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As Billinghurst (2002) succinctly puts it, Augmented Reality (AR) is the “ability to overlay computer graphics onto the real world” (p. 1). The vital distinction between AR and virtual reality is that AR keeps the user attached to and immersed in the user’s real, physical surroundings. VR, on the other hand, immerses the user in a setting and an experience radically different from the physical setting in which their bodies remain and from which perception and experience are extracted and separated. The motivation for AR is that such interfaces “enhance the real world experience, unlike other computer interfaces that draw users away from the real world and onto the screen” (p. 1, emphasis added). Admittedly, even though there are yet few widely available AR/VR technological incarnations, all of this is familiar. But the distinctions between AR, VR, and the real world are worth noting for a number of reasons and along different dimensions.
So, what are the essential distinctions between the experiences, particularly when the real world is included in the comparison? Given the status of the real-world experience as default, the motivating, defining characteristic for both AR and VR must be the information they purport to deliver that the real-world experience does not. Specifically, interestingly, ‘information’ here is not just content—such as how a clogged water heater tank must be flushed. There is also the immediacy of the delivery of that content, where immediacy is in both temporal and spatial terms – crucially, delivery is not just now but also here. The result is that content is itself immediate in the sense that it is intrinsically tied to the experience delivered by the AR/VR modality. The difference, then, between AR and VR is that VR creates and delivers both the experiential context and the informational content of interest, while AR delivers information on top of or in the experiential context of the real world – AR piggybacks on the real-world experience, while VR creates and presents an experience in toto.
An interesting upshot of understanding AR and VR in these terms is the way it in turn entails a reconceptualization of the real-world experience – in terms of information, content, and temporal and spatial immediacy. The real-world experience is thus placed on a continuum in each of these dimensions – where it rests on each continuum, relative to AR/VR, will depend on the context of user needs and goals. When those needs and goals are educational, particular real-world modalities of content-delivery become relevant to the comparison – books and their paper-incarnated kin, screens and speakers of all sorts, and teachers. Note how, of these ways of delivering content, one stands out in the way it delivers content in a way (potentially) tightly integrated with the rest of the real-world experience, as opposed to a mere means of delivering content quite divorced from the rest of the real-world experience – teachers (and their screen-incarnated versions). The seemingly simple, easy to take for granted, ability of a teacher to point and to describe and to explain is, presumably, the gold standard for what AR as an instructional modality hopes to achieve....