Augmented reality at the service of history teaching at school

The tablet hovers over the map. It picks up a symbol that appears on the screen.
A learning path is proposed.

Title of the doctoral thesis : Use of augmented reality for teaching history at school

PhD student : Xavier Nedelec.

dir. thesis : Thibaud Hulin.

Doctoral school : LECLA.

Laboratory : ELLIADD, UFC.

This doctorate is part of the project IRRIGATED, funded by the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region.

Encouraged for several years by the Ministry of National Education, digital technology is becoming widespread in schools. Investment campaigns follow one another. The programs integrate specific skills in digital learning, resources expand the educational offer and training plans are offered to teachers. Thus the range of computerized and connected objects is growing in the professional environments of teachers. The latter are forced by choice or not to adapt and renew some of their teaching practices (Hamon and Villemonteix 2015).

The same goes for educational research. Where, necessarily, the digital revolution in education forces us to observe the effects of the use of digital tools on learning theories (Lacelle 2014). And beyond that, augmented reality (AR) technology raises the same questions about its adaptation to the sphere of didactics and the pedagogical models that underlie it.

AR technology was developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its purpose is to create a 3D simulation visible through glasses or a helmet. The improvement of the device leads to the display of virtual information in front of the user's eyes. Industries have adopted the AR device such as aviation. In the 2010s the public discovered augmented reality. These are in particular the Google Glass glasses but which do not know the expected success.

AR Acceleration

However, the acceleration in the use of AR continues. Thanks to the Snapchat application and the worldwide success of the game Pockémon Go, the user moves in a real environment in order to capture Pockémon. As for Apple's Arkit software, it allows digital elements to be embedded in the image captured by the iPhone camera. These are displayed in a coherent way with the environment, which the Ikea brand uses, for example, to simulate the presence of its furniture in its living room.

We can see that augmented reality is taking hold in our real world and its development continues to grow. According to Fortune Business Insights news site, the AR market estimated in 2020 globally at $4.16 billion grew to $6.12 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach nearly $97 billion in 2028. are the recovery of post-Covid demand from many sectors of the economy (industry, health, gaming, education, etc.)1.

So, it is clear that the use of augmented reality is increasingly prevalent in our daily environment. Obviously, school and education are not immune to the impact of augmented reality applications in the field of pedagogy. It is therefore appropriate to question the benefit of using this technology for student learning. We also need to question its place and its integration in the teacher's pedagogy.

Teaching history through AR

Thus, this study project is centered on the teaching of History as a school subject for the cm2 level. Its experimental field will be based on an augmented reality application that would have to be designed. The question is whether it could make it possible to consider a sufficiently generic design methodology that can be transposed to other disciplines and/or other levels? This question amounts to taking an interest in the didactics of History. It is also a question of observing whether the use of AR can positively change its teaching.

Therefore, first, in order to answer these questions, we will write a state of the art. This will study the use of augmented reality in education. We will also study AR design methods for training and education and history didactics to inform our view of current research in these areas. Then, we will draw up a working methodology for the project. This will be based on qualitative research integrating Design Driven Research (ROC) to develop an AR application. Finally, we will develop a last part around the design of this application. This is where a cultural player comes in: the Museum of the Great War in Meaux. We will offer a suggested schedule.

State of the art on augmented reality at school

Definition of augmented reality

On the Wikipedia site, augmented reality is defined as "the superposition of reality and elements (sounds, 2D images, 3D, videos, etc.) calculated by a computer system in real time. ". Reality as it presents itself is amended via computerized information appearing on our screens (glasses or smartphone). However, we could deepen this definition as suggested by P. Fushs, who specifies that the technical explanation is not enough to define it entirely and does not allow us to glimpse its richness. Indeed, the principle of augmented reality is to determine what is augmented.

Obviously, physical reality cannot be augmented. However, we believe that it is the perception that we have of this reality that is modified. And to specify that this perception has no purpose other than our action on reality. Therefore, the role of AR allows “to promote understanding and mastery of reality”. It is also about “carrying out sensory-motor and cognitive activities” (Fuchs, Hugues, and Nannipieri, s. d.). Furthermore, we observe the technical improvement of smartphones and tablets. Thanks to the addition of several cameras, interfacing has been simplified and its use has increased (Dugas 2018). The artificial world appears when a trigger is picked up by the camera of the mobile device or a computer.

