6 Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for Online Teaching


In this chapter, we’ll review augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools for online learning that can increase student engagement, build practical knowledge of real world problems, spur creativity in your students, and much more. We’ll first cover basic information about this technology and what it can offer. Once we’re oriented toward the technical terms and capabilities of this technology, we’ll then turn to how you can use it in your course to enhance online learning. Finally, in our last section, we’ll discuss what you will need to integrate AR and VR into your course. Much of this last topic will depend on your time constraints and access to technological resources. However, there are some third-party support services that will do much of the work for you, as well.

AR and VR might be relatively new technologies to the classroom, but they carry so much potential to reorient students toward the learning goals for your class. In addition, both have been utilized to great effect in the corporate world training employees for technical tasks, increasing empathy in a working environment, and facilitating a collaborative working environment in virtual reality. Its beneficial capacity for higher education is well documented, too, especially for remote learning.

This brief chapter on AR and VR for online learning is meant to introduce just the beginning of what is possible for your course! Let’s turn now to explain the nature of augmented reality and virtual reality technology.

AR/VR Technologies

A common question that comes up when AR and VR technology is “what is the difference between the two?” Let’s find out below:

Augmented Reality

  • Blends a real-world environment with a virtual world environment
  • Does not fully immerse the user
  • Superimposes digital content onto a real environment
  • Launches on apps for tablets or smartphones
  • Relies on the camera and screen to superimpose digital object onto a real space

Virtual Reality

  • Produced a fully virtual world for the user
  • Completely immersive
  • Simulates reality in a virtual world
  • Usually requires a VR headset and a computer, smartphone, or tablet to run the simulated environment

As we see here, there are a few differences when it comes to AR and VR technology. AR tech blends the real world with the virtual world. It does this via an algorithm on your device that allows the computer to recognizes an image and, upon registering it, displays a digital object on top of it. In this way, AR sort of functions like the “find and replace” function you might see in a word document or other applications. In the example below, we see the algorithm recognize a picture of a heart, a map, and a Lexus logo and superimpose their respective digital objects on top.


VR technology works very differently. With VR, you create a completely virtual world where the user’s headset acts as both a camera (for the computer to “see” the virtual environment) and a screen (for you to see what the camera observes). While in this environment, the user is totally immersed and cannot perceive an anchor point in reality to orient oneself. This is why programmers working with VR build in calibration tools to scale the virtual environment to what the user’s brain is expecting to experience. If this isn’t done, people often report feeling dizzy, getting headaches, or generally feeling discombobulated when in the virtual world. However, when executed well, the VR experience can simulate almost anything the programmer can think of! Because of this, VR has a much greater ability to customize an educational environment.


AR/VR in the Online Classroom

Increase Student Engagement

Online classrooms can struggle at times with maintaining student engagement. This makes it more difficult to motivate students to buy into the course.  AR/VR in the online classroom changes the modality of engagement due to the interactive environment. This interactivity might take the form of gamification, exploration, problem-solving, or discovery. When students have a simulated environment to uncover conceptual ideas in application or to test out practical skills, it often means that students retain them longer over time. Lastly, there’s simply the novelty of AR/VR tech that enchants more students. It’s different and encourages playing with the material in front of them. You can expect to see lots of excitement from your students when using AR/VR!

Spur Creativity

The tendency to play while using AR/VR tech in the classroom naturally leads to a growth in creativity. Depending on the method used, AR/VR allows students to lean into their creativity in groups or while working individually. This creative potential of AR/VR technologies allows students to immerse themselves in problem-solving in your class.

Hands-on Practical Experience

As mentioned in the introduction, many companies are already capitalizing on AR/VR tech to train their new employees in hard and soft skills. With VR in particular, there is great potential in creating a simulation that gives students real-world practice in their field.

Virtual Field Trips

Whatever the barriers to travel, VR makes anywhere in the world accessible for exploration and discovery. The simulation of a virtual world collapses any physical distance between your classroom and another environment. If you’re trying to display an object in a museum, archive, historical site, laboratory, or some other remote place, AR can bring that within reach of your students. You can even record lectures to listen to while your students are interacting with something in AR. You can even curate an online collection of AR objects to supplement your course.


AR/VR Software for Your Classroom

There are many resources available to instructors who want to introduce AR/VR into their online course. For a full list of software, click here. Below are a few standouts that would be great for an online course:

  • Immersive VR Education: Free education platform allows teachers to create their own lesson plans and immersive experiences.
  • Minecraft Education Edition: The popular game has an education version that allows students to create their own virtual world, such as Jamestown or Fort Clatsop.
  • YouTube 360: Explore the streets of Paris or the trails of the Grand Canyon with free videos shot with a 360-degree camera
  • zSpace: Offers different STEM programs, including Euclid’s shapes or human anatomy at various prices.
  • 360cities: Where do your students want to go? Just type in Rome, Tokyo, London and tour anyplace in the world with a 360-degree view. Free.

Some programs are free while others charge a subscription fee. If there is some AR/VR software that you’d like to pilot in your department or school, reach out to CELTT for more information on our Tech-cellence Program. Tech-cellence fields funding requests for innovated educational technologies including AR/VR.




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Online Teaching Handbook Copyright © 2021 by The Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, and Technology at The University of Baltimore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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