Reflecting, learning, anticipating

It’s a new year and traditionally time for looking forward, and not for looking back. For the SCARLET project we’re just over half way through and it is therefore a perfect time to reflect on the activity undertaken so far, and the lessons learned to date. This blog post is my opportunity, as project director, to take stock of where we are in preparation for the coming 5 months of remaining funding, but also to start thinking about longer-term sustainability of the innovative work Team SCARLET have been doing.

Just to recap: SCARLET is all about using leading-edge technology (Augmented Reality) to enhance the student experience. It resonates with the University of Manchester’s first two strategic goalsfirst class research and outstanding learning and student experience. Moreover, it showcases the approach advocated through the Online Learning Task Force’s  Collaborate to Compete report, in developing a ‘Mixed Team’ to work together ‘on the pedagogic and technological elements of online learning to enable institutions to offer innovative, up-to-date, high quality provision. Good Practice must also be shared’ (p.7). As well as sharing good practice the SCARLET team aims to share lessons about what does not work so well, so that others can avoid these pitfalls.

The JISC call from which this project was funded (Learning and Teaching Innovation Grant) sought projects which ‘identify areas of activity suitable for further investment and that will enhance the overall educational experience of students throughout the sector by identifying and solving common problems…’ and are innovative, that is ‘are unique or pioneering – something that has not been done previously’ and ‘use innovative technologies or practice to directly benefit the learner’.   Across six strands of the rolling call, only a handful of projects were funded and SCARLET is only the second to use AR. Critically we are one of the first projects to use AR in teaching and learning, although we are building on work that precedes ours, notably the University of Exeter’s AR: A Different View of Learning project. The remainder of this post collates the feedback from the SCARLET project team based on their reflections of ‘what have we learned so far’.

I asked the team to provide their ‘top lessons learned’ to date. A previous post has encapsulated the student experience based on the first focus group undertaken, with students on the course from the leading academic involved in the project.   The student voice will continue to be captured and we hope to produce a series of case studies based on the student sample in the project. This post is to help understand what we need to consider at an institutional level for the adoption of AR in teaching and learning.

The team’s reflections fall broadly into 3 main areas, which match closely those identified in ‘Mixed Teams’ in the Collaborate to Compete report.


‘Any initiative aimed at enhancing teaching and learning must have both students and teachers embedded into the project from the outset, rather than librarians and IT specialist presuming to know what they want’. (John)

SCARLET prides itself in bringing together the appropriate groups for this project and there is broad agreement that this has worked well. I would add that having enthusiastic and previous award-winning academics on the project team has helped us build on established success at Manchester.

The approach taken in teaching has differed between the academics involved and it is too early to say whether there is a ‘best practice’ approach. It is true to say however that of the 2 academics who have trialled the use of AR in their classes there has been a different response from their students. Interestingly, where AR can enhance the learning experience by providing additional, in-context information this seems to meet with most approval, and provides most benefit. Simply attaching extant resources to an object is not enough.

‘AR is more effective enhancing physical objects (manuscripts, papyri, books) than signposting to web-based support materials, even if they are mobile specific’.  (Matt)

More about this under ‘Content’ below.


The story around technology is largely positive but there are some simple lessons to take away, and some thought to be put into working with the university’s IT Services team.

‘Good wireless provision is crucial. The lack of wireless connectivity in parts of the building has impacted on the classes already run’. (Andy)

‘The need for integration work between the AR and Library systems have been negligible due to existing web interfaces.’ (Andy)

‘SCARLET aims to pull together content from diverse sources but some technologies may be more easily integrated than others.’ (Jo)

The last point picked up on ease of use with accessing content from the University’s image bank on the iPads used. It was echoed in the following comment:

‘Integration into university systems architecture – we need to ensure we work closely with IT Services (ITS). In a future project we would probably want to have someone from ITS on the team’. (Lorraine)

There is also the matter of local storage of content on the AR app compared to the live access over the internet re-stating the point above concerning wireless access.


It is important to remember that the objects used in the project are rare and valuable materials, such as 15th Century Dante editions and St John’s Papyri held in the Special Collections of the John Rylands University Library.  Investigating AR as a way of enhancing learning based around these physical objects is the primary aim of SCARLET.

‘SCARLET enables the development of teaching in a Special Collections context, showing new routes and possibilities. The key here is to mine the enormous potential SC have for augmenting our teaching and the student experience’. (Jerome)

Several members of the team commented on the content developed around the objects to enhance the student experience.

‘I think my number one lesson learned is that the SCARLET app, to be as useful as possible, needs new content to be specific to the objects….their favourite part of the content was my videos. The lesson learned is [the] need to make more specific ‘live’ content’ (Guyda)

‘..we just showed something I’ve developed with Matt (the fragment of John pilot). What I’m planning now is to involved my advanced Greek class in the developing of a pilot on another a papyrus (on Luna)….I think there are amazing potentials …on making papyri more accessible to the wider audience (public engagement)…and will engage the students in creating AR objects next year.’ (Roberta)

The co-creation of content with students is an interesting idea and one that chimes with current work elsewhere (Exeter’s AR project; work in JISC/HEA OER Strand 3). Supporting the need to get others involved with content development was a common theme:

‘The amount of time for academics to create or plan content should not be underestimated … we need to define how to effectively support academics in developing content and document the workflow’. (Jo)

Two other elements featured prominently in the feedback; capturing impact, and sustainability. On impact:

‘We need to be able to communicate (to students, library and teaching staff) where SCARLET/AR can most effectively add value and also highlight the limitations of AR’ (Jo)

‘We need to find robust measures of the impact of augmented reality on teaching and learning.’ (Lorraine)

Our evaluation of impact to date has been through focus groups, and more to come on this in 2012. We recognise the limited nature of activity through a pilot project and would not wish to overstate the findings from this work, but within a £50K project there is naturally only a ‘scratching of the surface’ that can be achieved.

As the world starts to wake up to the potential of AR (not just in teaching) and as AR takes off in the US and the UK (see the Olympic Countdown), the SCARLET project is well positioned to build on the lessons learned in the library and take these into other areas of the University and beyond that could benefit. Museums are an obvious audience, as are other academic disciplines like medicine.

The clip here is a media training showreel produced at the Open University’s Media Training Course (not recorded in the John Rylands University Library – yet). It’s time for us to start shouting a little louder about what we are learning, and how we are developing SCARLET as we move into the remainder of the project activity.

The final word has to be on sustainability for SCARLET which forms the theme of our project meeting this week. If you have thoughts or opportunities we can work with you on please contact Jo (Jo dot Lambert at or me (Jackie dot Carter at

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