Massive Mixed Reality Community Engagement

Eric Hawkinson
Eric Hawkinson — Learning Futurist
6 min readMay 18, 2017


On Friday, April 7th 2017 our research group (Mixed, Augmented and Virtual Realities in Learning — MAVR) in collaboration with The University of Fukuchiyama in Japan, designed and implemented a series of mixed reality environments to orientate and connect students to the community and its members.

The design was the latest iteration of a class of mixed reality learning environments by the group and largely based on the previous years AR Quiz Rally design by Eric Hawkinson. Over the course of an entire day, 220 participants in teams of 10 explored the city of Fukuchiyama in a gamified mixed reality experience. Fukuchiyama is a city in the mountains of north Kyoto Prefecture (Same idea as up-state New York). Students used an augmented reality application and a popular messaging application to find locations, objects and people in the city as well as complete team building challenges and engage with members of the community.

The goal of the project was three fold.

  1. To orientate new students to the city
  2. To create an atmosphere conducive to building new relationships
  3. To connect students to members of the community and opportunities for further community engagement

Augmented reality is very well suited to enhance this type of environment. There are physical locations and people to visit and participants can benefit from receiving timely information about where they are and what/who is around them.

The teams of participants were made up of mostly in-coming freshman students to the University of Fukuchiyama but also included at least two upper class members and one faculty/staff member.

The research team, was mostly made up of members from the MAVR Research group. The MAVR group is looking into what kinds of mixed reality designs work best in different learning environments and had some projects already in progress that were integrated into the activities of the day. One example of those projects is a study abroad pre-departure VR project by Josh Brunotte and Chris Hastings. Another is a AR library scavenger hunt designed by Eric Hawkinson. The team split up all over the city to facilitate different mixed reality activities, Eric stayed on campus and managed communication over all teams and researchers at mission control.

Mission Control

We used a computer lab on campus to track the movements of teams, support the teams with guides and information, and also collect and manage all of the information that was being gathered by the teams as they moved around the city and completed challenges. We called it mission control.

A message from mission control to all teams

Design Elements

One of the challenges of designing this type of learning environment is logistics. You need to manage the movements and time of groups of people in a way that allows the overall flow of the activities run smoothly. One of the first things we did was plan out where all our potential interactions were, some of those interactions were limited to a time or set of times, some were limited to the number of people that could engage at one time. From this we created a map to then start to plot out travel times between locations.

From this we boiled own the activities into three categories.

  1. Community Engagement hearings — Each team was given a time and place to meet up with a member of the community. These meetings were with business owners, public officials and other community leaders. They needed to meet at a time most convenient for the guest so we prioritized team movements around this schedule.
  2. Mixed Reality Stations — We designed enough mixed reality stations so that each team could visit one station over the course of the day. Each station could be visited by multiple teams but not more than one team at a time.
  3. Secret Missions/Challenges- We devised a series of challenges and were activated at appropriate times when we knew there could be some down time. They asked teams to find a place or person and take group selfies or find some bit of information about local points of interest.

Augmented Castle

The biggest historical symbol of the city of Fukuchiyama is the castle which was restored to become a monument and museum. Two MAVR researchers, Parisa Mehran and Mehrasa Alizadeh from the Cybermedia laboratories of Osaka University created an English vocabulary activity based on a translation of the history of the museum.

MAVR research team member Parisa Mehran wrote a blog about her involvement and about the preparations that went into the mixed reality activity at the Fukuchiyama Castle.

Augmented Library

At the public library there were two activities that were designed to have participants learn about the history of the city and get familiar about getting around.

When teams first got to the library they used our AR application to scan a trigger in the lobby that asked them to walk a specific course to a room on the 3th floor.

On this route there are listings of important historical events in Japan and Fukuchiyama written in Japanese. The application overlayed English translations of those events on the wall.

When they finally got to the room teams were presented with a lockbox and AR trigger. The trigger was a cipher to help use dates from the history of Fukuchiyama to unlock and open the box.

Inside the box there was a few sets of Google Cardboard and they were used to give teams a virtual scavenger hunt of the city.

Augmented Fire Station

We were experimenting with different levels of augmentation. One of the AR stations we created tried to leverage the face to face interactions at the local fire station as students learned basic CPR and fire safety. We simply created a narrative to make the movement around the area more exciting.

You can read more about it on a blog post by Erin Noxon.

Morning Missions

From mission control, we directed teams to find locations and people in the city we knew would be close by. Some missions required teams to take group selfies while others asked the teams to find information.


Of course, students were able to take a break for lunch. Which we took as an opportunity to augment information at local restaurants and expand on the city’s electronic word of mouth about them.

Secret Missions

The secret missions were a great way to have the teams collect media about their experiences. We asked them to take group selfies, sometimes in different poses.

Reflection and Harvesting

When teams returned to campus, they were asked to create a newspaper on the days activities. Using images, videos and information they collected over the course of the day. They wrote articles about the city, the community, and their experiences and added the media they collected.


There are a ton of lessons to take away from this project and we are still learning more as the data is analyzed from the event. The amount of data that was collected from use of augmented and virtual reality in itself is perhaps telling of a new level of learning analytics coming around the corner.

Mixing realities still needs a ton of calibration to make sure the environment gives a worth while experience, connecting learning outcomes in this way can be challenging and require some creative thinking, but when they work out we found the reception from participants to be very responsive.

Not all stakeholders really grasped the meaning or intent of using AR and VR in the environments and of course would tend to want to give tours of the locations as they are used to doing. The AR application allows for personal discovery and the curators couldn’t help but point things out or explain things about the locations they the AR app could have shown if left participants to explore with them.

Next Steps

Our research group still busy breaking down just what occurred on the day. You can expect more detailed reports and research papers to come.

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Eric Hawkinson
Eric Hawkinson — Learning Futurist

Eric is a learning futurist, tinkering with and designing technologies that may better inform the future of teaching and learning.