So which of the latest technologies are likely to impact teaching and learning? Greg O’Connor looks at wearables, near field communication and augmented reality

‘Technology is not technology if it was invented before you were born’ – Sir Ken Robinson

It is an understatement to say technology is rapidly changing. For educators and their students, there is an ever increasing array of choice and possibilities when it comes to emerging technology options. Just for starters there is the widespread use of mobile technology, a technology that has been in classrooms for over four years.

Many students take mobile technology, such as smartphones or tablets, for granted and expect it to be part of their learning, social and media landscape. Educators are just catching up! So what of the new and emerging technologies on the horizon, technologies that younger students will soon take for granted?

The NMC Horizon Report, and the Gartner Hype Cycle, both provide a window to identifying emerging technology options. The NMC Horizon Report ‘identifies and describes key trends, significant challenges, and emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe’. The latest global report is the 2014 K-12 Edition.

The Gartner Hype Cycle provides a ‘graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications’, attempting to show which technologies are on the ascendency, which are waning after an initial burst of high expectation around their usefulness, and finally which technologies have become reliable and commonly used tools. Of course just Google ‘new and emerging technologies in education’ to find what the blogosphere is predicting.

Three emerging technology options generating possibilities for students with diverse learning needs are: wearable technology, near field communication, and augmented reality.

Wearable technology

Google Glass

Google Glass

While the effective adoption and use of wearable technology in our classrooms may yet be a little way off, this is a technology that has some educators excited about the possibilities. Perhaps the best known recent wearable technology has been Google Glass, a hands-free, voice-controlled ‘smartphone like technology’ mounted as eyewear.

While Google Glass now appears to have come and gone, there are a number alternative smartglasses available. Smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch, have been the other wearable technology catching the attention of educators, as discussed in the blogs Assistive Technology Apple Watch Accessibility: Possibilities, Challenges, and Unknowns, and AppleVis An In-Depth Look at Apple Watch Accessibility Features.

Wearable technology is not only appearing as smart-glasses and smartwatches, but also as smart wristbands. Yes, I know, it seems everyone is wearing smart fitness-tracking wristbands to monitor their exercise regimes (and colour coordinate with their outfits), but what if a smart wristband could unlock your devices, remember passwords, and more? Check out Nymi.

What if a smart wristband could read the electrical activity of your muscles and the motion of your arm to let you wirelessly control technology with hand gestures, including mapping gestures to your keyboard for customised control? Check out the Myo. I look forward to getting my hands, and wrists, on the Nymi and Myo to see what the possibilities are for students with diverse learning needs.

Both companies responsible for these smart wristbands are asking developers to see what applications they can develop to use this technology. I hope those interested in accessibility and learning are getting on board. Teaching is indeed a profession for which many of us wear our heart on our sleeve in ensuring we make a difference for all our students.

Now it might also be a case of wearing new possibilities on our sleeve as well. For more on wearable technology resources see my Wearable Tech Pinterest board.

Near Field Communication

Beacons for Education

Beacons for Education

Near Field Communication (NFC) allows wireless communication between devices, for example between smartphones or tablets and a transmitter, or between your credit card and a terminal reader in the store. In classrooms educators are exploring the possibilities that allow a student to wave their smartphone or tablet over an NFC tag to collect information in a convenient or alternative way. You can find out more here.

Apple has developed the iBeacon, a wireless positioning system that uses small Bluetooth transmitters to communicate with a smart device. The system works by setting up a unique ID for the transmitters to use when communicating with apps on nearby devices. Jonathan Nalder has an excellent blog on iBeacons in education, suggesting that the potential of NFC for ‘schools, training and universities is an untapped frontier’.

For more on NFC resources see:
What is near field communication (and how secure is it)?
Near field communication
How to use Near Field Communication to engage your foreign students
What is iBeacon?

Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) technology overlays computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data, over the real world via a device’s camera. This is different from Virtual Reality (VR), a computer-generated three-dimensional simulated environment that you interact with using special electronic equipment such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

As explained here, ‘true virtual reality completely blocks out the real world whereas augmented reality adds to the already existing real world’. Two AR technologies creating possibilities in teaching and learning programs for diverse learners are QR codes and AR apps.

