A Learning Experience Design: Augmented Reality & Library Orientation

by Anjum Najmi PhD, MLS
Assistant Professor
Department of Higher Education and Learning Technologies
Texas A&M University, Commerce


Librarians have engaged students in creative ways to orient them to library programs and services. Outreach is best undertaken when students arrive on campus for their first year. Augmented reality (AR) allows real and virtual objects to co-exist and interact with in real time. It permits users to view the real world through a virtual overlay. This pilot study looks at the potential of using Augmented Reality (AR) to engage students and present targeted information about the library and its resources. It will look at the effectiveness of instruction, learning outcomes, challenges, and the future potential of using such methods to promote learning. The goal to provide a practical approach for librarian practitioners that they may apply to future instructional sessions.

Keywords: learning experience design, augmented reality, library orientation, socio-cultural learning, participatory learning


First year students that enter college are expected to possess research skills more advanced than what is typically required in high school. However, students often lack these advanced research skills and are left underprepared for the rigors of university level learning (Currie, 2009). Once on campus the first step to introducing students to research and information literacy skills is to get them to come into the library.

Librarians have used creative ways to engage student interest such as residence life collaborations, learning communities, open house, meet-a-librarian, and themed events like mystery tours and scavenger hunts. These efforts, while successful for the most part, are time intensive, cumbersome, and not always cost effective. Too often students lose information that is covered in the onslaught of other beginning-of-the-semester orientations. The challenge remains on how to engage students and make content meaningful so information is retained and skills are transferable. It is common for first year students to feel anxious about the library and how to find library resources (Mellon, 1986; McPherson, 2015). Many students hesitate in approaching librarians to even ask for assistance.

As learning becomes ubiquitous, personal computing devices such as laptops, tablets, smart-phones, smart watches offer students numerous ways to personalize learning. Learning spaces are changing, moving beyond the four walls of the classroom into alternate spaces between the physical and the ether. Learning experiences like augmented reality (AR) allow real and virtual objects to co-exist and be interacted with in real time making information available at the exact time and place of need (Azuma, 1997). Most first year students are comfortable in such spaces having spent countless hours posting information to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and text messaging. However, there is limited research about the efficacy of augmented reality for library services. By better understanding whether augmented reality can address some of the engagement gaps among first-year students, we may be able to better utilize this technology to benefit students in our libraries. At the same time while offering librarian practitioners a practical approach that maybe applied in future instructional sessions at their own institutions.

Research Question

This paper examines the pedagogical potential of using augmented reality (AR) to engage students and present targeted information about the library and its resources. The study leverages learning experience design to introduce student to achieve a desired learning outcome in a human centered and goal-oriented way. This pilot design will look at the effectiveness of instruction, learning outcomes, challenges, and the future potential of using such methods to promote information literacy and library resources. The purpose two-fold: to provide librarians in the field a practical approach, and to encourage them to explore learning theory and design approaches that maybe applied in future instructional sessions at their own institutions.

Literature Review

Over the last decade or more a growing body of research has emerged that significantly advances knowledge of teaching and learning, and how students may learn better (Jenkins, 2009). Insights on cognitive and socio-cultural nature of thinking point to importance of the role of the learner. Rich representations, active participation, reflection, evaluation, and digital tools for communication and knowledge construction are perceived as essential for preparing and equipping students for 21st Century learning skills (Herodotou, Sharples, Gaven, Kukulska-Hulme, Rientes, Scanlon, and  Whitelock, 2019). Central is learner engagement that drives motivation with instructional content related to learning goals (Halverson, 2012). Attitudes and beliefs are known to influence the degree of participation learners put forth to engage with instructional materials. Design and the learning environment together are the building blocks for learning experiences (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000; Halverson, 2012).

