Colin Zhang, Department of Actuarial Studies and Business Analytics, MQBS, has been experimenting with using augmented reality (AR) in delivering content to over 400 undergraduate students in ACST2001 Financial Modelling. TECHE caught up with Colin to find out how AR has been incorporated into the weekly content for students.

Teaching financial modelling seems like an unlikely place to find augmented reality being used. What made you think to use it in your teaching context?

It’s the first time in the business school that augmented reality technology (AR) has been used to deliver financial modelling content to students. My initial idea was to try to improve student engagement as this type of visualisation can make content more memorable and enhance understanding. I’ve now had two semesters of including AR content in my lecture materials.

When students use their smart phones to hover over the relevant page in their week 8 lecture notes, it shows a visualisation of the concept of the duration of a Treasury Bond.

AR vs VR – what’s the difference?
To participate in a virtual reality experience, you would generally wear a headset which effectively covers your own vision and replaces that with something else to give you the impression that you are somewhere else. In an augmented reality experience, you use your smart phone or tablet. You still see everything that is in front of you, but it is enhanced with an overlay that adds information via your device screen, such as text, an image, a 3D object or animation onto what you are already seeing.

What sort of AR content did you build and how do students access it?

I created AR content for things like timelines, formulas and cash flow diagrams which I attach to my lecture notes. Students use the Adobe Aero app on their phone (or tablet). As they read through the lecture slides or notes they will find an AR code. They scan the AR code and that triggers an AR visualisation. This could be a relevant numerical formula for solving the problem, a graph, a cash-flow timeline or the answer to the problem.

The AR visualisation that pops up in the week 10 lecture notes is a contingent payment diagram of an insurance product.

Colin explains how it works in this 1.30 min video clip.

Tell us about the software and equipment you used. What was the degree of difficulty to get it work for your purpose?

It is possible to build content using just the Adobe Aero software and a phone. It’s not that hard. But the part that can be tricky, or at least a little bit time consuming, is if you need to build a three-dimensional model. So, in some cases I just used an example template that already existed in the Aero software where you can directly click, drag and drop and then I just have to anchor it to the relevant page of the lecture notes or slides. I also used Adobe Dimension software to build a 3D model for a timeline.

I received an Adobe grant for this project in 2021 and I used the grant to hire a research assistant to help me complete the model building part. It was a little bit time consuming, but it resulted in us being able to have at least one or two pages of the lecture notes for every week tagged with AR content.

I created the first three weeks’ content by myself, and then I showed it to my research assistant, and they learned how to do use it within about half an hour. Once you are familiar with using the software, it only takes about an hour to create content.

There is other software available but the reason I used Adobe Aero is, firstly, I received a grant from them and secondly, Macquarie has a subscription, so it is free for us to use. The subscription allows the students to view any AR content that we create for free (but does not allow them to create their own content).

The week 12 lecture notes pop up with an AR visualisation of a replicating portfolio diagram of a European call option.

Did you know?

Macquarie has a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Aero) so all Macquarie Staff have access to use Adobe Aero for free.

What do students think about the AR content?

I surveyed the students to collect their feedback, asking whether the use of AR had a positive impact and whether it was helpful for their study. Most of the students were very positive about the use of AR in this unit – they found it interesting and said it helped with their understanding, and I believe it improved student participation in this unit. 91.84% of student survey respondents believed that the AR content improved their learning experience.

Did you consider accessibility for all students?

Yes, to ensure fairness for all students I not only created the AR content, but I also recorded it using my own phone and uploaded that as a video so that the students who do not have this software or access to a phone/tablet, or do not want to use it, can still watch the video clip to see what happens. The AR is just an extra layer of visualisation that makes the information pop out and hopefully stand out in their minds. 63.27% of surveyed students stated that they watched these video clips.

Last year the software was only available for the iOS platform (so only for the iPhone and iPad) but not Android. But this year it is also available for Android.

What are your plans for using AR in your own teaching in the future?

So far, we have at least one question in the lecture notes for each teaching week with AR content. I can re-use AR content that I’ve already created, and it is easy to adapt for future sessions. I would like to build more content when I have time and resources.

The AR visualisation in the week 11 lecture notes depicts a replicating portfolio of a forward contract on 90-day bank bill.

In the future, I’d like to make it more interactive. It is possible to add animation, allow students to type into it or play with it, or include different scenes to make it more interesting. This is the future!

Building AR content is a long-term investment – after a few years we can have very sophisticated, eye-catching 3D models and students will love it.

Do you have any ideas on how to make it easier for others to get started with AR?

I recently attended a presentation about AR in teaching at the International Higher Education Conference (HEAD). The presenter spoke about creating an online community-based AR library. I think that’s the future for MQ – if we have staff who want to learn about and use AR then if we have our own library of AR content and models developed at MQ, then we could share content with our colleagues, and they could use it and adapt it for their own purposes. So, once I’ve built content for my unit, I would upload it into the online library and then someone from another unit or discipline, say engineering, could use those models. If there is an existing model, then it’s just a few minutes to adapt it – you just drag and point and that’s it!

If anyone is interested in finding out more about creating augmented reality content for their teaching, I’d be happy for them to contact me:

Know of anyone else using augmented reality in teaching at MQ?

Let us know by leaving a comment below.

More about the Augmented Reality software Adobe Aero:

Banner image: ra2 studio on Shutterstock
All other images supplied by Colin Zhang

Posted by Kylie Coaldrake

Learning and Teaching Development Coordinator Office of PVC (Learning and Teaching)

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