University of South Florida St. Petersburg



For some of the augmented reality simulations being developed through this research, students will be able to hold and manipulate a cube that is mapped to their phone and other digital screens.

Education and Physics faculty team up to develop augmented reality simulations to enhance physics education

From gravity to electromagnetism, the study of physics includes some of the most challenging concepts to grasp.

Faculty from the University of South Florida’s Education and Physics departments are working to help students better visualize such complicated theories through the use of augmented reality technology. 

A recent $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation is going towards developing simulations to improve students’ understanding and education outcomes in general physics courses. Once completed, these simulations will be housed on a platform for other educators to use in a classroom, a museum or other learning environments for free. 

A total of six augmented reality simulations – combining real world experiences with highly visual and interactive computer-generated content - will be produced and cover some of the core concepts of the subject: magnetic fields, rotational motion, thermodynamics, optics, forces and circuits. 

“When teaching in large lecture halls, you really can lose the hands-on component of education, especially for a subject like physics,” said David Rosengrant, campus dean of the College of Education on the USF St. Petersburg campus and primary investigator for this project. “Technology such as augmented reality is a tool that we should use more as it will allow us to reach into the world where a lot of students today consume information: their phones and other devices.” 

Over the course of the next year, Education and Physics faculty working with USF’s Advanced Visualization Center will develop a variety of simulations that are beneficial to educators and useful in a classroom setting. For some simulations, students will hold and manipulate a cube that is mapped to a digital screen. For others, students can change certain parameters of a simulation, altering how it runs. Each will allow students to better explore subjects and enhance the learning experience

“During the pandemic, we saw how everyone had to change how they teach, and it has created an expectation from students that more material should be accessed online. Augmented reality technology can facilitate that access and provide more exciting and deeper opportunities for learning,” said Karina Hensberry, associate professor of Mathematics Education on the St. Petersburg campus. 

Once developed, each simulation will undergo refinements during the trial stages. Focus groups of educators will also provide user feedback for fine tuning, ensuring the simulation achieves the desired learning outcomes. 

The augmented reality simulations are expected to be introduced to students taking the Physics 1 general course during the 2024 calendar year. These courses typically consist of 250-300 students in a large lecture hall.  

“My students often say to me, when you show me how to draw what is going on in this problem, then I can understand it, but it is hard for me to picture it myself. Augmented reality will help them picture what is going on,” said Garrett Matthews, an associate professor of Physics on the Tampa campus. “I hope to incorporate this technology into both of the courses I teach for the semester and then convince my colleagues to do the same so we can reach more than 1,000 students a semester.” 

While using this interactive technology to teach students, researchers will measure how effective it is.  They plan to conduct student interviews between those who have used augmented reality and those who have not, track gains and analyze other relevant data.

The research team is also planning to develop a curriculum around the use of augmented reality technology for physics education that teachers can – like the simulations themselves - use for free. The curriculum will align with the Next Generation Science Standards, making the simulations and curriculum available for any educator in the United States and abroad to have access to and use for grades 6-12.

Based on experiences and successes with the technology in the college classroom, the researchers hope to expand the use of augmented reality for teaching concepts in physics into other settings and groups. 

“Learning doesn’t just happen within four walls of a classroom, so we are looking at venues like museums, festivals and other opportunities beyond traditional schools,” Rosengrant said. “Situations where the public can learn about these concepts on their own and see how physics plays a part in their everyday life.”

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