Augmented reality – enhancing the real world in real time with computer-generated data – can connect users more deeply with their real surroundings. Christopher Holden, assistant professor, UNM University Honors, uses mobile augmented reality games to create interactive educational experiences.

Holden uses ARIS to design educational games and to promote student learning through design of interactive, place-based stories in the form of games or tours for the iPhone and iPod touch. ARIS, Augmented Reality for Interactive Storytelling, is a free, open source software created by the ARIS team led by David Gagnon, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Because it is open source, anyone can use, modify or repackage the software.

The authoring environment is a simple, online – no installation required – drag and drop editor. "We're making video games here, but we're not doing programming," Holden said. "One of the real aims for the design tool of ARIS is to make it so that really anyone could pick this up as a story-telling tool, and to tell their stories in the places where they live or the places they're interested about."

Honors student Alyssa Concha took the pilot class of Local Games in Albuquerque last semester and will student teach it with Holden in the fall. "The idea was to use mobile games… to reconnect people to Albuquerque as a place and explore the way that different individuals view their hometown or their environment and how they interact with it," she said.

Last semester, students designed games looking at Albuquerque in relation to recycling, geology and other topics. In one project, Digital Graffiti Gallery, participants photographed graffiti at UNM and loaded the pictures to a central database with their geospatial coordinates. "You build up a map of graffiti at UNM," Holden said. "It's a way of capturing something that's ephemeral, and still keeping it in place."

To create Favorite Spot in the World, students recorded people talking about their favorite places around Albuquerque. "People would be able to go to these places and see them in a new light, or maybe see someone who has a shared interest in that place," Holden said.

In both games, "players help create the game as they play it," he said.

Game design can be an effective way of engaging students in the curriculum. "Designing the game is a learning process in itself," Concha said.

Holden said, "When you have to make something for someone else, you tend to approach it in a much deeper way than if you're just trying to cram information into your own head. You think about it from more angles."

Educators can also use ARIS to create games for students to play to learn a particular subject. Holden and Julie Sykes, assistant professor, Department of Spanish & Portuguese, created Mentira, a game where intermediate Spanish students venture into a real Albuquerque neighborhood and use the mobile application to find clues to solve a fictional murder mystery while learning the language.

Holden said subjects that best pair with augmented reality learning are those "that have a natural connection to place. Learning Spanish in Albuquerque should be something that connects to the surroundings. Other disciplines that readily connect to place are things like geography, architecture."

He also designed games for middle school students. "The natural surroundings around you are a nice focus for trying to learn about scientific concepts," he said.

The recent ARIS Global Game Jam assembled students, educators and others to make games with ARIS in just three days. Holden said most participants were newcomers, and many were middle and high school students in Wisconsin. Students participated at UNM, with other participants connecting from Minnesota, Colorado, Spain, the Netherlands, Maine, California, Colombia, Illinois, New York and Virginia. Participants communicated over video chat. More than 100 participants created 127 games, with 19 showcased in the closing ceremony.

Contact Holden to learn about participating in the ARIS project.