Use of augmented reality in education

Regarding the use of augmented reality for education, it exists but is not fully exploited. The first uses of AR for learning date back to the 1990s. In France, few surveys present an exhaustive picture of its integration into teachers' pedagogical practices. That of Canopé questions the uses of immersive technologies (augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, 360°). It is mainly centered on secondary and higher education teachers. The survey does not provide a quantitative view of the number of teachers using immersion methods in their teaching. However, the objective is “to be able to identify teachers who had already used immersion techniques for the realization of pedagogical and educational projects”. The author draws up a qualitative picture of the type of use that is made of it (Brossard, nd). The study notes, among other things, that AR is one of the most widely used technologies in education.

Admittedly, there is not enough significant data on the deployment of immersive technologies in education. However, the development of AR applications that can be used with a smartphone or tablet is increasing its use in the classroom. Its mode of operation creates a link between the learner and the content which a priori improve their learning (Antaya 2017). Thus, AR is exhibited in different formats. We can find a variety of solutions like the QR code that displays virtual content. On the other hand, applications in the service of reading offer assistance with dyslexia2 (interactive picture books). Finally, the combination of augmented reality and serious games or even digitally enriched books (Dugas 2018).

The obstacles to the deployment of augmented reality in the classroom

However, obstacles to its deployment and use in the classroom exist and have been identified...

  • The ergonomics of the equipment which sometimes does not allow efficient use in a classroom situation linked to difficulties of all kinds (technical, visual, etc.).
  • The lack of teacher training is very often pointed out in general when addressing the issue of digital technology in schools (Dugas 2018).

But it should be noted that augmented reality is similar to other immersive technologies. It is currently in an exploratory phase within educational systems. However, immersive technology projects are developing, including some in augmented reality. Educational institutions (DNE, Eduscol, DANE, Canopé) promote educational digital initiatives aimed at schools. They launch applied research projects with publication through “digital thematic groups”. One of them has the theme: “digital immersion and virtual reality”.

As an extension of these experiments, resources disseminated on academic sites make it possible to create learning situations. These divert the purpose of certain applications such as Story Sphere. This tool helps to build 360° videos. Let's also mention the site of the Academy of Lille which provides tutorials. These make it possible to assist in the creation of immersive virtual journeys with a smartphone. This new offer of immersive resources questions the educational models that would be best able to integrate this technology.

Use of augmented reality to facilitate learning and the implementation of so-called active pedagogy.

From the outset, many studies note that the use of immersive technologies and in particular with augmented reality have results on the learning of learners. AR has a positive impact on motivation, which itself influences attention, an important element in the acquisition of knowledge (Lewis, Plante, and Lemire 20211). However, the integration of this technology in an educational device involves designing a pedagogy that puts the learner into activity.

Active pedagogies place students at the center of the learning process. They want to be an alternative to lectures by proposing problem-situations to be solved, by promoting collaborative arrangements between learners, by claiming the principle of trial and error, by putting experience at the heart of learning. . (Gilliot, n.d.). This obviously calls into question the position of the teacher. This is no longer the transmitter of knowledge, installed in front of the class, but accompanying it, the one who guides the learner in the construction of his knowledge.

Active pedagogies

Stemming from constructivist and socio-constructivist theories, active pedagogies are fundamentally sized to integrate digital artifacts such as serious games or immersive virtual environments. Moreover, some claim that educational devices using augmented technology enrich learning. Collaborative learning with AR allows learners to deepen their knowledge by attempting to solve and explore a problem as a team (Demitriadou, Stavroulia, and Lanitis 2020). It adapts very well to flipped learning and accompanies the learner in an individualized approach that can allow him to work at his own pace (Chang and Hwang 2018).

However, limits to the use of AR in a learning situation have also been observed. The limits can be technical but also functional. Indeed, in their design, some applications take insufficient account of the user experience, in this case the person responsible for orchestrating the educational implementation: the teacher. AR was then designed as a pedagogical resource, but the reflection necessary to create a learning situation seemed neglected (Anastassova et al. 2007).

