Collaborative learning in a blended-reality environment

[This post draws from a recent paper published in the British Journal of Educational Technology:
Bower, M., Lee, M. J. W., & Dalgarno, B. (2017). Collaborative learning across physical and virtual worlds: Factors supporting and constraining learners in a blended reality environment. British Journal of Educational Technology, 48(2), 407-430. ]

Offering students flexible and convenient access is a key driver for the use of technology in learning, with online technologies enabling students to continue their work out of the classroom, anytime and anywhere, and to do so collaboratively (Beetham & Sharpe, 2013; Oblinger, 2012; OECD, 2012, 2016). Using rich-media synchronous technologies such as video-conferencing, web-conferencing and virtual worlds, learners can interact with one another and their teachers in real-time to ask questions, discuss issues, and undertake group work activities (Bower, Kenney, Dalgarno, Lee, & Kennedy, 2014). Of these technologies, virtual worlds offer unique educational opportunities in terms of the 3-D representation possibilities and types of learner interactions that they afford (Dalgarno & Lee, 2010). However, there are very few documented instances of using virtual worlds to enable remote and face-to-face (F2F) students to participate in the same classes together, let alone reports of how the design of tasks and of the environment impact upon learning.

In a recently published BJET article, Bower, Lee and Dalgarno (2017) report on a study, conducted as part of the Blended Synchronous Learning project (see, that investigated the factors supporting and constraining students’ ability to learn collaboratively in two offerings of a ‘blended-reality’ tutorial class. Video and sound recording equipment captured activity in a F2F classroom, which was streamed live into a virtual world so that remote participants could see and hear an instructor and F2F peers. In-world activity was also simultaneously displayed on a projector screen, with the audio broadcast via speakers, for the benefit of the F2F participants. In this way, the participants in both modes could see and hear one another in order to complete a series of class activities (see Figure 1).

Students in the face-to-face classroom interacting with students in the virtual world

Figure 1. F2F and virtual world students jointly participating in a blended-reality lesson

Survey and interview feedback from students indicated that the majority experienced a sense of co-presence with their peers participating both F2F and via the virtual world. As well, irrespective of participation mode, they generally felt that they were able to effectively create and share resources with one another. However, they tended to find it easier to communicate with others attending in the same mode as them. While the teacher noted the challenge of catering to both remote and F2F learners at the same time as managing the technical aspects of the lesson, students cited a number of benefits of the blended-reality approach, including enhanced access to learning opportunities, enabling the exchange of ideas and promoting higher levels of engagement than traditional approaches. Remote students additionally cited a stronger sense of being in the F2F classroom, increased willingness of shy people to participate, and transcending of physical constraints such as cost and space.

A variety of pedagogical, technological and logistical factors impacted upon learning. From a pedagogical perspective, tasks that encouraged peer interaction and provided direction about ways to interact were found to be helpful and enabling, whereas repetition of instructions between cohorts and not knowing how to engage in activities detracted from the learner experience. Students observed that the multiple communication channels offered via the virtual world supported their learning, but technical issues such as erratic audio and video streaming interfered with it. Logistically speaking, making learning more accessible and having extra learning spaces to work with were seen as distinct advantages of the approach, yet the inability to communicate one-on-one with students participating through the other mode was perceived as a disadvantage.

In the future, advances in haptic interfaces, real-time 3-D rendering, holographic telepresence, wearable technologies and immersive virtual reality may mean that blended-reality learning becomes a part of mainstream teaching. These advances notwithstanding, the way in which educators manage the pedagogical, technological and logistical issues, as detailed in Bower et al. (2017), will have a critical impact upon the quality of the student learning experience.


Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2013). An introduction to rethinking pedagogy. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing for 21st century learning (2nd ed., pp. 1–15). New York: Routledge.

Bower, M., Kenney, J., Dalgarno, B., Lee, M. J. W., & Kennedy, G. E. (2014). Patterns and principles for blended synchronous learning: Engaging remote and face-to-face learners in rich-media real-time collaborative activities. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 261–272.

