In a world of tweets and status updates, graduate students in George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development are working to make app-based learning a reality.

The college has been exploring the possibilities of app-based learning for the past year, as well as developing prototypes that have been tested in the field, said Brenda Bannan-Ritland, an instructional technology associate professor.

“Last year we took on the problem of iPhone applications and how developing iPhone apps could be used to promote educational outcomes,” Bannan-Ritland said.

Bannan-Ritland’s students have been investigating the possibilities of learning through a process known as augmented reality. Augmented reality is the layering of new images and information on the real world by placing a translucent image over the image being captured by a camera. Users can, for example, see a line of scrimmage in a football game or what a particular landmark or historical site may have looked like in the past.

According to The New York Times, augmented reality apps are already widely available on the mobile app market, with names like Google Goggles. Many of these apps overlay geographical information on top of images or maps on smartphones. By doing so, they give users a more interactive experience in searching for certain locations such as gas stations or restaurants in relation to where the user is currently located.

The educational purpose of augmented reality, which the College of Education and Human Development graduate students are working on, is to allow users to better contextualize information that they learn. Augmented reality is not being developed to appeal to a specific group of learners; rather, it is being developed for wide implementation, from children to adults.

Recently, some of Bannan-Ritland’s graduate students went to a Richmond classroom to test a prototype of an augmented reality game that helps students study history. Bannan-Ritland’s students first went to Richmond and explored the city, taking pictures of historical sites and overlaying them with images of how those sites looked during the Civil War, contextualizing the history learning process and giving students a visual point of reference.

Another group of Bannan-Ritland’s students also produced a conceptual prototype of an augmented reality app that guides visitors through George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Students identified and analyzed a learning problem that visitors to Mount Vernon had and developed the app to be a “virtual interpreter” and estate guide, Bannan-Ritland said.

According to Bannan-Ritland, augmented reality and mobile device-based learning has not experienced widespread implementation in the American education system, and is only recently getting more attention from the education community.

“Augmented reality is just another form of emerging technologies to embrace in relation to using its features and affordances for the good of education,” Bannan-Ritland said.

As Mason’s graduate students continue to work on augmented reality-based learning programs, Bannan-Ritland is hopeful about the future of her program and the possible inclusion of this technology in other departments.