Therefore, the contribution of AR in an educational device is considered convincing and effective. However, one of the reported limitations concerns in particular a pedagogical offer adapted to the teaching needs of the pedagogue. This point is important to emphasize especially when it concerns primary school teachers. The job requires a versatility characterized by a mastery of pedagogical gestures specific to the many disciplines to be taught. All do not have the same ease in teaching a field because the profiles are varied due in particular to the initial training of each one.

History teaching in primary school

Among the missions it assigns to the body of teachers, the Ministry of National Education presents general objectives in the teaching of school history. The school aims to build a national identity, to train enlightened citizens who share common cultural and intellectual landmarks, to transmit a national, social and heritage memory (Souplet 2018).

However, according to Benoit Falaize, primary school teachers face difficulties in teaching history at school. First of all, this discipline worries teachers because it is loaded with political and memorial issues. He asserts that there are “also didactic questions”. Non-historian teachers wonder which document to choose, which objective to pursue for such a document, how to conduct a session, which activity to carry out? Whether or not to “make a story”3. Very often, the teaching tool used by the teacher is the history-geography textbook. The textbooks concentrate all the school knowledge on which the teacher relies to orchestrate his course.

The construction of speech

It is therefore appropriate to question the construction of the discourse that the teacher holds with his students, if he is modeled on the work, if he has sufficient knowledge to develop a historical narrative or if he produces a narration from resources from children's literature, videos, or reproductions of works of art.

It is also important to mention the pedagogical approach used. Some studies have shown that teachers very often orchestrate their history lessons according to a dialogued masterful teaching as "privileging a logic of exposure". Research on learning situations in the classroom highlights the organization of sessions according to a succession of “didactical loops”: the questioning of the teacher, the answers of the students, the evaluation of the response and the formalization by the teacher. This pattern demonstrates a “low intensity” of student activity.

This state of affairs also reinforces the word of the teacher who carries the knowledge but does not allow the students to build their knowledge (Cariou, nd). Moreover, even if the act of memorizing facts, dates, characters is essential, this in no way proves that the student is able to restore the meaning of the story that has been taught to him. However, the requirements of history programs emphasize the student's oral and written narrative activity, which is confirmed by Didier Carrioux who insists on the fact that historical writings help to build " a historian's thought” (aggiornamento nd).

The construction of historical knowledge

Didier Carrioux continues by indicating that the production of written narrative allows the construction of historical knowledge because skills related to historical narration come into play: “personification, figuration, modalisation, conceptualisation”. It is from this work that the student builds his knowledge and accesses the meaning of history. History programs insist on the construction of "historical landmarks in time", developed on the basis of two criteria: memorization and the mobilization of "landmarks in a historical context"4. This is where the whole construction of the meaning of history comes into play.

However, there are testimonies that reflect the difficulties experienced by school teachers in teaching history, either due to lack of training, lack of documentation, or on how to approach the complexity of a period. Teachers also deplore the difficulty students have in representing historical periods: they show a lot of historical confusion, revealing a lack of mastery of historical landmarks or vocabulary specific to the period (Loison et al., nd) .

Didactic solutions and student success

We can then wonder about the dichotomy observed between, on the one hand, didactic solutions aimed at improving the learning of history, promoting student success within the framework of the programs and, on the other hand, the problems encountered in the field by teachers: building stable and contextualized time markers.

The didactics of history is sometimes judged to be “unstructured”: “researchers tinker with models borrowed from other didactics and from the social sciences” (Lautier and Allieu-Mary 2008). It may then be useful and interesting to think about a didactic tool designed on augmented reality technology for learning history through which we can implement various educational situations, where the student finds himself in a real activity of production and construction of its knowledge.

The creation of an augmented reality application for research purposes necessarily dictates the development of a working methodology in order to answer the questions raised by the research problem.

Research methodology.

A qualitative method: objectives and data collection

Objectives and organization

This thesis questions the positive effects or not that AR would have on student learning, on the teacher's pedagogical practice as well as on the modification, if it takes place, of the knowledge to be taught, of the use in the teaching augmented reality technology on the one hand. It is also a question of knowing whether a methodology for designing educational activity assisted by AR can be sufficiently generic for it to be transposable to other disciplines and/or other school levels. For this, we intend to rely on qualitative research.