In its broadest term a learning experience is defined as “a situation encountered for a certain time that you learn from” (Wenger, 1998; Halverson, 2012). Whereas traditional learning follows a didactic approach; a sequential ordered process every step must be correct and justified before moving to the next stage, teacher led and student followed (Herodotou, Sharples et al., 2019). Virtual learning is less formal and offers participatory spaces that afford rich opportunities for transformational learning (Jacobsen and Reimann, 2010). Lave and Wenger acknowledge in communities of practice the novice mentored by more experienced members adapts to the role of expert. Participation and collaboration are central to working with the shared goals of the group together these promote the learning experience (1991). Gee calls such learning environments “affinity spaces” that drive engagement and motivation allowing members to actively contribute according to their shared interests and varying skill levels (Gee, 2004). Jenkins et al., describe the social dynamics of participation as members experience strong support for creating and sharing, feel a degree of social connection with each other, and believe their contributions matter (2009, p 3). Jenkins makes the distinction that technology-media offers interactivity while, participation is influenced and comes from culture” (2006 b, p. 6). Squire (2006) takes on a sociocultural approach using video games to describe the designed experience and the emergent nature of learning. Asserting that “learning is constructed at the intersection of player intentions, design constraints and affordances of instructional elements” (p 26). Other design experts point to the importance of design and intentional learning, and how acquiring the requisite skills lends itself to successful participation (Jenkins, 2006b; Halverson, 2012, p 247).

The aim of this study is to gain insight into not just how people learn through participation in virtual spaces but to take a step further, and see how design can inform learning when outcomes are transformed into specific learning goals. At the center is the user followed by the process to create experiences that relate to the learner on cognitive, social and emotional level (Kolb, 1984; Schmidt and Huang, 2021; Schmidt et.al., 2020). The goal-oriented learning tasks serve as a clear purpose that relate to real life situations that are practical in application. Pedagogical approaches are integrated that align with how people learn. Finally, users going through the actual learning experience to test both theory and practice (Schmidt and Huang, 2021; Schmidt et. al., 2020. To this end learning experience design addresses thinking and learning in general and the skill based tasks more specifically. Figure 1 presents an overview of selected adaptations and the underlying process that guides design.

Figure 1 Some concepts concerning learning experience design (Schmidt and Huang, 2021) are diagramed here.

The authenticity of learning tasks is a context-dependent activity. Brown, Collins, and Duguid point out the basic idea is to anchor the acquisition of knowledge and skills into meaningful problem-solving situations encountered in everyday life (1989). Vygotsky (1978) coined the term zone-of-proximal-development (ZPD), he believed learning to develop through higher-level psychological processes, on an interpersonal level through social interaction, and then on an individual level, by internalization as a socio-collaborative process. He viewed learning as not just an internal, passive process but one where socio-cultural influences and context are important in forming, understanding of the learner through multiple contributions in an active, ever-evolving process (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).

Augmented Reality and Learning

Augmented reality (AR) is defined as the capacity to overlay rich media onto real world objects for viewing that is contextually relevant and can be easily and immediately acted upon (Billinghurst, Kato, & Poupyrev, 2001). Information is made available at the exact time and place of need this may include text, still images, video-clips, sound, 3-dimensional models and animations. AR has the potential to reduce cognitive overload by providing students with ‘perfectly situated scaffolding’, as well as enable learning in a range of other ways (Dede, 2009; Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell, 2009; Squire & Jan, 2007).  Following socio-constructive practices learning is seen as a shared activity, transactional in nature. Cognition, knowledge and expertise are distributed across individuals, environments, symbolic representations, tools, and artifacts (Brown, Collins, and Duguid, 1989). Vygotsky (1978, p. 29) referred to this as “mediation” and argued that when we interact with each other using tools we allow for the extension of our human capabilities.

While Augmented Reality systems have been in use in the fields of medicine, manufacturing, aeronautics, robotics, and tourism since 1990s (Azuma, 1997; Billinghurst, 2002; Shelton, 2002; Shuhaiber, 2004). The ability to use location-specific information based on GPS position and link to contextually relevant virtual information (i.e., fictional characters & narrative) has opened up the way for learning with place-based (historical & geographical) real world locations and place-independent AR (Squire & Jan, 2007). For example Reliving the Revolution, and Greenbush introduces students to historical events of the revolutionary war at Lexington, MA to determine who fired the first shot and a historic neighborhood to learn about urban planning and impact on communities (Stoddard, Marcus, Squire, & Martin, 2015). In Mad City Mystery students investigate environmental toxins common to lakes in the Midwest (i.e., Mercury, TCE, PCBs, fishing). (Squire & Jan, 2007). Through inquiry, problem solving, and synthesizing information students learn about environmental science.