Bower, M., Lee, M. J. W., & Dalgarno, B. (2017). Collaborative learning across physical and virtual worlds: Factors supporting and constraining learners in a blended reality environment. British Journal of Educational Technology, 48(2), 407-430.

Dalgarno, B., & Lee, M. J. W. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3-D virtual environments? British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(6), 10–32.

Oblinger, D. G. (2012, May/June). IT as a game changer. EDUCAUSE Review, 11–24. Retrieved from

OECD. (2012). Connected minds: Technology and today’s learners. Paris: Author.

OECD. (2016). Skills for a digital world: 2016 Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy Background Report. Paris: Author. Retrieved from

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Learning technology organisations and forums

Recently I had cause to ask my great colleague and friend Mark Lee for some links to learning technology organisations and forums. Mark is a prolific writer and probably the best connected academic that I know. The astounding list that he compiled is appended below in case it is useful to others. The list demonstrates the extensive but also bifurcated work in the learning technology field.

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Typology of Web 2.0 technologies

Web 2.0 technologies offer substantial opportunities for educators to enhance communication, productivity and sharing within their classes (Brown, 2010; Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009). In order to capitalize on Web 2.0 technologies educators need to first understand the sorts of Web 2.0 technologies that are available and their various features (Redecker, Ala-Mutka, Bacigalupo, Ferrari, & Punie, 2009). Typologies of Web 2.0 technologies have been previously suggested (Boulos, Maramba, & Wheeler, 2006; Crook, 2008; Franklin & Van Harmelen, 2007). While many of these typologies included valuable and sensible categories of Web 2.0 technologies, none of them appear to result from any sort of systematic analysis or review.

My recent study used structured typological analysis techniques to derive a typology of Web 2.0 learning technologies. Over two thousand links were reviewed from online archive sites, educational technology texts, online searches and previous Web 2.0 review papers. This led to identification of 212 current Web 2.0 technologies that are suitable for learning and teaching purposes. The typological analysis then resulted in 37 types of Web 2.0 technologies that were arranged into 14 clusters. A schematic representation of the resulting typology of Web 2.0 learning technologies is shown in Figure 1.

Fig1 Typology of Web2 Technologies.png

Figure 1. Typology of Web 2.0 technologies

The types of Web 2.0 learning technologies, their descriptions, pedagogical uses and example tools for each category are described in my recent EDUCAUSE article (Bower, 2015), arranged according to the clusters. Throughout the descriptions the term ‘users’ rather than ‘teachers’ is often applied because students may learn more from being designers with the technology than from teachers preparing and disseminating activities, and ‘users’ encapsulates both of these cohorts. The typological analysis used to derive the typology of Web 2.0 learning technologies has been published in the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET). See Bower (2016) for further details.


      Boulos, M. N., Maramba, I., & Wheeler, S. (2006). Wikis, blogs and podcasts: a new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education.
BMC medical education, 6(1), 41.
      Bower, M. (2015). A typology of Web 2.0 technologies. EDUCAUSE. Available at:
      Bower, M. (2016). Deriving a typology of Web 2.0 learning technologies. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(4), 763-777. Available at:
      Brown, S. (2010). From VLEs to learning webs: the implications of Web 2.0 for learning and teaching. Interactive Learning Environments, 18(1), 1-10.
      Crook, C. (2008). Web 2.0 technologies for learning: The current landscape – opportunities, challenges and tensions: BECTA.
      Franklin, T., & Van Harmelen, M. (2007). Web 2.0 for content for learning and teaching in higher education. JISC Available at
     Greenhow, C., Robelia, B., & Hughes, J. E. (2009). Learning, teaching, and scholarship in a digital age Web 2.0 and classroom research: What path should we take now? Educational Researcher, 38(4), 246-259.
     Redecker, C., Ala-Mutka, K., Bacigalupo, M., Ferrari, A., & Punie, Y. (2009). Learning 2.0: The impact of Web 2.0 innovations on education and training in Europe. Final Report. European Commission-Joint Research Center-Institute for Porspective Technological Studies, Seville.
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BuildAR Augmented Reality workshop 16th Oct 2012

