A blog for teachers and learners who love technology

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Aurasma - Can ELT textbooks come to life with this app?


What is Aurasma?

To begin with Aurasma is a free to use mobile application which is compatible with both Android as well as IOS mobile devices. It enables users to experience augmented reality by aiming the mobile's camera at different images, objects or even places. For example, a car magazine editor is writing an article about a new car but he wants to make the article more engaging. What Aurasma enables him to do, is to link a picture of the car inside the article, with a video/3D product model showing this new car. As a result, when the reader points his camera to the picture while using Aurasma , the preselected video/ 3D model of the car will appear. In order to better explain Aurasma I will present one of the uses I am very fascinated about.

Example Activity

Before presenting the examples I prepared, I would like to briefly explain how I came up with those examples. A significant number of teachers who teach English using a textbook will probably agree that textbooks have some flaws. For those examples, I would like to focus on two specific flaws. Sheldon (1988) in his article "Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials" describes textbooks as  static and at the same time he highlights the fact that they become outdated quite fast due to the long process of writing and publishing. Even though the article is quite old, textbooks have not changed dramatically. Both of those drawbacks still exist in many English language textbooks. Supplementing materials either in the form of CDs or computer software have considerably helped to improve the reputation of textbooks. However, the problem is still there. In other words, the actual textbooks will remain static even though most of the material those material refer to the book content.

How is Aurasma relevant to that? Before answering this question, I will present my examples and then I will try to explain how these are relevant to what I have said about the textbooks.  For those examples, I have used a very popular ELT textbook called New Headway Elementary written by Liz and John Soars and published by the Oxford University Press. I have made three examples. In the first two, students need to carry out a reading task, in which they need to read about two famous women, a singer and an actor/politician. When students point their camera at the pictures 1,2 a video of the singer performing and the biography of the actor/politician will appear on the screen respectively.

You can download the app on your mobile phone if you want to test the examples I created. Android - IOS (In order to be able to use my Auras you need to follow my Aurasma profile - username: Antonopa)

When students point their camera at these extracts the following webpages will open:

Shirley Temple Black IMDb Profile

The third example is a bit different. It comprises of a recording I created in which I demonstrate the correct pronunciation of four words that appear in a box. This box presents the words know, talk, girl and thought, all written in phonetic symbols.

Linking this to theory

During my practical teaching modules, I recall my groups' tutor highlighting the importance of activating schemata. Teachers should be able to help learners relate their previous knowledge so as to engage with the material.
Schemata theory proves that reading texts enable learners to construct their own understandings by taking part into an interactive process between the learner and the text (Carrell, Eisterhold 1983). Learners bring the own experiences, and background knowledge into the classroom which will be activated by the time a learner receives the input by reading the text (Carrell, Eisterhold 1983). However, what happens when learners background knowledge is not enough to engage with the text? Carrell and Eisterhold (1983) highlight the importance of a balance to exist between the learners' background knowledge and the knowledge that the text require learners to possess.

Example 1

I believe that Aurasma can play an important role at this problem which exists with outdated or irrelevant to the learners material. Namely, in the first example not everyone in the class might know Joss Stone. Considering the fact that she is a contemporary singer, watching a video clip of her will help learners engage with the material because they now have some exposure to her. Depending on the learners' age the song can be also changed to increase engagement. For instance, I choose a live performance of the song 'here comes the rain again' which was originally sung by  Eurythmics, an 80s band. As a result, in a class of adults who might not be familiar with Joss Stone, this song which they will probably know, will help them to engage with the material.

And this is how textbooks can actually become alive for the first time and within the boundaries of the pre-selected content can possibly change according to the learners' needs.

As I mentioned before teachers need to be able to engage learners with the topic. However, I have witnessed a significant number of trainee teachers and found it challenging to start and then handle a conversation which would activate learners schemata. Therefore the use of Aurasma, can possibly help those teachers who find it difficult to grab their students attention and engage them with the topic.