Similarly, Alien Contact teaches language arts, math, and scientific literacy skills as it transforms any physical space and augments user experiences (place-independent i.e., school playground). It offers interaction with rich media, multiple points of entry, and non-linear thinking opportunities. The goal is to foster higher order thinking (Dunleavy, and Dede, 2014). Educational applications are emerging that allow users to design, build and manage their own augmented reality experiences. Examples are Aurasma (http://aurasma.com), Layar (http://layar.com), and Junaio (http://junaio.com). 3D printing and Google glasses are leading the way for new approaches to teaching and learning. Advances in technology and more powerful devices are making it easier to integrate AR into learning. Field trips to MARS, the Great Wall of China, ancient Rome, offer experiences of places and time periods in the past. They help inform and provide different perspectives allowing learners to at their own pace take in information try and test concepts in a risk free environment (Sobel, 2004; Roy and Radu, 2021).

Immersive experiences through museum exhibits allow students to learn about historical time periods that have influenced and helped shape the world of today. For example the Tenement Museum teaches about the industrial revolution, Normandy beaches about World War II. They provide audio-visual stimulation, multiple ways to explore, and experience with spatial concepts, however often they default to be used for guided instruction (Roy and Radu, 2021). While the affordances of augmented reality in education are still being explored. Many libraries are introducing virtual labs or innovation studios to enable students to explore experiential learning. Augmented Mixed Virtual Reality (AMVR) incorporates both simulated and real world environments where users interact with real and digital objects in real time to create learning experiences. Students apply concepts and learn fieldwork skills through field trips of remote areas in the geosciences, others look at oil and gas exploration, or tour the human body to understand its inner working (Penn State University, 2023). At North Carolina State, College of Design students in a virtual reality mental health course explore the facilitative qualities of AR creating life-sized environments to improve mild stress and general anxiety (North Carolina University Libraries, 2022). The technology breaks down barriers to access and allows students to experience the sights, sounds, and feel of the environment at their own pace (North Carolina University Libraries, 2022 )

Halverson (2012) posits technology and media offer potential to extend thinking and learning capabilities. Following a socio-cultural approach in which learning is driven by engagement, learners create, share, collaborate and build their own experiences. Jenkins et al., (2007) argue thinking in terms of skills to be acquired through participatory actions can improve design of learning environments. While, an abundance of research on the use of AR technology in education for students demonstrates benefits to learning (Li, van der Spek, Feijs, Wang, Hu, 2017). The efficacy of AR learning as integrated concepts is still much in its infancy and less well known, let alone the design strategies that may be successful for utilizing AR technology for learning.


Purpose of the study: This pilot study examines the pedagogical potential of using Augmented Reality (AR) to engage students and present targeted information about the library and its resources. The study will look at the effectiveness of instruction, learning outcomes, challenges, and the future potential of using such methods to promote information literacy and library resources. The purpose two-fold: to provide librarian practitioners a practical approach that can be used at their own institutions, and to encourage them to explore design strategies that may be applied to future instructional sessions.

The research questions used to explore participants’ learning experiences are:

RQ 1:  What was one thing about the library that stood out for you today?
RQ 2:  What would you still like to know about the library and its resources?
RQ 3:  What is one way that the library can support you as a student?
RQ 4:  Experience of taking a virtual tour of the library?
RQ 5:  Usefulness of the information gained during the virtual tour of the library?

Setting: The Library Convocation “Follow the Steen Trail to Jack Success” introduces first-year experience students to the library and its resources in an informal but friendly way that combines information literacy, outreach, collaboration, and campus-wide involvement. Participants are 134 first year students at a Southern University in the United States who are taking a one credit first year experience class. As shown in Table 1 these students come from several disciplines, in both the natural and social sciences and humanities (i.e., business, computer science, general education, inter-disciplinary studies, forestry/environmental science, nursing, pre-health, mass media & communication, and global studies).