The objective of this research approach is to collect field data in order to try to explain the added value or not of the use of an augmented reality application on learning and on the act of teaching. . It is through the implementation of experiments in an ecological situation, that is to say in the classroom, that we will observe and measure the effects on learning.

Control groups

To do this, we will have control groups which for some will receive so-called "academic" teaching, or at least without the contribution of immersive technology, while other groups will experience teaching with AR. . The interest of having several groups experimenting with AR is justified because the objective of the project is to measure the use of the artefact according to predefined educational devices. Thus we could compare the results of the experiments carried out on the groups having experienced specific learning situations. Remember that we want to anchor the experimental approach in a variety of so-called active pedagogical organizations that engage the student in a constructive approach to his knowledge, either personally or collaboratively. It is not necessarily a question of announcing which device would be the most efficient, but of brushing a wide range of positive and negative points, and improvements to be made in the combination of teaching with an immersive digital solution.

Field data collection

Furthermore, data collection in the field will take several forms. First of all, we will rely on the collection of testimonies in the form of interviews either with students or teachers. For learners, we can, for example, probe their impressions of using this technology by asking them about their motivation, the perception of their learning, what they think they have succeeded or not, whether individual or team use is preferable and understand the reasons for their choices. Video recordings, experiments during the use of the application could be carried out, thus densifying the data directory.

We also need to question the teacher, who is responsible for the educational organization, about the interest of working with an immersive application. The teacher being the user of this artefact, a tool with which he must compose to plan his teaching, we can imagine designing the application together. For this, it is necessary to identify the objectives and needs of the teacher. Thus, the objectives and needs emanate from the users which must be taken into account. This is why establishing Design-Driven Research seems to be an appropriate method for designing and collecting data.

The Design Driven Research (ROC) method

Thus, in order to meet these new needs, increase our repertoire of data and help us to nourish our reflection, we could envisage a collaborative development of the application between the teacher and the researcher within the framework of a Research Oriented by the Design (ROC).

A ROC is a collaboration between the researcher and the practitioner. Its aim is to produce a prototype which must be tested in ecological conditions. Unlike laboratory experimentation, the test in ecological conditions reveals complex and unforeseen situations. Faced with these unforeseen events, the test encourages us to review the design hypotheses initially formulated (Sanchez and Monod-Ansaldi 2015).

The crossing of professional eyes

The interest of this process for our project lies in the crossing of teachers' views answering questions about their use of digital technology in their professional practice, planning their teaching in relation to immersive AR technology, and delivering a vision that could meet and define their needs. It is their testimonies, their perceptions, their reflections on teaching, the use of digital technology that will help us to create the prototype of the application. Prototyping leads to classroom experiments to establish a collection of usage data. These collections are ethnographic in nature: interviews, questionnaires.

The design of an augmented reality artefact would then become an object of study located at the crossroads of didactics, pedagogical engineering and learning theories. It is from its design and use that we could experiment, observe, proceed to iterations in order to subsequently measure the effects on student learning, on the teacher's pedagogical practice in connection with the theories so-called active teaching methods.

Design and development of a reality application augmented centered on the learning of history.

Central object of the study, the design of an augmented reality application must be the central and necessary element to be developed prior to any experimentation. It is from this artefact that the research question and the resulting hypotheses may or may not be validated. Beforehand, a presentation of the context will make it possible to better understand the purposes of the application.

Basis of the project

One of the themes of the cm2 program is the treatment of 20th century conflicts. The First World War is a major theme. It illustrates the brutality of the conflict with its frozen war format throughout its duration. The pupils have already heard of this event, probably mentioned in a private setting, but on the other hand, at that age, have never studied it within a school discipline, with a chronological and thematic reading. The memorial dimension of this event is also manifested by the echo of the institutional celebrations dedicated to it: November 11, War memorial, and which are events that the teacher cannot pass over in silence and that he must, if possible , exploit in the classroom as urged by the aims of the history programs in order to build an identity and a national memory.

This fruitful period by the quantity of resources that it conceals must be limited to the principal historical facts. However, the testimonies of the actors of this conflict fuel the desire to discover more and deepen the exploration. This requires investment, resources, and time to work in class. Obviously there are many entries, especially in literature.