  • Types of AR include location, image, now panoroma (maps onto sphere), and now 3D objects.
  • New AR also enables images, 3D objects
  • Basic model involves a HTML overlay, 3D scene cube, camera view at back.
  • Metaio (made by Junaio) powers Builder. Can have dozens of objects interacting with each other.
  • Range of different approaches to specifying coordinate systems – approach adopted by Junaio and hence BuildAR for location based AR is x axis runs west east, y-axis runs south north, z-axis runs up down.
  • Note locations can be fixed (global locations) or relative to the user.
  • BuildAR calls the point of reference in the real world an “anchor”, and then have “projections” attached to these (rather than “augmentations”).
  • In many ways creating AR is like creating a narrative or cinematic experience with elements of art and
  • Robs model enables creators to punch holes out to the web to embed web-content, and open web-sockets for live feeds of web-content
  • Can even set it up so that a device such as an iphone or Kinnect can act as a controller for content/objects in the AR world
  • Can apply physics engines to the objects you create (for instance on offer via Javascript).
  • OBJ is the mesh format used for 3D objects, MB2 can be used (format that comes out of Quake, can bake in animations), new format from Autodesk (Rob forgets name) can all be used.
  • Having a good object model is important, for instance can just push coordinates and orientations around which is quite efficient.
  • The model BuildAR uses means that almost anything can be plugged and played.
  • Can create custom app from Junaio
  • Designing in this 3D space is a whole new design art and thinking space.
  • Start the design with “why”.

Project ideas from attendees:

  • Margot – masters students creating a little bit of content, and potentially her creating content for students.
  • Susan – create an AR experience associated with the astronomy night brochure that showcases the activities at the event
  • Tom augmenting the experience of museum participants, having virtual objects that you can manipulate, as well as a music experience e.g. cube (Rob noted that the new audio Web API would be perfect for this)
  • Cathie is aiming to create an App for the sculpture park.
  • Matt – ASCILITE
  • Neil – communicating aboriginal stories from children (Rob suggests having the aboriginal flag as a marker that can pull up different location based information)
  • Ming Ming – semiotic analysis support
  • Rob Parker – new biodiversity planet
  • David Grover – maths view puzzle based on cubes
  • Tyrone (TAFE) – has created a couple of AR experiences
  • storytelling, blocking out stories
  • Leon – putting together some multimedia associated with fixed learning resources

BuildAR show – where they are now:

  • Currently in closed beta mode at
  • BuildAR app goes live in a week
  • Junaio uses Catchoom for the visual search – and now BuildAR is in a direct partnership with Catchoom so do not have to be victim to changes
  • Junaio doesn’t have an address bar – need to launch from Safari at the following web address: junaio://channels/?id=141781
  • IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR) is in South Australia at end of Octoberish next year.
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Learning Design Definitions – One Possible Approach

After spending two days at a Learning Design writing retreat in Larnaca and also after attending a great presentation by Eva Dozoby at ICEM 2012 that highlighted the inconsistencies in learning design nomenclature, I’ve documented one possible approach to defining the various uses of “learning design” and adjunctives. It has adopted a simple rather than verbose approach, in order to support comprehensibility and therefore more likely adoption by a broad cross-section of educators.

learning design (process): the act of designing tasks, lessons, sessions/units, modules/programs.
Example: “Students were attempting to engage in the process of learning design.”

learning design (product): an organised series of one or more task specifications.
Example: “I created and shared my learning design.”

Learning Design (field): the study of the process and praxis of learning design.
Examples: “I drew upon research from the Learning Design field to frame my thinking”, “One of the fundamental premises of Learning Design is that a range of pedagogies may be represented”.

learning design technical specifications: standards, often technical and agreed by organisations, that can be used to specify a learning design.
Example: “IMS LD is the most widely accepted learning design technical specification”

learning designer (role): someone who engages in the process of learning design.
Example: “A learning designer may choose to draw upon existing templates.”

Learning Designer (tool): A particular software system developed at the London Knowledge Lab which aims to support and develop learning design thinking processes.
Example: “One way to help teachers reflect upon the sorts of pedagogies they use is to have them plan their curriculum using the Learning Designer system.”