Table 1 – Student Majors

General 67
Comp Sc./Bus/CIS/IT 13
Forestry/Environ Sc. 7
Inter-disciplinary Studies 8
Honors 5
Major Exploration 4
Mass Media Majors 6
Nursing/STEM 13
Unknown 11
N = 134

Each student was given a passport (see figure 2 and figure 3) with instructions on how to follow the trail and track progress; a stamp was placed in the passport once the station visit was completed, it was also a way to earn extra credit. All students visited the last station (The HUB) to get their passport checked, reflect and submit feedback on their experience. They enter their name into a drawing for the grand prize and turn in their passport. Feedback is later collated and provided to each class instructor so students receive credit for participating and completing activities of the Library Convocation. Goody bags and popcorn are available. Table 2 provides an overview of the four trails, stations, library rooms and resources. A view of the front and back cover as well as inside of the Passport are provided in Figure 2 and Figure 3.

Table 2 – Follow the Steen Trail to Jack Success

Four Trails   Stations Library Rooms & Resources
Lumberjack Trail 1. Start Entrance of the Library
Librarian Way 2. Check-out Point Circulation / Computer Lab 1
Digital Pass 3. Virtual Den Founders Room
Steen Hike 4. Computer Cove Main Computer Lab
5. Archive Adventures Special Collections / Research Center
6. Librarian Loop Librarians
7. Digital Expeditions Digital Scholarship Center / Computer Lab 2
8. Exit – Customs The HUB

Figure 2 – Front and back cover of Passport

Figure 3 – Inside of the Passport

The Virtual Den, one of eight stations on the trail, offers a one to two minute virtual tour of the Library. From a group of eight pictures that represent different areas of the library (i.e., circulation desk, computer lab 1 & 2, Founders room, special collections, digital scholarship center and HUB), students select the picture that interests them the most with the iPad or their smart phone they activate the augmented reality overlay and take the tour. They explore library spaces and resources available on each floor and can view what is available. Once the tour is finished the students respond to three questions to provide feedback about their experience.

Placement of the virtual tour within a single station of the Library Convocation is a key design aspect meant to circumvent issues with Internet access and device compatibility due to the age of the building and known gaps in online connectivity. Scaffolds for navigating and learning in the virtual space are built in i.e., text-based signage and audio-visual prompts as benchmarks within the tour. Interaction is participatory utilizing rich media text, still images, video-clips, sound, 3-dimensional models and animation. Information is available at the exact time and point of need offering multiple points of entry, collaboration, and non-linear thinking opportunities. The librarian facilitates pre-tour questions, students have the choice to take the tour individually or simultaneously with a peer by selecting one of the six images. They engage in reflection as the last step in the tour to provide feedback on their virtual experience (Najmi, 2009). Figure 4 provides an example of the game interface.

Figure 4 – Images used to begin Virtual Tour

Data Collection & analysis: A qualitative method was used to analyze results. One hundred and thirty responses (N=134) were transcribed and coded using Microsoft Excel. The researchers then engaged in a constant-comparative process established by Glaser & Strauss (1967) to analyze the content to discover salient categories and data patterns and to reach an agreement for modifying, or eliminating redundant codes. Responses were triangulated to ensure validity codes were then sorted into relevant categories, after additional review key themes emerged from these categories that were then identified and color-coded. Participant responses; written feedback was submitted at the last station of the trail (The HUB). The same three questions as the reflections at the end of the virtual tour.  These were reviewed and compared to substantiate findings, interpretations and rule out any mis-interpretations (Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Corbin and Straus, 2008). Member checking or data response validation is used as a means to verify if participants experience and its interpretation are true or in need of correction (Merriam and Tisdell, 2015). Data was kept on a password-protected laptop computer, all student identifying information was anonymized.

Findings and Discussion

The analysis of qualitative measures from initial implementation of the qualitative study reported codes and categories that grounded the themes, related to the various departments and resources that the library offered. Four themes and eleven categories are listed in Table 3.

