The use of game-based learning (Squire, Giovanetto, Devane, & Durga, 2005) as an educational enhancer has grown in recent years, and numerous studies have demonstrated the success of these practices in fomenting the capacity to reason (Bottino, Ferlino, Ott, & Tavella, 2007), leadership skills, collaboration (Zhao & Linaza, 2015) and motivation to learn in primary education. However, the results from using the game-based augmented reality (AR) application in classroom contexts has not been researched as widely, even though the link between AR and the classroom is a hot topic in educational science literature. There are few theoretical or conceptual works that explain the complex relation between the characteristics of rapid technological, and occasionally, revolutionary evolution, its potential for education and learning, and its integration in teaching activities (Cabero & Marín, 2018). We believe the research presented here is a novel and singular contribution. In line with Knaus (2017:64), teachers need to understand the potential of digital media, software and algorithms in order to use them in a rational, didactic way, seeing them as resources and not merely ends in themselves. Some researchers and teaching professionals (Cantillo, Roura, & Sánchez, 2012; Brazuelo, Gallego, & Cacheiro, 2017) have questioned the use of virtual games in the concept and practice of education through mobile and ubiquitous devices. All the studies consulted here state that the use of games and AR can only be justified if their application is didactic, and if it promotes creativity, collaboration and reflection. Creativity is the key dimension highlighted for years by researchers such as Perez-Rodriguez, & Delgado-Ponce (2012: 33). Other researchers (Koring, 2016) conclude that children learn a lot from playing games with other children, thus ideally, digital media should be used by children to play in groups, so that they can engage in, and reflect on, the play they generate.
From this educational perspective, AR-based apps can be used to initiate didactic interactions in towns and cities, and in settings such as museums and places of cultural interest for situated educational activities that motivate users. These developments drive the relocation of teaching away from the school center and move the student away from reality towards immersive scenarios (Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell, 2009; Bronack, 2011).
Game-based Digital Learning
Klopfer, Osterweil, & Salen (2009: 21) define digital learning games as those aimed at acquiring knowledge and fostering mental habits and understanding that can be useful in the academic context. The mechanics of these games are essential for their effectiveness as bearers of intrinsic motivation and fun (Perrotta, Featherstone, Aston, & Houghton, 2013). The use of GPS-based games is evidently interesting because they change the players’ paradigm: users must step outside to achieve their goals and walk around to reach objects and fulfil the objectives that allow them to progress in the game. This is also a good way to combat the sedentary habits that are so prevalent among gamers. Games can promote a higher level of thought, and, positive proof in various studies (Dondlinger, 2007; Steinkuehler, & Duncan, 2008) urges designers of educational games to focus on player/student participation in an environment in which they can experiment with the relations between all objects, resolve a set of problems, actively learn a new literacy and develop critical learning (Gee, 2004).
Several studies insist on the advantages of game-based learning as an environment that stimulates motivation and commitment in students (Blunt, 2007; Greenfield, 2010; Slovaček, Zovkić, & Ceković, 2014), and our research is based on verifying this notion. These practices mean that motivation is an integral part of the pedagogical processes (Aguaded, 2012; Eseryel, Law, Ifenthaler, Ge, & Miller, 2014; Katja, 2012; Liao, 2015). The findings in educational research help determine whether to adopt certain objectives and encourage learning activities that are significant and motivational for the students.
Exploring augmented reality
Klopfer & Squire (2008: 205) broadly define AR as a situation in which a coherent localization or virtual information is superimposed dynamically on a real-world situation. Cabero & Barroso (2016, 44) describe AR as the combination in real time of digital and physical information using a range of technological devices. The integration of the real and virtual worlds through AR creates an enriching scenario (Bronack, 2011; Cabero & García, 2016; Fombona, Pascual, & Madeira, 2012; Fombona, 2013 Rico & Agudo, 2016; Squire & Klopfer, 2007). Cabero & Barroso (2016) emphasize that any physical space can become a stimulating educational scenario, and that AR reinforces ubiquitous learning through an inspiring learning environment in which the student interacts with objects and manages information.
Some successful experiences in which students have to use portable devices to carry out research, interpret unique location data and provide solutions within an AR-based game environment are: “Environmental Detectives” (Squire & Klopfer, 2007), a game in which students assume the role of environmental engineers and have to solve problems in a real setting. A similar experience is “Mad City Mystery” (Squire & Jan, 2007), in which players have to solve a crime by searching for information in their environment; another is “Frequency 1550”, developed by The Waag Society to help students discover medieval Amsterdam (Akkerman, Admiraal, & Huizenga, 2009).
Ubiquitous learning implies the break between formal and informal learning and facilitates a more social way of learning; it presumes that learning “based on the curriculum” gives way to learning “based on problem-solving”, now with the student as framework of reference.
The advantages of AR enable detection of locations, monitoring of student status and issuing of task reminders. This dynamic offers alternatives for refocusing student attention. AR technology is easy to incorporate into education as it allows students to use their own devices without the need for extra technologies. Fombona & Vázquez (2017: 335) state that primary school students already own devices that can be used for AR-based activities, since 80% of devices nowadays use the Android operating system and 60% have GPS, which lets students perform geolocation tasks. Barroso & Cabero (2016:165) carried out a detailed study that concluded that AR objects aroused considerable interest in students, technically and aesthetically, as well as for ease of use. This system allows users to work in real time by exchanging comments and provides information that heightens participants’ sensation of immediacy. All the AR-related media mentioned so far enable the user to experience interactions with a sense of immersion, which is “the subjective impression that you are involved in a global and realistic experience” (Dede, 2009: 66). All this occurs within a ubiquitous learning scenario expanded by digital mobile media that allow the user to construct and exchange knowledge between the virtual and the physical (Díez & Díaz, 2018). Ubiquitous learning implies the break between formal and informal learning and facilitates a more social way of learning; it presumes that learning “based on the curriculum” gives way to learning “based on problem-solving”, now with the student as framework of reference (Burbules, 2014). The various subsets of AR including mobile AR, gameable AR, and multiplayer AR, offer a range of possibilities to support the implementation of these perspectives. Considering the most important characteristics of these AR types, we can classify the educational approach in three categories: Approaches that emphasize student participation via “roles”, student interactions with physical locations (ubiquity, collaboration, situated learning, informal learning) and the design of learning tasks (learning in 3D, visualizing the invisible). This study focuses on an intervention that emphasizes learning tasks, ubiquity, collaboration and situated learning, with the use of location and programs such as “WallaMe”.
We based our study on a quasi-experimental design on both a control and an experimental group, including a pretest and postest. The main objective was to analyze the impact on learning of ubiquitous AR game approaches in education; the variables analyzed were: academic performance, student skills in searching for, and analyzing, information, level of fun and collaboration established among the students. The hypotheses were: The use of AR in ubiquitous settings improves academic performance (H1); the use of AR improves searching and information analysis skills (H2); the use of AR increases motivation and level of fun (H3); the use of AR and ubiquity fosters collaboration (H4). The research was structured around the following dimensions, with the indicators and instruments described for each dimension (Table 1).
This research was developed in a public Primary Education school in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, and it was applied to all the students in sixth grade (91 students) who attended Art Education classes. The experimental group consisted of 69 students, who searched for information using technological devices (Dimension 1) with the “WallaMe” app during five sessions that were part of a didactic unit on “Art in Europe” (Dimension 2).
The control group was formed of 22 students in a class that studied the same unit but using a textbook and “traditional” forms of teaching, with an expositional approach and teacher-centered focus. The sampling was non-probabilistic and intentional. The experimental group had 34 girls and 35 boys; the control group had 13 girls and 9 boys. The pretest control for knowledge of “Art in Europe” in the two groups showed that both sets of students had the same level of knowledge.
Based on the conceptual definition described in the theoretical section of this article (Mathews, 2010; Rosenbaum, Klopfer, & Perry, 2007; Squire & Jan, 2007; Squire & Klopfer, 2007), the analysis of the tools and intervention centered on the application of game- and situation-based learning. The categories that framed the analysis and application were:
Approaches that emphasize student interactions with physical locations.
Approaches that emphasize the design of learning tasks.
In dimension 1, the analysis centered on the students’ ability to search for, select and analyze information using their mobile phones, thus, ubiquitous learning. The 5 sessions in Art Education were aimed at learning about works of art in Europe. The students were organized individually and later in groups, to carry out searches for information relating to the paintings in different countries, analyzing artistic styles, historical context, the artists, and social and cultural repercussions (Figure 1). Dimension 2 consisted of an intervention in the 5 sessions of the “Art in Europe” unit. Here the students had to download the free “WallaMe” app to their phones (Figure 2).
Then, in groups, they went to the school playground to locate images of some of the most important paintings in European art history. Once they had captured the images, the students had to work in groups to find the following data: title of each painting, name of the artist, country of origin, historical and social context, style of painting used, description of the style and interpretation of the work. Instructions and materials were provided to help students structure their work and carry out the tasks on computers with an Internet connection in the classroom. Once completed, the final session consisted of a discussion to check the answers (name of painting, artist, style). We worked with interesting historical and artistic concepts while also learning about the geography of Europe, and we developed digital competences in a task that required continuous information searching.
When both groups had concluded the 5 sessions, a postest was carried out to evaluate academic performance in relation to the content imparted in the didactic unit. A questionnaire was also distributed to both groups, with a 1-5 Likert scale, to analyze the variables of motivation, commitment, level of fun and collaboration.
In both dimensions, the students searched for, and analyzed, information relating to the artistic content in the unit. The curricular structure complied with current education legislation: Content, assessment criteria and learning standards. Content is designed to foment the creative process: purpose of the painting, search for information (bibliographical and internet). Planning, work to be developed by analyzing works of art from various countries. The assessment criteria included: 1) Being able to distinguish the fundamental differences between fixed images and images in motion, classifying them according to the patterns learnt; 2) Ability to approach reading, analysis and interpretation of art and images that are fixed and in motion, in their historical and cultural contexts, understanding their meaning and social function in a critical way, and being able to produce new visual compositions based on the knowledge acquired; 3) Responsible use of information and communication technologies to search for, create and disseminate images that are fixed and in motion.
The following learning standards were established: Classification of fixed and moving images according to a range of criteria; Critical assessment of messages transmitted by the images; Development of good habits for ordering, correct usage and careful maintenance of the material and instruments used in their artistic creations; Demonstration of creativity and initiative in their artistic productions; Active participation in group tasks; Assessment of the compositions produced; Handling simple computing programs for sound and treatment of digital images (size, brightness, color, contrast…) that contribute to the development of the creative process.
Analysis and results
3.1. Dimension 1: Search for, and analysis of, information and works of art
A comparison of the data for the control and experimental groups yielded the results for the students who carried out searches for information using a conventional approach based on the textbook, and for those who used electronic devices and mobile phones with AR.
Pretest and postest. Wilcoxon test and sign test
Given that both sets of students had the same initial level of competence in the subject, the analysis of the postest is of particular interest as it presents a significant difference in the scores according to the treatment used. The results from the Wilcoxon test and the sign test, with a significance of 0.01, indicate a statistically significant improvement in various factors, thus, the research hypothesis regarding better academic performance, improved information search and analysis skills, level of fun and collaboration, is proven correct (Table 2).
Control group and experimental group
The scores showed a statistically significant improvement in the experimental group over the control group following treatment assignment. The students who performed the activity using electronic devices and ubiquitous learning scored higher in the variables analyzed than the control group that worked with the textbook (Table 3).
Dimension 2: Using “WallaMe” in an educational context: a case in primary education
In this dimension, we analyzed the intervention with the “WallaMe” app in Art Education. A quasi-experimental design was constructed since it was impossible to work with a random sample due to ethical or logistical considerations. A pretest was carried with the experimental group (O1), a program (X) and a postest (O2). The control group had a pretest (O1) and a postest (O2).
This design ensures control over the majority of sources and is more accessible in educational settings. In short, a pretest and postest were carried out, and there was also a control group, so, various non-parametric tests were run due to this being a cautious research proposal. The experimental group consisted of 69 students at three centers that had uploaded “WallaBe” to their mobile phones for 5 sessions of a didactic unit called “Art in Europe”. There was also a control group of 22 students who studied the same unit but used a textbook and a “traditional” form of teaching. The sampling was non-probabilistic and intentional, hence the quasi-experimental design. Although it was assumed that the number of students in the experimental group was sufficient to render it normal, a conservative approach was favored, with the running of non-parametric tests (Wilcoxon test and Mann-Whitney U test), with a significance level (α) of 0.01.
Pretest and postest: Wilcoxon test and sign test
An exploratory analysis of the data was performed; the low values in the preliminary test suggested that the students in both groups had the same initial levels. It was in the postest that scores varied, to indicate significant differences in the values according to the treatment applied. The Wilcoxon and sign tests values, with a significance of 0.01, indicate a statistically significant improvement, thus the research hypothesis is proven in terms of better academic results, greater motivation, level of fun, stronger information search skills and collaboration (Table 4).
Control group and experimental group
As well as the data that established that there was a variation, with an increase in student scores following application of the treatments assigned, the experimental groups showed a statistically significant improvement in relation to the control group.
The students who carried out the activity with “WallaMe” got better results for the variables analyzed than the control group that worked with textbook and via direct teacher instruction (Table 5).
There was a statistically significant improvement in the dependent variables analyzed, with greater incidence of motivation and level of fun, which emphasizes the active nature of the intervention applied (Figure 3).
The improvement in academic performance indicated in the test of the didactic unit on Art Education is appreciated in the control group values of 3.32 in the pretest and 3.59 in the postest, against 3.39 in the experimental group’s pretest (similar to the GC) and 4.01 in the postest (an improvement on the GC postest score). Both groups begin with similar scores in the pretest, but the learning processes lead to an improvement in the postest score for the experimental group, which exceeds 4 points. Based on the data from this statistical analysis, the trend and improvement are statistically significant when the intervention that is the object of this study was applied.
The results analysis enables us to compare our data with those of other authors, in relation to the impact of the approach proposed in our study regarding location and AR in educational settings. These resources can involve the students much more and can support learning in specific contexts. In line with the results of this research, other studies state that learning with localization and AR offers benefits for, and improvements in, learning processes (Bronack, 2011; Mathews, 2010; Rosenbaum, Klopfer, & Perry, 2007; Squire & Jan, 2007; Squire & Klopfer, 2007), and fosters student motivation (Bressler & Bodzin 2013; Cózar-de-Moya, Hernández, & Hernández, 2015; Han, Jo, Hyun, & So, 2015). A range of studies have evaluated ubiquity together with technological elements and AR within different contexts and areas (Huang, Sun, & Li, 2016; Kim & Han, 2014: Pendit, Zaibon, & Abubakar, 2015), and they emphasize the advantages they provide for interaction and motivation, which reflects the results in our study.
Other experiences in primary education highlight interaction, the creation of local, significant materials for students (Diego-Obregon, 2014), with curricular content and collaborative work (Ramirez & Cassinerio, 2014), and with works and projects centered on an environment-focused education (Kamarainen, Metcalf, Grotzer, Browne, Mazzuca, Tutwiler, & Dede, 2013). These studies and experiences from other countries present significant evidence that the use of AR and ubiquity in educational settings yields substantial improvements, as do the findings of our research.
This study is in line with other authors, in that AR-related learning activities often lead to innovative approaches that involve participative simulations (Wu, Lee, Chang, & Liang, 2013). Our study shows that the nature of these educational approaches differs considerably from the teacher-centered approach (Kerawalla, Luckin, Seljeflot, & Woolard, 2006; Squire & Jan, 2007). This study corroborates the coherence of the approach proposed by Klopfer & Squire (2008: 203-228) that emphasizes the need to balance competitive impulses and facilitate the decentralized flow of information in educational activities. The results in our study demonstrate the advantages of collaboration and the importance of technology and information management as essential skills (Kerawalla & al., 2006; Klopfer & Squire, 2008; Squire & Jan, 2007).
Although there are numerous theoretical studies on the potential for, and design of, AR apps, there is less research on the effects of AR-based game scenario design on improvements in learning, in other words, how this can be used in everyday classroom contexts.
Overall, it is considered that the resources and approaches analyzed are beneficial for pedagogical practice, and there are enough suitable projects and media available to design and develop educational activities. By triangulation of the data (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2000) and the results in the two dimensions analyzed, we can conclude that:
1) The use of mobile devices and ubiquity in the search for information relevant to Art Education improved academic achievement and competence in information search and analysis (Dimension 1, Table 2, Table 3).
2) The approaches based on ubiquitous learning, AR and information search contributed to an increase in the level of fun and the potential for collaboration between students (Dimension 1, Table 2; Table 3).
3) There are statistically significant improvements in academic performance when activities are applied in the school setting, as in the case detailed in dimension 2 (Table 4, Table 5; Figure 3).
4) There are statistically significant improvements in motivation, level of fun, information search skills and collaboration. The pedagogical use of ubiquitous AR in a project on European painting was successful as a case study, and the results present numerous advantages (Table 4; Table 5).
It is evident that an incorporation of this type requires resources, infrastructure and good internet connection, and adequately trained teachers for this pedagogical design to be integrated. However, as this study shows, when these are all in place, the evidence and advantages are clear. The apps currently on the market that use location and AR are clearly designed for gaming and entertainment, yet with some exceptions, and by well-planned design, they can be used to develop activities and projects that offer considerable advantages, as various studies have described and which our own study verifies.
In the case explored here, we emphasize the values that show statistically significant improvements in educational performance, motivation, level of fun, information search skills and student collaboration. This case has shown that game-based, dynamic activities that use localization and AR offer pedagogical benefits and represent an opportunity for success in enabling innovation in education through the application of emerging technologies.