QR Codes

A QR (Quick Response) code is a type of barcode that is readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera telephones. The code usually consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded may be in the form of text, a URL, or other data. I am sure you have seen these codes in newspapers and magazines, on promotional material, in the corner of posters.

While it may not have been the initial intent of this technology, QR codes have unlimited potential in the classroom. This short video above from a primary class in Queensland, Australia, shows how QR codes are being used in their classroom. They are QR crazy!

QR codes can provide an alternative access format for students who need additional support in reading and writing. Using handheld devices, eg iPad or smartphone, or a computer, students are able to quickly gain access to information while also incorporating the use of their own literacy support apps or software. For example, having trouble typing in a long, complicated url – use a QR code to navigate to the website instantly without typing.

Or, need to read the instructions for a task set by the teacher – scan the QR code created for these instructions using your iPad and use your text-to-speech app. The number of ways QR codes can be used in the classroom is only limited by an educator ’s creativity and innovative practices. Here’s some suggestions to start you thinking:

  • Take students to websites without the need to type in a url.
  • Provide information ‘hotspots’ throughout the classroom to access online videos, websites, text that is related to curriculum and instructional material.
  • Adapt text/books by including QR codes – providing additional information via text, video and audio.
  • Adapt text/books by including QR codes – providing text or audio in an alternative language.
  • Attach QR codes to the classroom calendar/timetable to point to information about upcoming class events, assessment reminders, etc.
  • Take students to a website you are browsing on an interactive whiteboard. Using the Mobile Barcoder add-on for the Firefox web browser, quickly generate a QR code and have students scan with their own handheld device.
  • Make your own QR Code Scavenger Hunt

What do you need to get up and going with QR codes? First, a QR code generator. A number of free or relatively inexpensive QR generators are available. Codes can be created to be either printed out, displayed on screen or incorporated into documents. Here are a few choices. Choose whichever best suits your device:

From the Mac App Store
QR Code Reader and Creator
Qrafter – QR Code and Barcode Reader and Generator

Generating a QR Code in a browser
Kaywa QR Code
The ZXing Project
Mobile Barcoder

QR Voice is a browser-based generator that turns text into an audio file, and then provides a QR code for that file. An example of using this would be to retrofit a printed story book by printing, and glueing a QR Voice QR code on each page. This would enable the text to be read out aloud. Great for struggling readers who want to independently read a book. Okay, so you have created QR Codes and now your students need access to them. A QR Code Reader is required.

Students can access QR codes using a computer or a mobile device, as long as either has a camera available to scan the code. Possible readers include:
Scan – QR Code and Barcode Reader
Qrafter Pro – QR Code and Barcode Reader and Generator

The pros and cons of QR Codes
When exploring the use of QR Codes, consider the “pros and cons” first.


  • Provides an alternative access to the internet option
  • Supports Universal Design for Learning
  • Reduces cognitive load
  • Supports differentiation


  • Difficult for those who cannot aim a camera at a small, defined area
  • QR codes are not identifiable in themselves
  • Limited to where the code is placed
  • Mostly dependent on internet access

For more on QR Code resources see:
Five Ways to Create and Use QR Codes In Your Classroom
QR Codes Improve Web Access
QR Codes in the Classroom from Kathy Schrock, including a great list of teacher generated classroom ideas.
QR Codes as Assistive Technology
Teaching with QR Codes
QR Codes: Learning technology

Augmented Reality Apps

Mobile devices, with the omnipresent camera, have created the perfect platform for the development of a range of AR apps. Check out this video above to see just some of the possibilities. It highlights educators demonstrating the AR technology, Aurasma. More about that soon, but first I need to mention the range of AR apps that are ‘good to go’ or rather have pre-determined content, and can be downloaded for both iOS and Android devices.

Here are some that are being used in classrooms:

Dinosaurs Everywhere! A Jurassic Experience In Any Park
Hold up your mobile device and suddenly dinosaurs are stomping and munching their way around your classroom. Tap a dinosaur to learn more about that species.

coLAR Mix
Print out pages from the coLAR Mix website, colour the pages and then see the pages turn into animated 3D images.

AR Flashcards
Download the flash cards to your computer and print it out them out. Using the app transform the flashcard image to 3D. Tap the 3D image to hear more. Flashcards are currently available for animals, space, and shapes and colours.