Example 2

The idea behind the second example is the same with the idea behind example 1. Shirley Temple Black was not a name I was familiar with when I was reading through this book for the first time. Therefore depending on my learners' age I assume that they would probably not know her, which in the worst case scenario may result in a lack of engagement.

However,  Aurasma's benefits are not limited to helping with students' engagement. In example 2, a webpage of a famous site will open which keeps record of all the actors in the world. This page includes Shirley Temple Blacks biography, filmography as well as famous quotes of her, trivia and strange facts. The possibilities for extra activities are significantly increased with this new piece of material. For instance, learners can scan the texts for particular information about some of he movies or they can create a group project about the different aspects of her life. Of course, the same can happen with example 1. Extra activities can be built around Joss Stone's live performance such as gap-filling activity based on the song's lyrics.

It must be acknowledge though, that the activities that I proposed are not innovative at all. Perhaps Aurasma can help with creating activities that were previously infeasible due to the lack of such technology, but this is not what I am examining in this post.

Example 3

Example 3 is significantly different to the other two. To begin with, while example 1,2 are designed to take place within the classroom environment, example 3 is designed to help learners while studying at home. In this example I have linked the image from a box which highlights the correct pronunciation of four words with a recording I created with Vocaroo (an on-line voice recorder). In the recording, I read the instructions of above the box as well as the actual words.

In my opinion, there is a lot of potential for publishers to improve their textbooks by implementing small sound clips or video clips depending on the Target language. In other words, learners, especially those who live in countries where English is not used for everyday situations, have limited exposure to English. Fours hours of teaching are not enough to receive an adequate amount of input, What if textbooks publishers would include sound clips modelling the correct pronunciation? Or small video clips in which teachers would explain some grammatical points? Or even some hints on how to finish a specific activity? The opportunities are endless. As long as those extra materials are carefully designed to help learners and avoid confusing or spoon-feeding them, textbooks will be considerably improved.

Target Audience

Regarding the use of Aurasma as in the third example, learners can be exposed and experiment with the material stored in an on-line repository as they would do in self-access centres. Assuming that there is at least one extra material (Aura) for every activity, rule etc. in the book, learners are able to choose which of those extra materials would experiment with. Therefore, we can describe this as self-directed learning. Either because of personal interest or because they identify their weaknesses, learners will be able to focus on different materials. What is more,  there is an element of programmed learning through this. Namely, learners would be able to work individually on their own pace, in pre-determined by the teachers or publisher, chunks of language (Benson 2011). Having said the above, I believe there is high chance that autonomous learners will be positively benefited by the use of Aurasma.

Concerning examples one and two, it can be generally said that, learners who enjoy using their mobile phone would like this new technology. I also believe that there is a strong element of active learning in those examples. In other words, teachers who implement Aurasma in their lessons, will give them the chance to discover on their own what comes next. This is utterly unpredictable considering the fact that learners will not have access to the Auras until teachers decide it. Therefore, there is high chance that high risk-takers, as well as active learners, would embrace Aurasma.


One of the limitations, or to put it more correctly, disadvantages of this technology is the probability of distracting learners from learning. The fact that learners, need to open and use their mobile phones during the class-time can be a good reason for them to check their Facebook profile's news feed, In a big class monitoring what learners do with their mobile phones is a very difficult task. However, I believe that similar to example 2 (Shirley Temple Black), if learners use the App to access new piece of information which will enhance their understanding and maybe be a part of another task, under the correct management learners will not have the time to be distracted. In other words, if this becomes a vital part of the lesson which is necessary in order to progress into the next activity, task etc. , I strongly feel that learners will maintain their interest.

A tutorial video 

This is a tutorial video that I created and gives a good introduction on how to use Aurasma studio.


Benson, P. (2011). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning. Routledge.

Carrell, P. L., & Eisterhold, J. C. (1983). Schema theory and ESL reading pedagogy. TESOL quarterly, 17(4), 553-573.

Sheldon, L. E. (1988). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT journal,42(4), 237-246.


  1. It seems interesting to have this tool for show what is in the text book. I will try to use it in my future teaching.

    1. Really glad you like this tool. If you use it let me know what your students thought about it!