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ICEM 2012 Conference – 27-29 September

First speaker John Hedberg “New times, new tools, but has the emperor got clothes?”

Keynote by Grainne Conole

  • Video with contemporary statistics on the impact of social media:
  • Book: What you really need to know about the internet – From Gutenburg to Zuckerberg
  • Open University Open University Learning Design Initiative (OULDI) Carpe Diem at Leicter combined forces to create the 7C’s framework: Conceptualis, Capture, Create, Communicate, Collaborate, Consider, Consolidate

Learning Design Symposium 1

  • “Bridging the gap between the theory and practice of advanced pedagogies and teacher collaboration” Eva Dobozy – a great paper comparing different definitions of learning design and the research orientations (pedagogical, technical) of different papers from all LAMS conferences. Worth looking up.
  • “Learning and design with online real-time collaboration” | Michael Stevenson & John G. Hedberg. Analysis of collaborative writing with deBono’s hats assigned as roles (assigning roles, Alternatives, benefits, limitations, feelings, organisation, white).

Daniel Churchill – Mobile Learning

  • Developing Apps from Learning Objects. Developed a taxonomy of Apps.
  • RASE model of learning design – Resources, Activity, Support, Evaluation
  • Working on a mobile device that tracks eye movement



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Learning Design Writing Workshop – Larnaca, Cyprus, 24th & 25th of Sept 2012

Posted below are various personal notes taken from this meeting. These notes reflect my interpretations of points that were interesting from my perspective, and in no way represent the entirety of the output of this meeting.

Attendees: James Dalziel, Grainne Conole, Leanne Cameron, Matt Bower, Simon Walker, Sandra Willis, Eva Dobozy, Emil Badilescu-Buga, Spyros Papadakis, Chris Alexander.


Sandra: Enrole project looked at role-play based learning designs
Simon: CAMEL project ( Collaborative Approaches to the Management of ELearning. Used Google Docs Flowchart to map curriculum (and won a Google award for it)
Chris: Using LAMS and Moodle, head of elearning department at Uni of Nicosia
Eva: Working on transdisciplinary Pedagogical Templates, definitions of learning design.
Grianne: Using LOOK Social Networking Analysis
Emir: Looking at Social Adoption of Innovation (adoption of innovation is incredibly social), “Dominant design”
Leanne: Looking at Social Networking, also how teachers in the sciences receive worse reviews, in part because they don’t care so much about their students
Spyros: Looking at LORD – Learning Outcomes Resources and Designs (?)
James: What is learning design, what could it mean, pedagogical patterns could be inside learning design (ontology). What learning design isn’t (not a theory about how people should teach/philospophy in the same way as constructivism, connectivism).

Miscellaneous minutes

Grianne: “Instructional Design is more based on positivist perspective and Learning Design is more based on the Social-Cultural perspective”
Sandra: Learning Designers, and their function of abstracting pedagogical patterns.
James: Narrow definition of LD – the technical descriptive framework of learning design. Broad definition of LD – why do we do what we do with relation to LD. Component parts of LD sitting underneath – Instructional design, how to write good questions. Above LD – looking at frameworks of putting together courses, programs, and then designs they use
Another element: Life cycle of innovation and change (how do I take teachers into a process that changes what they do). James believes that buying trust by little-picture up design rather than big-picture down approach (eg LDer).
Matt: [Interesting reflection that we are trying to develop the learning design capabilities of teachers, but we as a discipline are not defining our learning outcomes. There is a difference between individual teachers (target audience – and different use cases).] It would be great to have a community website for us. We could use from Amazon allows us to self publish and print on demand.
Emir: Wikipedia and Facebook page for Learning Design would be good.
Grianne: Would be good to get a directory of Learning Design people (e.g. page on wikipedia). Good learning design book: “Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: designing and delivering e-learning”. Helen Beetham & Rhona Sharpe. Martin Weller (Editor of Journal of Interactive Media in Education) book: “The Digital Scholar”. Bloomsbury (publisher) publishes free online.
James: We should get together a Learning Design Wikipedia page.
We can define Learning Design (e.g. LD vs ld). MIT (publisher) eventually agreed to allow his “Opening Up Education” to be freely available online.
James desperately wants the book “Learning Design for the Masses” (tongue in cheek), but for now we need the book/community site for us.
Matt Bower: How about ldconsortium or ldalliance. List of people who have published in learning design on Google sites? Drupal?
References for definitions of Learning Design:
a) Grainne’s book “Designing for Learning in an Open World”
b) Eva’s ICEM2012 conference paper
c) James’ presentation with different conceptualisions of learning design
d) Leanne’s paper “How learning design can illuminate teaching practice”
Matt: We haven’t actually come up with any proposed “Learning design processes” (though Grainne recommends Design Based Research as a methodology).

