Educators' Interests, Knowledge and Questions Regarding AR, VR and 3D Printing

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Dr. Torrey Trust  
Nathaniel Woodruff  
Matthew Checrallah  
Jeromie Whalen  

How can we support mainstream adoption of current and emerging technologies, like augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D printers in schools? Learn about survey data from 265 educators motivated to learn about these technologies and ways to redesign professional learning experiences for educators.

Audience: Professional developers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Teacher education
Subject area: Inservice teacher education, Preservice teacher education
ISTE Standards: For Coaches:
Professional Development and Program Evaluation
  • Design, develop and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning and assessment.
For Educators:
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
  • Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.

Proposal summary


Integrating technology into classroom practice is a complex process that requires synthesizing technological knowledge with pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge (Koehler & Mishra, 2009). Building on Shulman’s (1986) pedagogical content knowledge lens, Koehler and Mishra (2009) designed the TPACK model to illustrate the multifaceted nature of teaching with technology. The TPACK model features three primary types of teacher knowledge as well as the types of knowledge that arise in the intersections among these three. According to Koehler (2012), “Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts” (para. 3). Thus, in order to incorporate new technologies, such as AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling, into classroom settings, educators need to be able to assess how the technologies might influence and be influenced by their pedagogical and content knowledge and identify effective pedagogical practices for enhancing content knowledge with the technology. Unfortunately, as Patterson and Han (2019) note, “teachers are unlikely to find meaningful professional development to support their planned-for use of emerging technologies” (p. 463), which means that they often have to figure out how to expand their TPACK knowledge on their own.


For this study, Author A developed the pre-course survey protocol in collaboration with the graduate student cohort that designed the open online course. The purpose of the pre-course survey was to get to know the participants in order to provide quality instruction and feedback during the open online course. The survey featured four types of pre-course questions and prompts as identified by Wilson (2018): demographics, prior knowledge, curiosity, and setting goals. The survey was included as part of the sign-up form for the AR, VR, 3D printing [actual name removed for blinded peer review] open online course. The sign-up form was created on the Qualtrics survey design platform. The first part of the survey featured demographic, curiosity, and goal setting prompts. Then, participants had the option to review and agree to the IRB consent form before continuing on to additional questions. The sign-up form was shared via social media sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook), Author A’s College of Education listserv, and in the ISTE online discussion forums before running the open online course. The course was run two separate times: March 2020 and August 2020. For this paper, we combined the pre-course survey results from the two different data collection points. A total of 360 participants completed the sign-up form. Out of these participants, 265 gave consent for their sign-up form and survey responses to be included in this study. A majority of the participants were between the ages of 35 and 54 years old (n=167; 63%) and identified as female (n=194; 74%). Out of the participants, 100 (38%) were PreK-12 classroom teachers, 52 (20%) worked as educational support staff (e.g., technology specialist, professional development coordinator, paraprofessional), 48 (16%) were higher education faculty or staff, 34 (11%) were graduate or college students, 25 (9%) were librarians or media specialists, and 18 (7%) worked in PreK-12 administration. Years of educational experience ranged from 0-45 years, with an average of 18 years. Descriptive statistics were generated for the multiple answer questions. For the open-ended prompts, we engaged in open coding to generate a list of initial codes, which were then synthesized into broader themes as part of a thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Each open-ended prompt was reviewed individually and an initial list of codes was developed based on common patterns in the data. We engaged in multiple rounds of coding and discussing and resolving discrepancies before generating a final codebook for each open-ended prompt. Each codebook featured examples and descriptions of the most common and interesting themes. The codebooks were used as a guide to complete the final round of coding of the data for each open-ended prompt. To increase credibility and trustworthiness (Nowell et al., 2017; Twining, et al., 2017), we used investigator triangulation by having multiple researchers involved in all qualitative data analysis.


