University of Queensland

19 Feb 2020

Improving student engagement with mixed reality technology

The University of Queensland (UQ) is a research-intensive institution, ranked in the top 50 universities worldwide for undergraduate and postgraduate learning.

UQ’s technology team was exploring ways they could help lecturers and teaching staff provide an enhanced learning experience and promote better student outcomes.

In parrallel, Professor Kim Bryceson of the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences was grappling with a large amount of data that was being produced by an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor network on UQ's Gatton Campus. IoT data was being presented in a plain text format in a spreadsheet which was proving to be a barrier to students’ understanding and engagement.  

This barrier is important to overcome as there is a challenge of attracting young people to the Australian agricultural sector, along with addressing the needs of successful agribusinesses for new technological skills in data management.

Key Issues

  • UQ was looking for new ways to increase student engagement, and meet the educational needs for technology skills needed to be successful in agri-business
  • The average age of people in the food production sector across the world has increased significantly over the last 20 years, and the number of farmers in Australia has been declining for many decades
  • It is difficult to attract young people, whether they come from a rural background or not, into agriculture and related areas


UQ was introduced to Telstra Purple, who specialise in delivering innovative software solutions to solve complex problems. Telstra Purple and UQ worked together to identify the key challenges and how augmented reality could help solve them. The aim of UQ and Telstra Purple’s initial partnership was to increase the number of students attending lectures and create a more engaging learning experience. UQ and Telstra Purple worked on a proof of concept (POC) solution, developing an app and using augmented reality through HoloLens for teachers and students at the Gatton Campus. 

As part of the process, Telstra Purple:

  • Developed an application where students learned about treating waste water to remove effluent and produce clean water
  • Built a fish farm simulation where students would use the HoloLens to view a 3D representation of the data in a mixed reality environment including visualising chemicals that students usually can’t see
  • Enabled students to achieve their learning objectives by linking to an assignment associated with the content


The POC showed that augmented reality appears to be highly successful in engaging students in learning experiences.

“Instead of just looking at a spreadsheet, students can play the app, see what's happening scientifically, and do things to manage the environment in real time," explained Professor Kim Bryceson, an agribusiness researcher with the University of Queensland.

“Augmented reality is allowing us to engage students in different ways, and to visualise lots of relatively boring data in really interesting ways. Students learn about something without really realising that they're learning,” said Kim.

UQ and Telstra Purple are now refining the proof of concept classroom with improved data modelling and graphics to make it ready for a wider rollout.

“The partnership with industry has been gratifying and really successful," said Rob Moffatt, AM, Chief Information Officer, The University of Queensland.

“That's because of the commitment from Telstra Purple, who saw the potential to use the technology at the university and to introduce other technologies at the University for similar purposes. We will test the boundaries with this technology as best we can,” said Rob.

The partnership between Telstra Purple and the University of Queensland has turned what started as a broad idea into a usable, effective learning tool:

  • Augmented reality has helped UQ engage students in new ways, creating a fun learning environment while preparing students for the future in agribusiness
  • Application was developed for the easily programmable, user-friendly HoloLens augmented reality platform, allowing project staff to focus on maximising usability and educational value
  • Students have gained a view of the impact of environmental and scientific changes on the health of aquatic ecosystems in a new and engaging ways