To give more credibility to the discourse, to the learning path to invent and amend the teaching of history, we asked for the participation of a cultural player: the Museum of the Great War in Meaux (77).

A cultural player: the Museum of the Great War in Meaux

Beyond its purpose of conservation, dissemination of a founding heritage of a common memory, a museum has an essential educational mission: to communicate with the public and schoolchildren in particular. The museum is the place to visit par excellence where you go with your family or your class. But it is sometimes difficult to access it: physical distance or cultural barrier. The original idea that augmented reality can offer is to bring museum collections into the classroom. Without replacing a real visit, which would give the possibility of opening the museum to the most distant pupils.

The Museum of the Great War of Meaux has a rich collection of several thousand works, objects, documents which punctuate a visit route allowing to apprehend the military aspect of the conflict but also the stakes and problems human and social. The museum relies on reconstructions that immerse us in a tangible reality. This museum offer helps the spectator to build mental representations of the First World War and to apprehend throughout the visit a discourse on the conflict and its impact on the political, economic, technical, technological and daily life of both soldiers and civilians. . For cm2 students, a visit is an excellent deepening of the teaching received in class.

Scripted learning paths

However, could not these many objects or reconstructions given to see, for a small handful of them, be part of a scripted learning path in the augmented reality application and usable by the teacher in class? These objects have the virtue of being either existing vestiges of the time, or of being a reconstruction established from historical criteria. Their common point is that they all have historical and scientific validation. Incorporating these artifacts into an AR application could give learning paths powerful storytelling credibility as they embody tangible veracity of WWI history.

Obviously, the participation of certain museum departments (those of conservation, collections and the public) in the development of an application for teaching about the First World War requires agreement on their interventions. The museum being the owner of the collections, it is in its right to decide which objects from its background can be used to illustrate the application. Moreover, in a perspective of collaboration, which is to submit objects to illustrate routes, the museum is also the guarantor of the historical and scientific discourse by meeting previously determined learning objectives. Technically, we will make video recordings of the selected objects. The immersive environment will then receive these objects.

Museum participation

The participation of a museum institution like the Meaux museum in this research project suggests that we first define the frameworks of our partnership. This collaboration should lead to an agreement between the museum and the University, in particular for the use of the collections.

In order to highlight certain objects from the museum's collections, we believe that the design of an AR tool can offer an in-depth study of this period, fully engaging the student in a productive and creative activity and helping the teacher to orchestrate a dynamic pedagogy.

An augmented reality app

Many studies on immersive technologies in education (virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality) point to the motivational aspect it provokes in learners who work with it (Lewis, Plante, and Lemire 2021). Motivation is the engine of successful learning, which also has the advantage of improving concentration and visualization of concepts (Lewis, Plante, and Lemire 2021).

The project aims to move away from a teaching that we could qualify as “classic”, based on the study of textbooks, iconography, video or sound resources. We would like to propose a didactic object describing an initiatory journey from a virtual and immersive environment, which will hopefully arouse curiosity and desire at first but always with an educational will.

To do this, one of the targeted themes for the study of the First World War would relate to the concept of trench warfare. This concept describes the format of the war characteristic of the conflict, the life of the soldiers, the armament used. Concretely, as we could envision it, the application could take the form of a reconstructed trench model from which augmented reality would extend the student's learning experience. Augmented reality would provide “knowledge” type information or “problem-questions”.

Pedagogical engineering to determine needs and set objectives

In the design of a digital tool, pedagogical engineering has several functions.

First of all, it is a question of determining learning needs by questioning several points:

  • the challenges: how can an AR application help improve student learning?
  • the context: how to adapt this application for learning history at school?
  • the public: how to propose an application usable by the pupils and by the teacher?
  • the terms of use: how to make this application usable in class in various educational devices?

