Augmented Reality for the rest of us

    Published: 11 June 2018

    Augmented reality has been around for some time now, and whilst it may sound like something from a science fiction movie, it is becoming more and more accessible and common place as a learning tool in the 21st century classroom (and beyond.)

    So if you are wondering what it’s all about, this post aims to explain what Augmented Reality (AR) is, from a beginner’s non-techie perspective, and how you can get started with using it with your pupils.

    I have attempted many times to explain in words what AR is but it’s much easier and more effective to just try it out. Nevertheless, I’ll try to describe it.

    When we use AR, we look at the world through the camera of our device. Overlaid on top of the ‘real’ image we see through the camera, is a digital layer that augments the real image. It puts something there that isn’t really there, but we can see it on our device. So for AR we have two things – the ‘trigger’ and the ‘overlay’. When the camera and app see the trigger, the overlay is activated. Most mobile devices support AR, such as iPads and Android tablets. Augmented Reality is different to Virtual Reality, where a headset is worn and the user is immersed in an virtual world.

    ...whilst it may sound like something from a science fiction movie, it is becoming more and more accessible and common place as a learning tool.

    Image of augmented reality
    Augmented Reality - Image from


    Certain games utilise AR to blend together onscreen gaming with the real world. For example, with the well-known PokemonTM GO app, the little monsters that the player collects can actually be seen (through the app) in real places around us.

    As a learning tool, AR enables all sorts of experiences. Books can become interactive, with 3D objects rising from the pages. Images seen through the device camera can become annotated, and something that is two dimensional and static can become alive and animated. Imagine pointing your camera at an image of a human body, for example, and seeing the skeleton appear within. Or, pointing you camera at an object and having its name in French pop up beside it. What’s more, through AR, children’s colouring and drawing on paper can become a moving 3D object on the screen.

    If you want to try out AR yourself, the best way to start is with a simple, free AR experience app. Then, if you feel a bit more ambitious, you can work towards creating your own AR experiences.

    Quiver 3D Colouring has a premium education version with lots of content designed for the classroom, but you can try it out first at no cost using the basic entertainment version. You’ll need the free Quiver 3D Colouring app installed on your device (iPad or Android device), and you’ll need to go to and download a colouring-in sheet to print out. Try the Education Starter Pack  for 6 free activities. You can design a flag, explore a plant or animal cell, make a volcano erupt and more.

    Simply print and colour in the sheet using crayons or felt tips, and then launch the app and follow the instructions to see the coloured-in paper sheet burst into life and become a 3D, animated, interactive, on-screen object.


    Image of augmented reality
    A sheet is coloured-in before coming alive in the Quiver 3D Colouring app.

    I used a selection of Quiver sheets in a Reception class, where the children first coloured-in and wrote on the sheets before experiencing their work, and each other’s, in 3D as an AR experience. They particularly enjoyed seeing the number they had written on the back of a football player’s shirt actually becoming part of the animated player’s kit, as he ran around the iPad screen.

    If trying a ready-made experience has whetted your appetite for AR, you may want to try and make your own experiences, though don’t expect these to be quite as whizzy as the professionally made ones. However, by making your own you can eventually build content directly relevant to your teaching.

    There are a few services available for making your own AR, and a good way to try one out is with a personal AR experience created within the free Aurasma app. You could then move on to using their more sophisticated online tool, Aurasma Studio, to create a share ‘auras’.

    Another AR creation service is Blippar.  You create your AR experiences using an online tool and use a special code on your mobile devices so that the AR you’ve created can be accessed and experienced.

    (With any online service where signing-up is required, always review the privacy policy and terms/conditions carefully first.)

    AR is low cost technology (provided you have the mobile devices in the first place) which can be used to create engaging, exciting learning experiences for children of all ages.

    Some ideas for using AR in the classroom.

    • Use ready-made experiences.  Try Quiver 3 Colouring, Chromville, AR Flashcards (all have apps available on the iTunesTM App Store and Google Play.)
    • Make a classroom display interactive with AR experiences, either your own or ready-made ones (see above.)
    • For MFL, create AR experiences where vocabulary labels appear over objects viewed through the AR app/camera.
    • In science, take a photo of an object, for example a leaf, to use as a trigger image. Then use a mark-up app to annotate the image, and use the annotated version as the overlay. When the app/camera sees the first image, the annotations will appear on top.
    • Have a brief book review appear when the cover of the book is viewed through the app/camera.
    • Create an animation based on a book or book character. Perhaps use an app such as Puppet Pals HD to do this. Then, have the animation play when the cover of the book is viewed through the app/camera. (The animation would probably need to be hosted online to enable this.)

    Contact details