Augmented reality (AR) is defined by Wikipedia (2014) as ‘a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data’.
The use of AR in the worlds of entertainment and commerce has increased rapidly in the last few years, bringing to life objects, printed matter and even locations by enriching what we see around us with additional digital resources. In effect, the use of AR creates a virtual layer on top of our actual situation to enhance our experience through the addition of rich media.
Several brands are using AR to add these virtual layers to physical objects, notably the UK retailers Tesco and Marks & Spencer, who have included AR in their customer magazines to offer readers the opportunity to view videos of recipes being turned into meals, simply by holding their smartphone or tablet over a particular image. More recently, we have started to see educational institutions exploring the possibilities that AR offers not only for public engagement and marketing, but also for enhancing teaching and the student learning experience.
During the 2012–13 academic year at the University of Bath, the library and the e-learning teams worked collaboratively with the students’ union, the Public Engagement department and others to experiment with AR in a university setting, using agile development techniques to create applications for its use and to engage the university community with this emerging technology. The collaborative partnerships within this project team quickly established a group dynamic of co-operation rather than competition. In particular, the direct involvement of the ‘student voice’ coming from the students’ union added to the project's credibility at the highest levels within the university and was especially helpful in generating ideas and priorities.
The project had little financial resource on which to call and it was therefore important for us to draw on the expertise and enthusiasm of the collaborators and on their networks and knowledge. We built on previous experience of being an early adopter of QR codes (Robinson, 2010). We also used commercial contacts in the city of Bath (Bath University, 2014) who were already experimenting with AR, and drew upon the expertise of colleagues at MIMAS in Manchester (MIMAS, 2014), including their AR Project Manager Matt Ramirez.