With educational reform movements highlighting the need for students to develop 21st Century skills as well as acquiring content knowledge, multiple frameworks emphasize the co-creation of artifacts, collaboration, and communication as essential to increasing student interest and content area comprehension.1
Research indicates that Web 2.0 technologies can be used to support engagement, communication, and communication as well as student production of knowledge within the classroom.2
One such technology, Augmented Learning, has been shown to improve student access of outside digital resources and presentation of multiple perspectives, as well as facilitating critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills.3
Therefore, to support both student learning and student engagement, we selected Augmented Learning as a technology through which to build a unit in an AP World History class. We selected the free web and app-based augmented reality tool, Aurasma (now called HP Reveal), as the digital platform for this project. Aurasma utilizes user-selected images to trigger or link to interactive content such as websites, documents, videos, or photos. This created overlay is called an “Aura” and can be printed or viewed on a presentation screen or personal monitor. Users scan the image with a mobile device using the Aurasma app. As they scan the image, the interactive content becomes available on their screen, enabling users to access that content. In the classroom, Aurasma turns a regular poster into an interactive content platform.
Lesson Context and Design
The Advanced Placement World History curriculum is divided into five overarching themes: Human-Environment Interaction, Culture, State Building, Social Structure, and Economics. The topic of Period 3 (600 CE-1450 CE) is Regional and Interregional Interactions. Within this curriculum, teaching and learning about trade networks across Afro-Eurasia from 600 C.E. to 1450 C.E. is a required content standard.4
The cross-cultural exchanges during this time period paved the way for sharing cultural and religious ideas and aided in the development of new technologies and state policies that impact our world today; for example, the relative peace during the Mongols’ rule over Asia provided a safe haven for trade networks such as the Silk Roads, allowing major innovations such as gunpowder and the printing press to reach Europe from China. High school students often find this topic difficult to relate to their everyday lives, however. In order to help students gain a better understanding of this era and combat the observed disconnect between this topic and students’ experiences, we developed a lesson that built on our constructivist perspectives, facilitated by the use of the Aurasma program, and was informed by the Inquiry Arc of the C3 Framework.5
Our goal was to support student understanding of the connections between the themes and topics as they pertained to exchange networks and we co-designed this project around the following question: “How do interactions with others shape who we are?”
For this project, 56 students from two, non-synchronous, AP World History classes in a mid-Atlantic high school with a BYOD initiative were divided into six groups per class. Each group was assigned a different empire: Byzantine, Tang/Song, Abbasid, Mongol, Aztec, Holy Roman, and Mali. A collaborative grouping strategy known as jigsaw (groups of students learned about one empire with the intent of teaching the information to their other classmates) allowed students to learn about one empire in-depth and later apply their understandings to the other empires studied simultaneously by other groups within the class.6
The students collaboratively researched all themes for their assigned empire and identified connections with at least two other empires. The groups used Aurasma to collaboratively create a poster that contained curated digital resources to share with the other classmates (See Figure 1). Students were asked to include several forms of media such as video, primary source documents, images, and webpages on the poster. This process of curating artifacts to use on their poster forced students to critically examine multiple resources in order to determine the validity and perspective presented by each as well as evaluate the information holistically that they were presenting to their peers. Students primarily used computers to complete the posters, although smart phones and tablets were used in some cases. By creating the augmented posters, the student groups were able to layer the curated media for easy student access in ways that a traditional poster is unable to provide. Then the interactive nature of the Aurasma posters allowed for easy and engaging sharing of information among groups during a whole-class jigsaw activity.
Figure 1. AP students collaborate on the content and design of an augmented poster created with Aurasma.
Once the groups developed their poster, the teacher used a “virtual gallery walk” structure where the students were provided with a graphic organizer to help them make sense of the different empires and to organize the information in a meaningful way as they circulated through the posters to peer-critique and ask questions about the content (See Figure 2.). The use of Aurasma allowed walking students to read documents, reflect and ask questions, and probe more deeply about connections as they explored the curated resources. Following the gallery walk, the students individually analyzed each empire and synthesized a theme that cut across or through all empires’ exchange systems. In this manner, students were individually responsible for understanding not only their group’s collaboratively curated information about the assigned empire, but also the content for other empires, and more importantly the connections between each.
Figure 2. During a gallery walk, AP students viewed the augmented poster presentations and asked questions about the content that was available via Aurasma.
The Aurasma Presentations
Using Aurasma as the supporting technology impacted this lesson in several ways. From both the teacher and student perspective, the Aurasma presentations were an excellent way to learn and share the content, while also generating engagement and communication. Following implementation of the lesson within the classroom, the instructor reflected on her and her students’ reaction to the lesson, including the affordances and difficulties of using Aurasma for teaching and learning in the classroom, particularly for this unit.
Impact on Student Presentations
The teacher frequently implements projects in which students give stand-and-deliver presentations or use a jigsaw-type pedagogy. From discussion with the students, she found that the use of Aurasma had a “Wow!” factor with the students, as well as being easy to use in comparison to similar applications such as Prezi. The students also noted that they enjoyed the collaborative nature of creating this multimedia presentation without the intimidation factor of standing in front of a group and speaking. They felt that Aurasma improved their presentations.
Creating New Connections
Compared to previous classes, after utilizing Aurasma to create their presentations, the students seemed to learn more and to be more involved with the new material. The students felt that the self-guided nature of the presentation, rather than having a classmate stand in the front of the class and speak about the content, allowed them to “dive more deeply” into the other groups’ information. As a result of this more interactive experience, the teacher found that students had a better understanding of new connections between empires that they had not previously considered, as well as forming new ideas about their own content stemming from the other student presentations. The students appeared excited by the possible connections between different groups, looking to see if other groups had come up with the same ideas and competing in a productive way to see who could figure out the most relevant connections between the different empires and themes.