Download and print a target. Point your device at the target, choose an animal category – birds, fish, mammals, dinosaurs, amphibians, invertebrates, insects and reptiles – and witness your animal appear as a photo realistic 3D animation. Interact with the 3D animation and select the info-graphic to get more information about the animal with built in text-to-speech.

This AR app from Daqri will transform an entire world, simply by placing two or more objects near the interactive 4D Fairy Tale story of The Perilous Pursuit of the Pied Piper. Or, play Musical Strings, a musical instrument that you design anew each time you play by moving cards further apart or closer together. For more Daqri apps, check out Anatomy 4D and Elements 4D.


Junaio ‘AR’ Browser App

Junaio ‘AR’ Browser App

Junaio is an AR browser app that has 34 functions:

  1.  Scan predefined images and discover virtual ‘AR’ content,
  2.  Play with your environment by bringing ‘AR’ creatures to life in your immediate environment,
  3. QR Code reader,
  4.  Live view. Hold up your device, open the app and look around you. Points of interest (POI) in your local area will be visualised on your screen as a digital POI giving you additional information about a specific location, such as directions, name, opening hours and links. All digital information is integrated right in your device’s camera view.
Aurasma Studio

Aurasma Studio

Okay, back to Aurasma. What sets Aurasma apart from the apps mentioned above is the ability to create your own content and then overlay static, one- or two-dimensional objects (eg classroom handouts and worksheets, student art work, curriculum content, real world objects and so on) with interactive content such as videos and animations called ‘Auras’. The Aurasma app is available for both iOS and Android devices.

Aurasma Auras can be created in the app or online via Aurasma Studio. Creating within the app results in the ‘Aura’ being dependent on the device you created it with. Creating online via Aurasma Studio allows you to have access to the ‘Aura’ across devices, and share with multiple people (eg students and parents). As a result it is recommended to sign up for Aurasma Studio (it is free) and start creating your resources from there.

The three steps to creating AR with Aurasma are:

  1. Determine the trigger to be used, so that when a device with a camera with the Aurasma app installed scans that trigger an overlay or ‘Aura’ will be generated. An example of a trigger could be a maths worksheet.
  2. Create the overlay or ‘Aura’ to be linked to the trigger. For example a video lesson for that maths worksheet.
  3. Use the Aurasma app to augment the teaching and learning process. For a more detailed step-by-step process to create ‘Auras’ in Aurasma Studio see Aurasma Studio: How To Create An Aura For an alternative to Aurasma, check out Layar.

Aurasma in the education? Start augmenting your classroom now:

  • Overlay student artwork with videos of the students providing background to their work.
  • Interactive word walls. Provide additional support for students struggling with reading and comprehension.
  • Link worksheets and handouts to online videos of lesson content. For example Khan Academy or your own lesson content recorded in Explain Everything and uploaded to Youtube.
  • Augment classroom timetables and schedules with ‘howto’ videos or additional information for students.

The pros and cons of AR apps
When exploring the use of AR apps, consider the ‘pros and cons’ first.


  • Provides an alternative option to access the internet.
  • Supports Universal Design for Learning.
  • Reduces cognitive load.
  • Supports differentiation.
  • Can be device specific – internet not required.


  • Difficult for those who cannot aim a camera at defined area/target,
  • Ready made AR apps limited by content,

AR technology is transforming traditional, static, and one-dimensional teaching resources and strategies educators have used in the past (and still do today) into a much more accessible and engaging learning tool. The printed handout is dead. Long live the augmented handout!

For more AR app resources see:

Are you a teacher? Guidance for teachers and other educators getting started with Aurasma
My Augmented Reality Pinterest board
Bring schools to life with Aurasma app
Paul Hamilton’s great blog – Augmented Reality in Education
Augmented Reality for Educators – A Google+ community for educators by educators learning Augmented Reality
Layar: Interactive Print Bringing Text to Life

For more AR research see:

Augmented Reality in education – cases, places and potentials
Comparative Study of Augmented Reality SDK’s
Augmented reality in education: a meta-review and cross-media analysis
An Augmented Reality-based Mobile Learning System to Improve Students’ Learning Achievements and Motivations in Natural Science Inquiry Activities


About Contributors

Greg O’Connor has been a teacher, consultant, administrator, coach and presenter in the area of technology and students with diverse learning needs for over 30 years. Greg provides consultancy, workshops, presentations and conference keynotes across Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and beyond.

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