The group then proceeded to come up with a timeline of Learning Design that traces the history and development of the field. They also created an overarching learning design descriptive framework. Both of these will be disseminated in future presentations and publications.

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Blended Learning Conference, Sebel Surry Hills, 29th August

Blending with purpose, to overcome the LMS limbo. Blended learning in the spaces between.

Mark Brown – How do we address the issue of quality

  • Blended learning can help to create a vibrant digital learning ecology. However it can also be used to entrench 1950s pedagogies.
  • Quality is a value laden, contestable, context bound, discipline specific construct.
  • Quality assurance versus quality enhancement
  • Can use Australasian Survey of Student Engagement to benchmark student experience
  • Tensions can include institution vs individual, clear standards vs creative flair, externally imposed requirements vs internally owned commitments, central quality police versus local professional responsibility, quality compliance versus quality culture
  • Sloan Consortium has five pillars approach to assessing quality. Also see the Quality Matters Program (, wee wikipedia “Benchmarking e-learning” for a range of other tools
  • Quality enhancement at Massey involves: promoting a high level of professional trust, giving responsibility for quality back to academics, building distributed leadership for teaching and learning
  • Quality Enhancement Framework: Designs for Learning, Resources for Learning, Facilitating Learning, Assessment for Learning, Evaluating Teaching, Professional Learning.
  • Peer review: owned by academics, focus on subject design, emphasis on development, encourages formative feedback… particular framework look at or look at QUT for a similar emerging framework
  • Blended learning for quality needs to disrupt the dominant reproduction metaphors of education.
  • Unesco pillars of learning: Learning to be, Learning to know, Learning to do, Learning to live together. Matt adds: Learning to change and grow.
  • Albert Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, not everything that counts can be counted”

Panel Session: Securing Buy-In from Stakeholders

Dr Lisa Germany, Educational Manager, Elearning at Victoria University
Professor Richard Constantine, Pro Vice Chancellor Information Services and Chief Information Officer, Flinders University
Professor Kent Anderson, Pro Vice Chancellor (International), University of Adelaide

Lisa Germany: Need to identify pain points and senior/middle management need to act first (actions speak louder than world). Embedding is the key (blended learning shouldn’t be special – it should be embedded in course review, performance review, etc)

Simon McIntyre – Learning To Teach Online (UNSW)

  • “Learning to teach online in an on-campus workshop is like learning to train a horse by riding a carousel.”
  • The “Learning to Teach Online” project is a free resource from UNSW available under a Creative Commons license.
  • Shared on UNSWTV, JISC Edmedia Share
  • Program called DEFI(?) to look at patterns of access.
  • See
  • Report at
  • [Very good presentation and resource – lookup]

Mike Keppell – Evaluating blended learning

  • How to evaluate the impact on the learner, teacher, discipline, school/faculty, organisation
  • Evaluation strategies:
  • See work by Philip Morgan
  • Ask stakeholders about what success will look like.
  • OLT: Tilly Influence Factor

Janson Hews, Education Director Powerhouse Museum – The Importance of Creating a Community Based Peer to Peer Learning Experience

  • Learning as participation (Sfard, 1997)
  • Very good presentation that showcased a range of initiatives and Powerhouse pedagogical design principles.


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How to present wirelessly using your ipad

Hi. This took a little bit of time to work out so I thought I’d quickly share how you can present wirelessly using your ipad.

