Using augmented reality to enhance ecosystem science field trips.

EcoMOBILE is a research project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, supported by the National Science Foundation and Qualcomm's Wireless Reach initiative, and with resources from Texas Instruments, Inc. EcoMOBILE explores the unique affordances of augmented reality, as well as the capabilities of data collection probeware, to support setting-enhanced learning in environmental science education. Two forms of technology for science education enhance student experience in the real world: probes and mobile broadband devices.

Probes (Texas Instruments NSpires with Vernier probes) allow collection of real-time environmental data similar to the kinds of data real scientists use to monitor water quality in lakes, rivers and wetlands. These probes allow students to collect some of the same data (dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, and pH) that they collected in the companion virtual environment.

Students using ecoMOBILE to explore a pond.
Photo of ecoMOBILE on a mobile device, showcasing the features of augmented reality.

MBDs (Mobile broadband devices, or smartphones) allow students to access and collect additional information and clues. Students use EcoMOBILE activities developed with an augmented reality application, to navigate between “hotspots,” view information, answer questions, and observe virtual media overlaid on the physical pond. Students can capture pictures, video, or voice recordings and take these back to the classroom to help make sense of school lessons. Through augmented reality we provide students with visualizations that would not otherwise be apparent in the natural environment (for example, virtual x-ray vision so that they can “see” a virtual carbon atom as it moves through the processes of photosynthesis and respiration). These augmented reality experiences allow students to conceptualize and discuss processes and complex relationships that are otherwise difficult to describe or visualize.

EcoMOBILE is an extension of the EcoMUVE curriculum. In EcoMUVE, students explore a virtual representation of a pond ecosystem. In EcoMOBILE, students have the opportunity to extend their learning as they embark on a field trip to a real pond environment. Their experience in the real world is enhanced by using two forms of mobile technology for science education – mobile broadband devices and environmental probeware. The EcoMOBILE research is exploring how ecosystems instruction can be more engaging and effective by combining immersive virtual environments and real ecosystems infused with virtual resources. EcoMobile is funded by the National Science Foundation and Qualcomm's Wireless Reach initiative and is supported with resources from Texas Instruments, Inc.

ecoMOBILE virtual world screenshot: person standing in front of pond.
Students using ecoMOBILE on cell phones in a forest.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number DRK12 1118530, and the Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™ Initiative (2011-2016). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.


To access the suite of EcoLearn resources, please visit


Project Members

Amy Kamarainen

Dr. Amy Kamarainen

Education and Station Coordinator for the Salmon Coast Field Station in British Columbia, Canada
Joseph Reilly

Joseph Reilly

Doctoral Student, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Shane Tutweiler

Shane Tutwiler

Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations at the University of Rhode Island