My first dealings of Augmented Reality within an educational context came with an attempt to engage 4-year-old boys with their first steps in writing. To anyone who has worked within an open plan early years environment containing 90 children, trying to get boys – who would much rather be running around outside – to pick up a writing tool to mark make, is similar to herding cats! Using the Quiver app, children were able to choose a picture from a selection and colour it in how they liked. The app then showed an augmented reality animation of their picture, showing their specific markings. This gave the children ownership and allowed them to buy into the creative process.

Earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘Working with Technology Enhanced Learning’ networking event in association with Southern University Libraries. Debbie Holley from Bournemouth University gave an inspiring and practical presentation demonstrating Aurasma and told us about her experiences researching it in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin University. You can visit Augmented@ARU for further user guides, blogs and some useful resources to use to demonstrate  the app.

What is Aurasma?

Aurasma states that it is the world’s leading augmented reality platform, is currently used across a wide range of sectors and is beginning to filter into higher education. Aurasma allows the user, with the use of a mobile device, to combine a real time/real world view of an object (such as a poster, book, brochure or item of equipment) with an overlay that plays sound, displays an image or even a short video.

It works by using the mobile device’s camera to ‘find’ the image, which then links to the given media that the user has associated with it. Because it is essentially trying to match the image, the subject needs to be static and something that is unlikely to change over time – I’ve tried this out using numerous face images and decided that people or moving objects don’t really work! The ‘Auras’ that the user creates can be stored and used on the device, or uploaded to Aurasma and made public for anyone to find. This YouTube video shows how Aurasma can be used:

Aurasma in action

Aurasma is relatively easy to use. Depending on their device, users can download the Aurasma app from the relevant Apple or Android store. On downloading you are prompted to create a free account, though free ‘Auras’ are limited in their accessibility to followers of the creator.

There are enhanced ‘Pro’ accounts available at a cost that allow access to a wider range of media content that allows the creation of ‘Auras’ that can be accessed by the general public.  

This makes sense as it allows Aurasma to police the amount of open Auras created, as well as limiting it to high end advertising campaigns of companies that can afford the high cost of this service. While this limits the average user in terms of creation, it does help provide a number of high quality Aura’s that really show the possibilities and the power of Augmented Reality. (I would particularly recommend the Frozen, Star Wars and Mike’s Hard Lemonade as examples of how marketing campaigns have used Aurasma to incorporate video, animation and interactivity with their users.)

You will also need to consider your device’s Wi-Fi connection. Though it can use a phone’s 3G/4G data allowance, do bear in mind that most Aura’s link to video, animations or music, so it will be dependent on this.

Aurasma requires the user to capture a trigger image within the parameters of the viewfinder, namely an indicated rectangle on the screen. When an Aura has been discovered the 7 dots change to a pulsing circle animation to inform the user that content has been found and is loading. The speed of this is dependent on both the speed of the device’s internet connection and the size of the download. Factors such as light and stability of the camera shot can create difficulties in the app ‘finding’ the Aura. Equally, trying to use an Aura displayed on a computer/television screen seems to take longer than when finding a real life object, possibly due to reflection or glare from the screen’s brightness.

Discovering and finding content is great fun given the variety and ingenuity of the Auras on offer. Within the app or website there is an opportunity to search for terms, and most Auras have various hashtags to help you.

It should also be an educator’s first port of call when wishing to add augmented content to their lectures and resources, as there is no need to reinvent the wheel by creating content that already exists, and the eclectic range gives a good scope of possibilities. Should you not find exactly what you were after, it is quite easy to create your own Aura with the user placing an overlay over an image. The overlay can be one of the animations provided by Aurasma’s default library. You can use existing video, audio and images up to a 20Mb limit on your portable device within the app.

Alternatively you can download Aurasma Studio, which is a free desktop application available from the website allowing up to 100Mb overlays, so if you want to have video of a higher resolution, this may be the method for you.

Creating an Aura is very straightforward and user-friendly and there is a nice feature of quality control on the image capture, which grades your Aura by contrast from red (insufficient) to green (good image quality). The overlay image can be positioned simply by dragging, and intuitively uses all of the finger gestures of a portable device for resizing and rotating objects. Once created, the user can publish it to a ‘public’ channel that followers can access on the Aurasma app.

Final thoughts

I think the use of augmented reality can only help engage students further into the subject they are studying. The advantage of using Aurasma is it’s ease of use, the ability to use it on a variety of devices and platforms, as well as being free and actively encouraging users to create their own content.

The drawbacks come with a limited choice of templates and a cap on the amount of data you can use, but as a ‘gateway’ for encouraging educators to use augmented reality in their session, it is excellent. It’s ability to provide information and weblinks give much wider usage – from interactive university maps during induction of new students, to historical views of monuments on field trips – that mean higher education has numerous and unlimited possibilities for its usage.


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Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash