AR Projects


Tree Investigators: A research and development project

Awaiting about 300 outdoor-adventure-seeking 4th graders for an exciting day!

Tree Investigators  research project

Tree Investigators is an augmented reality and mobile learning research project that we are conducting in conjunction  informal learning institutions — including the Arboretum at Penn State and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

You can find empirical findings and design principles from Tree Investigators on our Publications & Research page.  Our research examines how to support science learning with mobile devices in informal learning institutions, including the Arboretum at Penn State.  We analyze video records families using mobile technologies with naturalists to understand how mobile devices supported science talk related to tree biodiversity. Our conceptual framework brings together research on technological supports for science learning and research on strategies that encourage families to engage in conversations that support observation and explanation practices.

Our early findings suggest that families engaged in high levels of perceptual talk (describing and identifying) while using mobile computers. Commonly, families articulated scientific observations when supported by prompts, visuals, and scaffolds delivered by the mobile computers. Families struggled to make explanations about the biological importance of what they saw in relation to ecological principles; however, families made connections to their everyday life within explanations they developed at the arboretum. To date, our research shows the importance of mobile supports that provided on-demand, localized sense- making resources for explanation building while limiting observational complexity.  We will continue to explore these topics!


Tree Investigators as a service learning project within Penn State classes

Tree Investigators is also integrated into Heather and Susan’s university classes as a service learning project.  Graduate students learn about integrating mobile computing into informal learning environments while the grad students design materials for an Arbor Day field trip for fourth grade students.

Arbor Day 2013: Photography as Observation

In our university classes in 2013, we examined how learners could use digital photography to support their scientific observations.

Using a side-by-side photo app learners took their own photos of plants and shrubs as they observed the differences between species.

The learners engaged deeply at the Arboretum by taking their own photographs and deciding which pictures best exemplified their newly acquired tree knowledge.




Arbor Day 2012: Flower and Pollinator Power!

In 2012, we examined how learners annotated digital photography to support their scientific observations related to pollination. The team developed activities that explored topics concerning the environment and wildlife in their local area.

We also integrated 3-D modeling into the activity.  Using 3-D models allowed learners to see plant-animal connections in their local ecosystem.






Arbor Day 2011:  Identifying trees using scientific evidence that is enhanced by augmented reality!

In 2011, we examined how learners used augmented reality (AR) to support learning to two ways. First, the learners scanned QR codes to find out more information about trees located at the Arboretum. Each QR code opened a link on a mobile website with text and images that illustrate scientific concepts for the learners. Second, learners acted as tree investigators to solve a mystery tree quest where they coordinate evidence on-site with an interactive app.

Students identify a mystery tree’s identity based on fruit, leaf shape, flower color, and other characteristics.


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