Reality Bytes: Augmented Learning, Libraries, and Living Through AR

I wrote this piece for CMST 301: Digital Media and Society at UMUC. Students were asked to write about a piece of new technology in digital media and what impact it will have on society. I received an A on this paper.

The constant breakneck pace of tech development has made keeping up with digital media trends a challenge; it’s difficult to pin down what’s considered “hot” or “new” for too long. What was popular three years ago may already be obsolete today. Predicting the future can seem like it requires an advanced degree in Divination, but we already have a few clues as to what new and innovative technology will soon become commonplace.

Figure 1: Retrieved from

Social media giant Facebook bought Oculus – the big brand in Virtual Reality, or VR – in 2014 for $2 billion. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clearly knew that VR would be big, but Oculus now says that VR may be too physically cumbersome and socially awkward to be widely adopted by the public. Instead, Oculus’s head of research Michael Abrash contends that it will be Augmented Reality which will become one of the “great transformational technologies of the next 50 years” (Conditt, 2017). The charts in Figure 1 illustrate the various sectors already using or investing in Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and how much more lucrative the former is. Zuckerberg and other tech moguls see the future and have accordingly invested time, money and resources in it, including developing trendy, Warby Parker-style glasses that would allow users to participate in Augmented Reality without using their phone or mobile device (Weinberger, 2017).

Augmented reality, or AR, is “combining or ‘supplementing’ real world objects with virtual objects or superimposed information” (Bacca, et. al., 2014). In other words, users can add digital overlays to real-time screen views to give the appearance that the object or information is right in front of you. And actually, AR is already here. Remember the Pokémon Go craze of 2016? Have you ever used a barcode scanner app on your mobile device? Those are each examples of AR.

Figure 2: image of Pokémon Go retrieved from

The excitement over AR is based on the potential it has to make ordinary things extraordinary. One example is in the way that we learn. Imagine studying famous historical landmarks in middle school or trying to grasp the concept of square roots in elementary school… and then actually seeing the landmarks or the numbers right before your eyes in the classroom. That’s just what Google’s Expeditions AR is doing for education, as demonstrated in this video clip. And it’s not just a cool toy or gimmick, either. The research shows that AR technology provides a more thorough understanding of the concepts being taught, which leads to higher engagement from students and better retention of the information (Fotaris, Pellas, Kanzanidis, & Smith, 2017). Students don’t just memorize the different parts of a cell membrane: they can actually see it before their very eyes in 3D. This type of education is especially useful for medical students or students with learning disabilities. Spatially visualizing concepts in real time will make better learners who are more prepared to take on the tasks required of them.

Public libraries recognize the importance of incorporating AR into their learning spaces, too. In a piece for the American Library Association, Harvard Law librarian Carli Spina asserts that: “At a minimum, libraries will need to be prepared to support augmented reality if and when it becomes more prevalent than textbooks and other print materials” (Spina, 2014). More prevalent than print. That’s a sobering thought. Facebook, Google, and the ALA all see the writing on the wall: Augmented Reality is about to get huge.  This video shows what the library of the future could look like, including a concept piece of AR technology called Nimble

Figure 3: Nimble, a concept AR technology for libraries

which would allow patrons to use a print material, like a book, and interact with enhanced and supplemental features at their fingertips. This application would revolutionize reading and learning in a way that Kindle or Nook could have only dreamed. Stumbling upon a confusing word or concept would be just a finger swipe away to clear up confusion. Students and adults alike would benefit tremendously from reading enrichment of this nature, particularly when it comes to research papers and working with multiple sets of data, as it would be simple to visualize and toggle between different studies and compare them to one another. As libraries grow and change to meet the evolving demands of the public, they are no longer considered relics full of dusty books; they’re hosting makerspaces and teaching teens how to build robots and use 3D printers. They’re offering eBook checkouts and leading app development groups and “hackerspaces” for coders. The future is already here and fortunately, public resources like schools and libraries are catching up with it.

Figure 4: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg debuts AR glasses concept 

So, what are the drawbacks of AR? One study argues that it can isolate peers from one another and discourage collaboration (Fernandez, 2017). In an increasingly digital world, we’ve already taken our socializing online, interacting with peers on Facebook more frequently than in the real world and suffering the psychological consequences of isolation and loneliness because of it (Primack,, 2017). It’s a valid criticism to claim that AR may very well become another means to dissociate from reality rather than augment it. By that measure, AR also has the same potential for abuse as any other form of digital media, including internet addiction, pornography addiction, and online gambling addiction. In order to avoid falling into the trap of using AR as an escape mechanism for “checking out” of reality, it will be important for educators and developers to present this technology as its title implies: augmented – or enhanced – reality: not a replacement.

Augmented Reality will change our world. It will change how we shop, how we socialize, and how we are entertained. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that it will change how we learn. The potential benefits of what AR can do for students both young and old far outweigh the drawbacks. Global competition for academia and jobs dictates that the United States can’t afford to fall any further behind our international peers, and it will take a generation of digital natives to carry us through the 21st century as leaders in innovation.



Bacca, J., Baldiris, S., Fabregat, R., Graf, S., & Kinshuk. (2014). Augmented Reality Trends in Education: A Systematic Review of Research and Applications. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 133-149.

Conditt, J. (2017, December 20). Worlds collide: VR and AR in 2018. Retrieved from

Fernandez, M. (2017). Augmented Virtual Reality: How to Improve Education Systems. Higher Learning Research Communications, 7(1), 1-15.

Fotaris, P., Pellas, N., Kazanidis, I., & Smith, P. (2017). A Systematic Review of Augmented Reality Game-Based Applications in Primary Education. Proceedings Of The European Conference On Games Based Learning, 181-190.

Primack, B.A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J.E., Whaite, E.O., Lin, L.Y., Rosen, D., Colditz, J.B., Radovic, A., & Miller, E. (July 2017). Social media use and perceived social isolation among young adults in the U.S. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Volume 53, Issue 1, Pages 1–8. DOI:

Spina, C. (2014, February 18). Keeping up with augmented reality. American Library Association. Retrieved from

Weinberger, M. (2017, April 23). The smartphone is eventually going to die: this is Mark Zuckerberg’s crazy vision for what comes next. Retrieved from



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