RQ1: Why are educators interested in learning about AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling?
Participants were asked to select from a list of options the reasons they wanted to enroll in the open online course to learn about AR, VR, and 3D printing. Most commonly, participants wanted to learn about these new technologies (n=212; 80%), expand their professional knowledge (n=208; 78%), and discover new teaching strategies (n=198; 75%). More participants were interested in discovering ways to use these technologies to improve the student learning experience (n=191; 72%) compared to improving student learning outcomes (n=135; 51%). These findings indicate that the participants were most interested in developing or expanding their technological knowledge (TK), pedagogical knowledge (PK), and technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK).

RQ2: What do educators already know about AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling?
 To assess prior knowledge, participants were asked to list three they knew about each of the three technologies. Out of the 265 survey participants, 211 responded to these three prompts. While participants’ responses ranged quite significantly, we identified 10 themes that captured commonalities across the dataset. Most commonly, participants discussed the apps, materials, and equipment needed for the technologies. A number of participants attempted to describe AR, VR, or 3D printing and modeling or explain how they work. However, only a few participants were able to provide fully accurate descriptions for AR (4%) and 3D printing and modeling (6%), while 19% of the respondents were able to provide a fully accurate description of VR. Overall, participants seemed to be slightly more familiar with VR (n=100; 48%) than AR (n=84; 40%) and significantly more familiar with VR than 3D printing and modeling (n=51; 24%). Interestingly, though, more participants were able to describe how 3D printing and modeling works compared to VR and AR. Several participants identified benefits and/or challenges related to using AR, VR, or 3D printing in education. While participants seemed to be more familiar with the tangible, real-world benefits of 3D printing and modeling, nearly one-third of respondents mentioned challenges with 3D printers (e.g., time, cost, learning curve), compared to 14% for VR (e.g., isolation, motion sickness, cost, addictiveness) and 5% for AR (e.g., device/app capabilities). Ultimately, participants’ prior knowledge about the three technologies was rather limited. When asked to share three things they knew about the technologies, the majority of participants focused their responses on TK, while a few were able to identify the benefits and challenges of using these tools in educational settings (TPK). None of the participants discussed TCK (i.e., how the technology might fit within a content area) or TPACK knowledge (i.e., how to create technology-rich, content-specific instruction with these tools).

RQ3: What do educators want to know about AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling?
 At the end of the survey, participants were asked to list any questions they had about the technologies. The respondents to this prompt (n=194) shared a variety of questions and concerns. Participants seemed to be most curious about the best practices for integrating these technologies within their pedagogy (n=70; 36%). For example, one individual asked “What are easy ways to implement these technologies into the classroom in meaningful ways, not just for the sake of using technology?” This participant, like many others, wanted to know how to teach effectively with the technology and not just use it as an add-on for student engagement. Participants (n=38; 20%) also wanted assistance in identifying curriculum connections. For instance, one educator wondered, “How can I incorporate them into my ELA/SS/Math curriculum?” Educators also wanted to know how these technologies fit within different grade levels (n=21; 11%), how to manage the logistics of teaching with these technologies, such as troubleshooting, time, equity, and accessibility (n=33; 17%), how to afford or find funding for buying equipment to use AR, VR, or 3D printing in their practice (n=31; 16%), and how the use of these technologies would impact student learning outcomes (n=24; 12%). Overall, participants wanted to know how to teach with the technology (TPK), how the technology fit within their curriculum (TCK), and how to use, fund, and troubleshoot the technology (TK).

Forty-eight (25%) participants indicated that they either did not have any questions or were unsure what to ask since they knew very little about the technologies. For instance, one educator commented, “I don't know what I don't know yet, so I'm just trying to learn more so I can know what questions to ask.” This indicates that many participants are so unfamiliar with the technologies they don’t know where to get started in thinking about how these tools might fit in educational settings.