Table 3 – Themes and Categories

Themes Categories
Library Services Resource Help, Computers, Hours
Library as an Experience Librarians, Staff-Service/Support
Library as a Place Study Place, HUB, Academic Assistance Resource Center
Info-Research & Scholarship ETRC Archives, Digital Scholarship Center

RQ 1: What was one thing about the Library that stood out for you today? Participant responses for this research question revealed for most students Library Services (44%) stood out. A look at categories revealed Computers (32%) related to student interest as evident by comments such as, “there are many computers that are accessible for students” (S20), “finding the LINC lab because I don’t have a printer or nice computer in my dorm and it means a LOT, which I find nice” (S20). Other students showed interest in the printing services stating “I didn’t realize you could print for .10c” (S109) and “I found out I could print in color for $1”(S58). There were no questions on library hours. Library as an Experience (5%) received little attention which was not unusual as first year students at the start of an academic year have had little time to establish experiences or connections with their campus library. Although there was mention of “how many Librarian[s] are available to help at a time?” (S1) and “they have a lot of people helping so I would never be lost” (S86).

A fair number of students noted Library as a Place (18%). The categories revealed Study Place (11%) stood out for some students, comments were “the 4th floor is a quiet place to study” (S66) with one going as far as to say “there are rooms to rent to study” (S88). Reserving a study room was confused with renting a study room. Another student mentioned, “it would be a great place to study if I wanted a really quiet spot” (S34). The recently renovated Hub (2%) elicited little attention its flexible seating and location adjacent to the library front lobby was designed to encourage collaborative activity with large screen TVs and bring-your-own-device options. Offering students social interaction with connectivity to course content, databases, and research information. Student responses were “the chairs have chargers” (S22) and “they have charging stations” (S114). The option to charge their phones or other technology devices did not go un-noticed by these students. Similarly, for a few students AARC (5%) made an impression. The Academic Assistance Resource Center (AARC) provides study groups and tutoring sessions for students and assistance with course assignments. It has a strong record of supporting retention and academic success. Comments such as “The AARK (sic) is a place to get homework help and also to study for tests” (S100) indicated that students understood this was the place to go to for academic help and test preparation.

Likewise, a good number of students were interested in Info-Research and Scholarship (29%), mainly in the resources offered by ETRC Archives. Comments mentioned were,

“one thing that stood out at the library was the archive adventures” (S77), the Archive Adventures section was cool I didn’t know we had it” (S29),“it has archives actual historical things …” (S43), and “old artifacts and the oldest book in the library”  (S37).

The Virtual Den (4%) was of interest for a few students. They described the experience as “one thing that stood out for me was the Virtual Den” (S48)  and “the virtual tour stood out for me it was really cool as it showed us a tour on the iPad” (S111). Overall responses for RQ1 revealed the Library was perceived and described as a place where,

there are a lot of resources to help me here” (S40), “…amount of computers available for us to use” (S32), “tons of study space” (S56), “how large it was on every floor” (S87), and “some parts are actually pretty spacious it’s not a cramped library” (S49).

The categories for RQ1 are presented in Figure 5.

Figure 5– RQ 1 – What was one thing about the Library that stood out for you today?

RQ 2: What would you still like to know about the library and its resources? Responses for this research question revealed students wanted to know more about Library Services (15%). Comments focused on “how to register for computer time?” (S88). Several students wanted to know about,

the hours of operation” (S59), “what are the good times to come here when it is not  busy?” (S28), “how often do students actually visit?” (S56), and “when certain areas  close?” (S90).

Of interest were “number of pages allowed to print” (S27) and “what resources are available?” (S7). There were no comments on “Hours” the length of time the library remained open.

Library as an Experience (41%) was centered on Staff-Service/Support with little mention of the Librarians. Students were interested in “how to check out books” (S72), or “what is the process… the different books offered” (S52). Several were about textbooks “does the library have textbooks you can come in and use?” (S63). Other responses were subject specific “where the computer science books are?” (S49), “if there are good history books to study with?” (S85), and “what kind of books are there on law?” (S72). While some students indicated personal preferences stating,

I would like to know if there are any recreational books here?” (S95), “if there are reading books for entertainment other than schoolbooks?” (S89), and “i would like to …if they have a library club” (S12).