  1. Make sure your computer is attached to the Internet and then setup an ad-hoc wireless network from your computer (for instance, instructions for a Mac can be found at ). It is not essential to setup an adhoc network because in some cases you can simply just run off a wireless network available in the room where you will be presenting. However, I recommend setting up an ad-hoc network with Internet sharing from your computer because this safeguards you against third-party wifi or firewall issues.
  2. Turn Internet Sharing on so that your ipad will be able to use your computer for Internet access (see ) and note that I often have to select a different channel such as 1 or 6 to get Internet Sharing to work for me.
  3. Download an Airplay application such as Reflection App ( or Airserver ( and install it on your computer. Note that Airserver runs Keynote more intuitively than ReflectionApp.
  4. On your ipad (V2 or V3 only) double-click on the menu button and scroll the dock one screen to the left to access the general controls. From here you should be able to access a little airplay button and you should be able to select your computer. Make sure that mirroring is set to “On”. You should be streaming the audio-visual from your ipad to your computer.
  5. Plug your computer into a data projector (via the video out port) and speakers (via the headphones port, say) and now everything from your ipad should be received by the audience via your computer.

And that’s it!

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AR Symposium at Macquarie ICT Innovation Centre 14th August 2012

Introduction to AR – Rob Manson

  • Milgram’s Reality – Virtual Worlds spectrum
  • Azuma’s definition of AR in 1997
  • ARToolkit released in 1999 (C++ Libraries)
  • Wikipedia’s 2002 definition has been superseded by 2011 definition (current)
  • 2008 Wikitude released the first mobile browser (phone had camera, GPS, mobile)
  • 2009 FLARToolkit released in 2009 (Flash based, therefore worked in a web-browser). In Google traffic/trends, you can see a big spike.
  • 2010 First meeting of the ARStandards workshop in Soul (they meet a few times a year). The API allows you to access a range of input devices, not just camera.
  • 2011 JSARToolkit released, and it runs very well and can run in a browser.
  • Rob proposes a much broader definition of AR, beyond graphics overlay. Towards “Augmented Cognition” (Thad Starner)
  • “Animating the world with the human body” video

Designing learning experiences using AR – Danny Munnerly

  • Design Thinking approach
  • Demonstrated some marker based AR apps
  • Spacecraft 3D – amazing model of the Mars Curiosity.
  • Transformer AR app hole in desk and shoot aliens.
  • Nomenclature: “Imagining spaces”, “revealing data”

Some great apps:

  • Aurasma
  • Junaio
  • Layar
  • AR Studio
  • String Augmented Reality
  • SpaceCraft 3D
  • Streetmuseum – Londinium
  • Transparent Earth
  • ARBasketball
  • Skyview Free
  • Plane Finder AR Free
  • Sun Seeker Lite
  • Around Me
  • Skinvaders
  • Peak AR
  • Magic Plan
  • Word Lens
  • seeLevel
  • Qibla AR
  • Aus Post
  • Magic Camera

Rob Manson – AR Technology Overview and Conceptual Unpacking

  • The four key modes of Augmented Reality:
    Public – multiuser fixed space
    Intimate – user alone potentially at a laptop
    Personal – Field of View pointing out to the real world scene
    Private – only you can see your Field of View (e.g. Google Glass)
  • World Lens is an App that does Augmented Reality translation of signs
  • For key user experiences of AR:
  • Three approaches to AR triggers: Marker based Object based, Location based. These become the ‘anchors’ of for the AR ‘overlays’.
  • Uses multiple input devices: GPS, camera, gyroscope
  • We we select an App like Junaio or Aurasma we create a channel and content – can be used to create a custom App. There are also AR Content Management Systems, notably BuildAR. In the next few weeks BuildAR will add a HTML layer on top of the 3D projection layer that is projected on the 2D video stream from the camera (or elsewhere).
  • When interacting with location based content (e.g. walking tour) the world plane whereas for pictures on walls may have the vertical axis pointed out of the wall.
  • Facial recognition is now excellent and here:


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