Engineering must determine learning and instructional objectives. In terms of learning, it is a question of measuring the degrees of understanding, of restitution of knowledge after using the application. From a pedagogical point of view, this consists of planning scenarios according to methods of use. Then, the writing of pedagogical scenarios must make the learning methods (constructivism, socio-constructivism, etc.) consistent with the tools that will serve them, here AR. Coming from the scenarios, the creation of resources composes the contents: the knowledge to be transmitted, and their formatting within the framework of the objectives to be achieved. There are declarative, procedural and conditional knowledge. Finally, the evaluation of the solution must punctuate the course. The evaluation takes place according to iterations tested in class. These iterations are made with the help of volunteer teachers taking the form of a user-centered design materialized by Design-Oriented Research (ROC).

Design Driven Research (ROC)

In order to meet the needs shared by users and make this application generic enough for use in the classroom with, let's imagine, any other teacher concerned with the subject of teaching history, we can imagine development by involving teachers. As mentioned previously in the methodology part, the idea of implementing a ROC is used to develop a prototype. We will test it in ecological conditions to verify our research and design hypotheses.

The tested prototype delivers data with feedback from users (students, teachers). Their testimonies are a response to their expectations and their needs. These iterations will allow us to evaluate the application and make changes. The implementation of a ROC made from interviews with teachers and about their visions of the application, can lead to a methodology that is sufficiently generic, and that can generate one or more design models that can be could apply to other AR-oriented projects. From collections of teachers' needs, we could create design tools that can be adapted to other disciplines.

In-class tests

First we will test the first version of the application in class. We will conduct the experiment to evaluate the solution in order to identify the obstacles to use: the interface and the adaptation to the different educational formats. In a second step, we will integrate other teachers into the ROC to test the solution (without the students). Finally in a third step, the PEs will use the solution in a teaching situation in the classroom, according to a predefined pedagogical format.

Finally, the development of this application is part of a project management approach. As we want to think of it, this project is part of a duration of which the table below outlines the main lines.

1Xavier Nédélec (School Teachers)App design. Application development. IterationLiterature review on the questions of the use of AR in education and the questions of didactics of history. Testing the application in the “laboratory”.
2Xavier Nédélec School Teachers (PE) volunteersDesign Oriented Research (ROC) with PE. Application iteration and changes.Class experimentation (me). PE data collection. Student data collection. Analysis and first validation of hypotheses.
3Volunteer School Teachers (PE)Design Driven Research (ROC) Application ExperimentationSecond test in class by the PEs Collection of student data and PE data.
4Xavier Nedelec
Writing the thesis dissertation


By nature, the school is the ideal receptacle for working with virtual digital environments. However, even if it is the place of education and training, it is still today insufficiently willing to use all the technological innovation available to it. The investment costs but also the level of competence and training of teachers to integrate digital objects into their practice are obstacles to its development in the classroom.

It is likely that the integration of many solutions does not sufficiently meet the needs that teachers might want. Perhaps the design is too restrictive? Or are the teaching methods not adapted to the integration of these digital tools? Shouldn't certain pedagogical practices be reviewed and corrected if we want to rely on the digital tool to enrich didactic resources?

An emerging issue

The subject of augmented reality within education is an issue that has emerged more and more in recent years as technology improves, applications become more democratic and diversify. Tangible reality is enriched with information allowing us to understand our real environment. Thus, we perceive through its use of multiple possibilities to learn, to enrich its knowledge.

The ambition to propose an augmented reality application for teaching history in elementary school aims to question the question of the use and integration of digital tools, to question the needs of teaching by teachers to measure its effectiveness in student learning and to question the uses within innovative teaching systems.

Think about teacher needs

Taking an interest in the needs of teachers means questioning them about their practices, their needs and their apprehensions. This is why associating them with the development of an AR application means first of all making sure that you create support for the very principle of using AR. It is to encourage reflection on the pedagogical questions underlying the use and the way to promote student learning.

But without being sure of the benefit that this could bring, we need to measure the effectiveness of this technology with students. Is the learning necessarily part of active pedagogical practices? Are the students progressing or does AR remain only a superficial object? Contextualized in the specific teaching of history, is AR an added value for the primary school teacher? Does it amend the discourse of the discipline with regard to classical teaching?

The questions are open to experimentation in an ecological situation. The constitution of a sufficiently exhaustive catalog of data will help to analyze the effects on the learning and teaching of history and to justify the use or not of this virtual immersive technology in other disciplinary fields.


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3 (2016)

4 History-Geography/locating in time: constructing historical landmarks

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