reality (AR) environments can prove to be very useful. I certainly don’t have expertise in making such an app but I do have the tenacious drive to google things! Since BYOD programs are becoming more and more common in schools, providing students who have smartphones with AR mobile apps that allow kinesthetic movement and interactions with their surrounding environments may prove to be successful at engaging students with AR.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Anne,

    I think one way we can harness AR and VR in the classroom with student devices is the use of inexpensive tools such as Google Cardboard. These retail for about $20 and can be used easily with mobile devices. I am still learning and exploring with mine, but I think the possibilities are exciting. By providing some of the more inexpensive tools that can add on and enhance more expensive technology that could possibly be provided by students (or in the older grades they may already have this technology anyways), we can show students how to harness the potential of these powerful devices and authenticate their learning using their everyday devices.

    I agree with you and Gloria that more dedication needs to be implemented in order for teachers to effectively develop good and meaningful practice in these areas. I am involved in a SET-BC coding grant this year that involves educators from around the province. We are required to meet for an online meeting once a month to share on specific topics related to the coding and other ADST curriculum we are integrating with our students. I find this a great beginning for meaningful conversation…but I wish there were more opportunities like this!


  4. Hi Anne,

    There are a number of AR technologies that teachers have experimented with, including: Aurasma, Arloon Plants, and Elements 4D. The class will have others. These are a few examples of applications that might be helpful on your journey to use AR in the classroom and to promote kinesthetic movement and scientific processes in groups.

    It will be exciting to hear how it goes down the road, Samia

    1. I have used Aurasma in a few different ways in the classroom and would use it again as a way to integrate physical activity, technology, math, and science into a series of activities. I think the way to go is to utilize the devices that our students already have and are comfortable using to help make the learning curve a little easier for all.


  5. Hi Anne,

    I wholeheartedly concur than an AR-enhanced learning environment is something that classroom should work towards, even as occasional treats, if not primary tools of engaging students. With regards to the third question, as a teacher, there would be a few things I would look for if given the choice between multiple AR hardware and software options:

    1. Accessibility and cost. While costs will most certainly come down on the hardware side of this issue, it is still a rather large expenditure to outfit a class so that all students will have an immerse and equal access opportunity at using AR. Ideally, this would mean that all students can have their own headsets (as sharing would more certainly break the immersiveness of such an experience) and the computing hardware to go with it all.

    2. Frequency of use. AR needs to prove itself to be more than a gimmick and that it has a place to be regularly used in the classroom. I’d like to see it elevated beyond iPad and laptop carts that are only used on occasion and for specific assignments. It may or may not replace the traditional classroom, but if AR is to let students explore, embody, and construct their own learning, it must also be something that is as spontaneous, dynamic, and independent as they are. Only using a headset “when the teacher has booked it” limits its inherent benefits.

    3. Software that adeptly balances learning with gamification. I agree with your comment that gamified learning can bring engagement and motivation, however many game features (badges, scores, “winning”) brings with it negative aspects of such an environment. Fotaris et al. (2016) noted this in their study of gamification, recognizing that gamified environments also produce reduced desire to collaborate with others and over-competitive behaviours.

    Fotaris, P., Mastoras, T., Leinfellner, R., Rosunally, Y. (2016) Climbing up the Leaderboard: An
    Empirical Study of Applying Gamification Techniques to a Computer Programming Class. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 14(2). 94-110.

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