Deeper Learning Experiences
Afterwards, the class had a debriefing discussion in which students discussed what they learned and answered the guiding question related to the project. The teacher found a significant difference in this year’s technology enhanced unit to that of previous years. Particularly, she found the students’ understandings about the Mongols and their relationship to the other empires was enhanced. From Author 2’s previous experiences, students often tend to rattle off a laundry list of connections from the Mongols to other groups (e.g. “Black Plague!” “More trade during the Pax Mongolica!”). After the Aurasma project, however, students initiated and participated in a more nuanced discussion of the Mongols, ranging from the spread of plants and crops within the empire, to the Mongols’ impact upon religion and culture. Students appeared to be more engaged in content from other empires than previous projects that focused on these topics.
Beyond content, the Aurasma project enabled students to synthesize information from a diverse set of sources to develop a broader understanding of the time period. Students looked at the Aurasma poster not as a piece of paper with pictures on it, but rather as a living document containing significant amounts of hidden information, which made students eager to ‘discover’ the secrets of the poster. Just as students had more nuanced discussions about the interactions between empires at this time, students also understood that history has more lurking under the surface of facts.
Students enjoyed creating and viewing the Aurasma projects as well as learning from them. Student reviews of the project were excellent and students remarked, for instance, that “This was a really fun way to learn a lot of information,” and “This site is really cool!” In addition, the students suggested extensions to the unit such as making a big Aurasma poster that connected all of the empires together, which was unfortunately outside of the technology’s scope within the class time available.
Implementing the Project within the Classroom
Scheduled Time for the Project
A common complaint about student-directed, inquiry-based projects is the time needed to complete the work; however, this project came together faster than anticipated. Students needed one day in a computer lab to create the posters (students were also allowed to work at home) and one day for presentations, which was actually less time than scheduled for the unit in previous years. This may be because students had exposure to the content during their freshman year of high school that provided a framework from which students could flesh out the project itself. As an aside, we reason that this could be attributed to the collaborative nature of the assignment for both construction of the artifact and format for presentation of the posters.
Learning to Use the Technology
In order to teach students to troubleshoot technological problems independently, to solve problems collaboratively, and to experiment with programs, the instruction on how to use Aurasma was limited by design. The teacher provided students with a brief tutorial, and then allowed the students to explore and manipulate the program together. Students found Aurasma to be fairly intuitive, despite the lack of instruction, and problems with basic operation of the application were minimal.
Issues with Implementation
The biggest obstacle for this project was a limitation within the Aurasma program: only one student could work on the project in Aurasma at one time. Although Aurasma allows for sharing between students and groups, during creation the poster is unable to be manipulated by multiple users. Students did create a shared account to provide all group members with access to the poster, but because of the danger of overwriting work, there are difficulties in using Aurasma for collaborative experiences.
In addition, the process of creating the Aurasma posters was an obstacle. Although auras can be created on the phone app, they cannot be edited on a computer afterwards, although auras created on a computer can be edited on the mobile device app. The instructor (Author 2) successfully navigated this problem by instructing students to create the auras initially on a computer, however teachers intending to use Aurasma in the classroom should be aware of this issue.
Aurasma accounts can be made public or private, and they can also be shared with others. Due to the constraints of the school system and intellectual property, the instructor chose to make them private and pull them up on the computer screens during class. This can be a factor to consider when creating and sharing student work.
Finally, some mobile devices had difficulty scanning and recognizing the printed images (most likely because of image quality). While the printed version of the poster held more of a ‘Wow! factor’ for the students, as they were scanning something tangible and having it come to life digitally, the quality of the printed images proved problematic for the app to scan. Therefore, the teacher gave students another option for presenting the projects. Students used the website itself to share, and students scanned the projects from the computer screen. Students were disappointed in not being able to use the paper ones in class; in addition, they had already thought of extensions for the use of Aurasma for club information posters, advertisements for events, and class scavenger hunts. With careful selection of the image and print quality, however, this may be able to be corrected.
The biggest takeaway from this experience for the teacher was the capability of the students: they often need to be told far less than teachers believe they do. Many teachers believe that everything needs to be spelled out and said aloud to students, every little process guided step-by-step with every piece of content provided in the notes. Yes, instructions, expectations, and content should be clear. But the students did the most learning in this situation when the teacher got out of the way. From using the new software to finding information to learning from one another’s posters, students were able to learn content and technology efficiently, improve collaboration skills, as well as meet the four dimensions of the C3 framework with minimal teacher involvement. We also believe that Aurasma can and should be used to learn about any topic, not just social studies or the exchange networks. Based on the success of the tool, Author 2 plans to use a modified version of this with her World History 1 students when they reach this period of content. Author 2 also hopes to use the Aurasma posters as a virtual “escape room,” in which students find hidden resources within a digital platform, then use those resources to solve clues and help them “escape” from a fictional situation.
Although augmented learning and Aurasma are fairly new technologies without much empirical evidence supporting their use within classrooms, particularly with student-created content, this overview of a classroom project in an AP World Cultures class provides some guidance for extending the use to other classrooms and subject areas. With the observed ease of implementing augmented learning into classroom environments, we found that Aurasma supported students’ deep learning of content. In addition, by allowing access to resources presenting multiple perspectives simultaneously, students were able to create connections between empires. The learning was found to be more self-directed because students could investigate resources more deeply than traditional presentations typically allow. Although there are limitations in using Aurasma with some devices, the increase in student motivation as well as creation of deeper, more nuanced connections are first steps in exploring this new technology within social studies and more broadly, all classroom settings.