While scholars and educators have explored how AR, VR, and 3D printers are used in education and how these technologies influence student learning outcomes (Author, 2017; Cheng & Tsai, 2013; Ibáñez & Kloos, 2018; Jensen & Konradsen, 2017), there is limited research regarding educators’ interests, prior knowledge, and questions related to these technologies. This study looks beyond early adopters’ uses of these technologies to the broader population of educators, including current and future teachers, technology integration specialists, librarians, administrators, and higher education professionals who are interested in learning about these tools.
Ultimately, the majority of participants were generally unfamiliar with these technologies. Although these technologies have been around for decades and these tools have been featured in popular media (Barnard, 2019; Iqbal, 2020; Schoffer, 2016), most participants were not able to fully describe what these technologies were or how they worked. These findings indicate that there has not yet been widespread adoption of these technologies, or trainings about these technologies, in school settings.

However, while participants shared limited conceptualizations of AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling, most were able to identify at least one thing they knew about the tools. Understanding what educators know already can be useful in creating professional learning experiences that build on educators’ knowledge and address any misconceptions or concerns they may have about the technologies. For instance, some of the participants shared misconceptions, such as AR causes dizziness, VR is only for gaming, or 3D printing and modeling can be used to teach coding. Additionally, several participants identified affordability as a major concern for using current and emerging technologies like AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling. Setting aside time during the start of training to address misconceptions and barriers and concerns, like how to fund these technologies or use free versions (e.g., having students create 3D models on Tinkercad without needing a printer), might increase educators’ use of these tools in their practice (Ertmer, 1999; Patterson & Han, 2019).
While participants were generally unfamiliar with the use of these technologies in education, they all shared a desire to learn more about AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling. Specifically, participants wanted to update or expand their TK. They seemed to want to learn about AR, VR, and 3D printers first, including what these technologies are, how they work, and how to troubleshoot them, before determining whether to incorporate them into their practice. This indicates that current and future teachers might benefit from a technology tools showcase where they can observe demonstrations of the technologies in action, try them out in a safe space without worrying about breaking them, and speak with technology experts about their TK concerns, such as troubleshooting and accessibility.

Beyond TK, most participants wanted to discover how these tools could fit within, shape, or be shaped by their pedagogical practice (TPK). Several participants expressed an interest in using these tools to increase student engagement and improve student learning experiences, while a smaller number of respondents wanted to know how these tools could be embedded into teaching to positively impact student learning outcomes. While integrating novel technologies, like AR, VR, and 3D printing and modeling, into classes is a popular way to increase student engagement, previous studies have found that there are numerous other benefits to the educational uses of these tools, including improved academic knowledge, enhanced visual and spatial skills, increased interactivity with content leading to deeper learning, overcoming spatial and temporal barriers, and developing 21st century and employability skills (e.g., Author, 2017; Cheng & Tsai, 2013; Choi & Kim, 2018; Ibáñez & Kloos, 2018, Jensen & Konradsen, 2017; Kavanagh et al., 2017; Lee, 2012; Patterson & Han, 2019). Only a small number of participants were able to identify the benefits of educational uses of these tools other than student engagement, indicating that an exploration of research studies and model lessons might be helpful in shifting educators’ thinking about whether and how to use these technologies in their practice. Therefore, we suggest that teacher educators and pre- and in-service teachers collaboratively explore the literature, best practices, and model lessons for teaching with these tools and identify and discuss potential benefits and applications.

Ultimately, this study explored why educators wanted to learn about AR, VR, and 3D printing, what they already knew about these technologies, and what they wanted to know about these technologies. The findings from this study suggest that educators are generally unfamiliar with these technologies or have limited conceptualizations about how these tools work, but also they are interested in discovering how these tools can be used within and across curriculum and grade levels to enrich and advance learning. The findings from this study can serve as a guide for creating professional learning opportunities that support the mainstream adoption of AR, VR, and 3D printers in K-12 schools and higher education.


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Dr. Torrey Trust, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Nathaniel Woodruff, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Matthew Checrallah, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Jeromie Whalen, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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