For Library as a Place (21%) the category Study Place (5%) included comments such as “cool places to study” (S67) or “the quietest room to study in” (S14). There were no comments about the “HUB”. Other students wanted to know more about The AARC (16%) by asking “how late does the AARC stay open?” (S29), or stating “more about the AARC, tutoring, and group studies” (S94) or “the process of getting a tutor?” (S55). Info-Research and Scholarship (2%) got minimal responses these were mainly about the ETRC Archives such as “more about the archives the library has?” (S46). First year students are eventually introduced to research skills therefore asking questions about information research may not be relevant at the time of orientation. In RQ2 A good majority of students stated “i got all the information I needed”  (S110) or “all my questions were answered” (S106). Category Nothing more (21%) represented such comments. Figure 6 provides the categories for RQ2.

Figure 6 – RQ2 – What more would students like to know about the Library and its resources?

RQ 3: What is one way that the library can support you as a student? Student responses for this research question favored Library Services (36%). The categories revealed Resource Help (20%) included comments such as “being able to come to the computer labs to do online homework” (S113), “provide resources to help me study” (S71) and “the amount of material in the Library that can help me greatly in my classes” (S46). Comments like “print all my papers free of charge” (S28) indicated the importance that students gave to these services. Followed by, Hours (6%) which included comments such as “by staying open as late as possible” (S32) and “the library is always open for the most part! Will totally use it!” (S105). These responses reflected what students thought about library services many of which were offered in the Academic Assistance Resource Center (AARC) picture #2 of the virtual tour.

A fair majority of students viewed Library as Place (45%) as much needed. The categories revealed AARC (16%) included comments like, “The AARC – I love it” (S2), “I will come to use the AARC when I’m struggling in classes” (S38) and “continue to have the AARC, the SI groups, and the walk in-tables” (S39). In short students described services offered by the AARC as “help us to become more successful in our classes through the AARC” (S57). Next, came Study Place (5%) which was described as “the library can support me as a student by encouraging me to come here and study more” (S16) and “keeping the library open longer for studying” (S25). The HUB; the collaborative study space had no mention. Thus, a good majority of students were able to relate to the concept of Library as Place describing it as “it’s a good place to study and interact with people on an academic level” (S22).

Similarly, Library as Experience (6%) received little more attention with categories Librarians (2%) and Staff-Service/Support (4%) receiving comments like “by always having helpful and courteous staff” (S56) and “keep happy librarians around!” (S4). Info-Research and Scholarship (1%) comments were minimal. For category ETRC Archives comments were about asking librarians for research help. For example “the library can help with research project using librarians to point you in the right direction” (S50). In RQ3 Keep Doing Good Work (12%) represented students who were satisfied with the resources and services that library had to offer. Comments included “the library can keep doing what it already does” (S111) or “ already doing a great job with that” (S104). Figure 7 shows the categories for RQ3.

Figure 7 – RQ 3 – What is one way that the library can support you as a student?

RQ 4: Experience of taking a virtual tour of the library? Participant responses revealed 56% of students related the experience of taking a virtual tour of the library to “strongly agree” other responses included (36% selected “agree”, 7% “somewhat agree”, & 2% “disagree”). For most students’ engagement was of high value. Figure 8 shows student responses for questions RQ4.

Figure 8 – RQ 4 – Experience of taking a virtual tour of the library?

RQ5: Usefulness of the information gained during the virtual tour of the library? This asked about the experience of taking the virtual tour of the library. Here 50% of students chose “strongly agree” other responses included (31% selected “agree”, 13% “somewhat agree”, and 6% “disagree”). The percent of students (6%) who found the information not useful is slightly higher for this question despite information being presented at the exact time and point of need. This suggests perhaps some students were distracted, in a hurry to move on to the next station or simply had no interest in the activity. Figure 9 shows student responses for questions RQ5.

Figure 9 – RQ5 – Usefulness of the information gained during the virtual tour of the library?

