Augmented Reality

AR Can Help Students Understand More Challenging Science Concepts


Augmented reality (AR) has been touted as a cool new technology that can help people see things they otherwise wouldn’t without computer-generated sensory input. But a recent study found that AR can help students better understand certain complicated science concepts than those who did not use any AR device.

The study, published in the Journal of Educational Technology & Society, surveyed 58 middle school students from five schools (three charter, two community public). The study was conducted at a large, well-established science museum at an unidentified northeastern United States city.

The students were asked about Bernoulli’s principle, a more advanced concept which states that “when an incompressible, smoothly flowing fluid gains speed, internal pressure in the fluid decreases, and vice versa” (P. Hewitt, “Bernoulli’s principle: Understanding Bernoulli’s principle as it applies to aerodynamic lift,” National Science Teachers Association, 2004).

In other words, there is an inversely proportional relationship between fluid speed and pressure. When the fluid’s speed increases, the pressure drops.

“This is a conceptually challenging and counterintuitive idea to understand for students, who typically believe that when speed increases, so does the pressure,” the study’s authors said.

At the museum, the students — who were 11 to 14 years old, in sixth to eight grade — were randomly and evenly assigned to two conditions: a non-AR condition (a device with no digital augmentation) or an AR condition (device with digital augmentation). A computer screen, which displayed the augmentations, would either be turned on (AR condition) or off (Non-AR condition). They were also given a ball, which was lying on a table.

The students were told “see if you can make the red ball float,” and asked to play with it as if they had found it on the museum floor. The group in the AR condition was able to witness Bernoulli’s principle mapped out in real time on the screen. They could see the direction and speed of each air stream, as well as how the ball could float in midair when caught between the two.

After students signaled that they were finished, they were individually asked a set of interview questions about their experience with the device.

The study found that students in the AR condition scored significantly higher in their level of understanding than the non-AR students. 

“Collectively, these results suggest that the digital augmentation had a positive effect on students’ content knowledge,” the authors found. Those authors are Susan Yoon, Emma Anderson, Joyce Lin and Karen Elinich.

The research suggests that AR can not only improve science learning in general, but can even improve students’ understanding of difficult science concepts.

To read the full study, visit this site. To read a related article, check out the New Learning Times website.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].