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What Are We Hoping Augmented Reality Texts Will Augment?

by Paul Morsink
 | Jan 29, 2016

AR text dinosaur“Awesome! (The T. rex) exploded the crate!”

“It’s like you’re holding it!”

“Can you make it roar? Press the button.”

“Try to make it run or jump.”

“Can T. rexes jump?”

This snippet of dialogue between three 8-year-old boys exploring an augmented reality (AR) informational book vividly captures the excitement and engagement of young readers discovering a new reading technology. In this case it’s an AR pop-up book about dinosaurs of the kind described by Joan Rhodes. The boys’ excitement is contagious.

At the same time, the snippet also illustrates some legitimate concerns we may have:

  • Highly engaging AR features may lead to misconceptions (e.g., Children inferring that dinosaurs are alive today and can be captured in crates)  
  • Technology learning may eclipse content learning (e.g., Children may learn more about controlling the movements of a digital T. rex on a tablet than about T. rex anatomy, evolution, and so on.)
  • AR texts may create expectations about what reading should look like and feel like that then actually make it harder for readers to engage in sustained, effortful reading and thinking with non–AR texts (e.g., “This book is boring—it doesn’t have any pop-ups”)

To be fair, the snippet of dialogue also contains a comeback to these concerns. The last boy asks, “Can T. rexes jump?” AR enthusiasts believe that’s what an AR reading experience can do—ignite curiosity and thoughtful inquiry. Without an AR text, some kids might never become interested enough to ask questions. You need the AR to lure readers in. Once they’re engaged, you can try to deepen the thinking and the conversation.

This comeback may be especially persuasive to parents and teachers who fret that their children will not otherwise pick up a book at all. Still, whatever the current reading habits and motivation level of the children we’re working with, it makes sense to ask, “What exactly are we hoping to augment with AR texts?”

Aspects of learning we care about and want to monitor for growth include the following:

  • Minutes our students spend “on task” with books
  • Underlying motivation to read
  • Level of curiosity about a particular topic or about the world in general
  • Vocabulary growth
  • Quantity of classroom talk (with peers and with us) generated by books
  • Quality of the talk generated by books
  • Depth of their understanding of key concepts
  • Comprehension and recall of essential information

Which of these would you prioritize with the students you work with? What other indicators of learning would you want to track?

It’s not the tech that’s good or bad—it’s the ways tech is used

There is an urgent need for more research on the impact of e-books, AR books, and other digital media on the reading behaviors and outcomes of diverse learners of all ages. Recent studies with young children by researchers at Wake Forest University and Northern Arizona University suggest mixed effects, with traditional print texts outperforming digital texts and toys with regard to the quality of verbal interactions among readers and comprehension and recall of information. However, drawing big conclusions from a small number of small studies would be a mistake.

It can also not be repeated often enough: Technology by itself doesn’t cause anyone to learn better or worse. It’s how technology is used, in context and with purpose, with or without particular forms of guidance, that may improve—or impede—learning.

Further, often, a difference in a single factor may make a big difference. For example, if students have little or no background knowledge about a given topic (e.g., dinosaurs), an AR book may lead to misconceptions. However, with students who have just a bit more background knowledge, the same AR book may stimulate all sorts of powerful learning—with students learning basic facts but also noticing inaccuracies, fact checking details, constructing arguments, and so on. Indeed, you might purposefully choose a poorly made AR book to teach a memorable lesson about fact checking!

Every teacher needs to be a researcher

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a study that comes close to testing exactly what you want to know about—the impact of a particular AR book and intervention very similar to the one you’re considering on learners very similar in age and background to your students. More likely, though, you’re going to have to rely on studies that aren’t exactly “spot on” to inform and guide your decisions.

And it’ll be up to you to decide which factor(s) or indicator(s) you want to track, informally or systematically, to decide whether that new AR book you’ve decided to use with learners is actually having the impact you want. In an age of such rapid innovation and change, we all need to be researchers.

Paul Morsink is an instructor in the MAET program at Michigan State University.

This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).



Leave a comment
  1. Daria Paolillo | Jul 30, 2019
    This is a great way to engage reluctant readers. Before using AR I would read a non-fiction book on T. Rex, then give students the opportunity to use AR. That should result in meaningful dialogue and perhaps a desire to learn more through conventional books.
  2. Hilda Hernandez | Jul 15, 2019
    Using the AR to "hook" the students into engagement is a great idea.   The key is how you use this technology.  I believe it's a good intro to a lesson, especially science content, from which the Teacher can cleverly lead the students to discuss the standard/topic planned.
  3. Dorothy | Jul 10, 2019
    Great idea.  Loved the excitement.  Still old school, enjoy holding a book and newspaper in hands.  Cool article.  
  4. Dorothy | Jul 10, 2019
    Interesting blog.  I am concerned with too much technology not allowing for great discussions with books.  I guess I am still old school, I like to pick up a book and a newspaper and feel it in my fingers.  Cool topic though.  I like the way the dinosaur came to life. 
  5. L. Catalani | Jun 15, 2018
    What a great way to get a reluctant reader to read!!!  This will help them remember facts and develop questions when reading.  Hopefully, they will respond to their questions and deepen their learning.  It is a great tool to add to your classroom.
  6. Jenifer Catlin | May 30, 2017
    I ationm concerned that students become lone rangers and social interaction is becoming less and less
  7. Codyann Catlin | May 28, 2017
    My concern is lack of parental interactive involvement
  8. Codyann Catlin | May 28, 2017
    My Concern is that AR lessens the opportunity for parents to bond with interactive reading with students
  9. Codyann Catlin | May 28, 2017
    My concern is that AR seems to lessen the opportunity for students to be reading and bonding with members of the family and interacting with significants others that create the family
  10. K. Jacobs | Apr 16, 2017
    Digital learning is a reality that will only grow in influence.  It is important to realize that digital learning requires a different skill set than traditional print.  If we want learners to be prepared to become valued members of a more globalized society then teachers need to embrace technology and learn how to give students the tools needed to be successful learners in print and digital environments.  However, it is important to realize just like all print media is not of equal educational value, neither is every digital resource the best quality learning tool.
  11. Deirdre Dean | Dec 02, 2016

    I agree, teachers need to be researchers, though it was refreshing as an educator to read an article which gives credence to teacher judgement and view. Thank you for that!

  12. HP | Apr 23, 2016
    I agree- often times teachers are afraid of using technology in the classroom, but it's because of the way that the technology is used.  We must work with our students to understand the correct way to utilize tech in our classrooms because the addition of this component is no longer just a bonus- it is a must.
  13. Dayna C. | Apr 11, 2016
    As teachers, finding new ways is key! We have made a commitment to life-long learning! Great blog!
  14. geri caruso | Jan 29, 2016
    As my son said to my 12 year old grandson..... why don;t you just read a book about real people. 

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