Nevertheless, students found it easy to identify physical areas of the library and to know the location of different resources i.e., their responses indicated “I learned exactly where every room is because I had trouble navigating before” and “this is very good at showing what the HUB has to offer” (S35). One comment described the virtual tour as being helpful in understanding the “different things the library has to offer” (S38). Most students who took the virtual tour found they wanted “to learn more about the library” (S41) and felt “librarians are our friends” (S50). They viewed the library as a place to meet friends and a space where ‘there are places to socialize’. When asked to list one fact about the library that stood out the most during the virtual tour students comments mentioned i.e., the AARC, reserving study rooms & lockers, charging ports in the seating, bring-your-own-device, access to computers and printing were the library resources listed the most. While a few comments were random such as “the campus ghost is Chuck” (S19) and “one of the floors is purple” (S27) the following comment described the experience as, “amazing” (S8) summarizing the virtual experience well. The key reasons students would come to the library is clearly visible i.e., large font size indicates greater student interest for the resource. Figure 10 provides a word frequency map of student responses.

Figure 10 – Word frequency map of student responses

Implications: Design Considerations and Limitations

A learning experience design places the user at the center of the design process with the purpose to offer a learning experience that participants can easily relate. This qualitative case study leverages four aspects of the instructional design model; human-centered design, a goal-oriented approach, theory of learning, and learning-put-into-practice when brought together they build the learning experience.

Human-centered design: authentic learning tasks support and challenge learner thinking.

The virtual tour offers students options and choices to explore different areas of the library and its resources. Students engage with authentic learning tasks, using the augmented reality interface which overlays rich media onto real world objects of the library for viewing that is contextually relevant (Billinghurst, Kato, & Poupyrev, 2001). Access is simple ‘point and click’ using the device on one of the six images to enter the library, with little to no learning curve in using the technology. The technology i.e., iPad or smartphone offers interaction that engages users with which most are already familiar as they have experience using them in other contexts in their daily life. Technology affordances are well used. Students are able to identify and name the different parts of the library as evident by comments made such as, “Founders room on the first floor” (S5), “gov. docs, maps, surveys are on the second floor” (S15) and “the fourth floor is a quiet study space” (S21). They remember room names easily and the resources related to each area i.e., “InfoLab1 for access to computers” (S13), “The AARC and its study sessions” (S31), “Museum on second floor” (S22) and “The 4th Floor is the quiet zone for rooms to study” (S18). As they explore students transition seamlessly from one floor of the library to another. The learning task reflects the complexity of the environment of the library that they must function in once the activity ends. Students become familiar with the library and feel comfortable with its physical layout and the resources it has to offer.

Goal oriented: anchor learning tasks to a larger activity and give the learner ownership of the learning process.

Learning activity offers targeted and clear learning goals. Students select one of the six images using their smart phone or iPad they point it at the image and the augmented reality is activated and the virtual tour begins. They are introduced to and get a feel of a specific area of the library and the resources available and physical layout taking ownership of the learning process. The learning activity relates to real life situations that are practical in application related to the larger task of exploring and getting to know the library. Interaction is participatory utilizing rich media text, still images, video-clips, sound, 3-dimensional models and animation. Information is available at the exact time and point of need the six different images offer multiple points of entry and different ways to get to know the library and its resources. This takes place in a relaxed and friendly setting. A Librarian is available to respond to pre-tour questions, take care of any connectivity issues that may emerge or in general to make students feel more comfortable. To encourage social interaction and a shared learning experience Students have the choice to take the virtual tour simultaneously with a peer. Several took this option, exchanging images; using the image their friend had just completed to using alternate context for viewing the information. Student comments describe the experience as “the virtual den is really cool” and “I know just about everything, great job” and “keep offering support”.

Theory of Learning: learning tasks grounded in pedagogy to support and challenge student thinking and learning.

A cognitive and socio-cultural approach drives the design of the learning experience. The learner is placed at the center of the design process, learning is situated, interactive, and targets specific learning goals. The virtual tour engages students with different areas of the library and resources available as students make connections to their own learning expectations. Scaffolds are built-in for navigating and learning in the virtual space i.e., signage and audio-visual prompts identify important areas and provide points of reference within the tour. The student may stop, pause or re-start the virtual tour (augmented reality interface) at any time. The librarian facilitates pre-tour questions as the last step in the tour students engage in reflection to provide feedback on their virtual learning experience (Najmi, 2009). Students name the service or resource that are of interest and connect them to their own learning expectations comments included, “going to the info lab and using the AARC” (S3), “there is a history section with many documents” (S12), “by providing more information that can help with essays” (S27), and “they have a lot of people helping so I’ll never be lost” (S86).

Learning put into practice: opportunities for reflection on content learned and the learning process.

Having a clear understanding of what works and what does not in the design of a learning experience helps in identifying student needs and the learning outcome desired. As students take the virtual tour information is available at the exact time and point of need offering a different view of the library, multiple points of entry using each of the six images to encourage non-linear ways of thinking about the library and its resources. This requires actively participating, sharing of ideas, and discussion, a socio-collaborative approach to learning content. On completion of the virtual tour students respond to three questions as a way to reflect on the content learned and the process endured. Each question prompts users to think and reflect on the experience of taking the virtual tour as well as recall and identify what they noticed. Student comments reflected these sentiments as they recalled “the historical archives stood out to me” (S5), thought about “how online databases work” (S26), and how they could get help. “It gives me various opportunities to get help on subjects I struggle in” (S1) and “I would like to find out how useful the library can be when I have a paper?” (S38).


Findings from this pilot study offer a number of insights about designing a learning experience and the use of augmented reality in library orientation. It is worth noting for three of the four reported themes Library Service (44%), Info-Research and Digital Scholarship (33%), and Library as a Place (18%) student interest was fairly high across all three research questions. In the fourth theme Library as Experience (5%) categories Librarians(1%) and Staff/Service Support (4%) were merely mentioned. Comments were general acknowledging the presence of Librarians such as “the Librarian Loop” or “by helping me when I ask”. It can be argued that this is not unusual given that first-year students are just starting their academic journey and have ‘no experiences’ of the library. However, since orientation is about students making a connection with Librarians it is an area that should be looked at to improve upon. Likewise, for theme Library as a Place (18%) RQ1 responses for category The HUB (2%) garnered little student interest. Comments were minimal such as “the HUB, I had no idea about it” (S71). There were no responses about the collaborative study space in RQ2 and RQ3. This was disappointing. One of the eight images offered to students for the virtual tour was of the HUB and the space was newly renovated with brightly colored flexible seating and its location is central; adjacent to the front lobby of the library. The HUB designed for group activity with large screen TV’s and bring your own device options is a collaborative study place offering students connectivity to course content, online databases, and research information with social interaction. It is worth looking at to raise greater student awareness about this space and its resources in future iterations of the design.

Additional findings highlight some areas that could be approached differently to substantially improve the next iteration. First, broaden access to the virtual tour. Consider offering the virtual tour ubiquitously allowing students access from not just the library but anytime, anywhere. Second, allowing students options and choices to construct their own virtual tour, and third, refine the open-ended reflection questions to target more specific services or even some higher order thinking skills to improve responses. Finally, allowing students time to develop familiarity with the AR interface and overcome technical issues ahead of time. A few questions that emerged from the implementation of this pilot study that may prove helpful to future design efforts are presented below.

  • Are students ready to learn with augmented reality?
  • Are librarians/instructors prepared to teach using augmented reality?
  • Does the use of augmented reality further the instructional goal?
  • Is the level of difficulty appropriate to learner skills?

It is recommended these questions be asked in the early part of the design process once answered other steps should follow.


The purpose of the Library Convocation was to provide students with a welcoming and positive first year experience, and introduce them to targeted information about the library, its services, and resources. Design of this study utilizes adaptations from learning experience design and follows a social constructivist approach. Students take a one-to-two minute virtual tour of the library, one of eight stations (i.e., The Virtual Den) on the trail during the Library Convocation. Four themes and eleven categories were identified. Findings point to the essential role of the Librarian in connecting with incoming first year students as well as the importance of raising awareness of the Library as a resource. Results of this study offers several considerations to keep in mind when using AR in education, such as allowing students time to develop fluency with the AR interface, selecting pedagogical strategies that are appropriate to content and learning goals, and helping students develop critical thinking skills. It is hoped that these findings will be of value to librarian practitioners to provide a practical approach that may be applied to instructional sessions at their own institutions. I encourage other librarians to explore learning theory and design approaches. The emergent and fluid nature of virtual spaces requires further research and exploration to fully understand student engagement and benefits to learning.


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