Networking AR

Research output: Non-textual formSoftwareResearch


Students in Information Communication Technology are required to understand complex theoretical multi-step problems especially in network communication and security. However, these problems are often difficult to interpret and rationalise in a real-world analogue context. Networking augmented reality (AR) is a mobile smartphone application that has the potential to revolutionize the way students learn about computer networks. Networking AR represents a mixed reality software application to help students understand theoretical network complexity and provide an improved pedagogy to teach networking concepts to 21st-century students from varied cultures. The physical component, using 3D printed stands and an AR app, allows students to build and simulate a network, providing a direct relationship between object making and computer modelling, which enables a haptic and visual feedback loop for learners. This is a joint research project between Bond University and Central Queensland University exploring augmentation of networking skills through mixed reality visualisation.

Learning to understand complex theoretical concepts, especially those without real-world analogues in computer networking is complex (Cowling & Birt, 2016). Previous research has shown the effectiveness of visualisation in education as a positive learning support tool, and how physical analogues can be useful in presenting computer science concepts (Dobrilovic, Jevtic & Odadzic 2013; Powell et al., 2007). However, networking models are complex and require extensive reworking of existing network facilities, and abstract visualisations do not capture the complexity of the logical models (Bell, 2014). By using augmented reality (AR) technology, educators can create a more engaging learning environment that encourages active participation from students. This technology can also help bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application by providing a hands-on experience that simulates real-world scenarios.

The Networking AR software aims to investigate the use of mixed reality, specifically represented through physical 3D printed models and mobile AR applications, as a tool to assist students in building a mental model for complex abstract theories. The app uses an AR application programmed with free commercially available tools, tested through an action research methodology. The application places 3D models of network equipment in a field, allowing students to observe packet traversal and routing between different devices as data travels from source to destination.

Specifically. The software aims to provide an improved pedagogy to teach networking concepts to 21st century students from varied cultures, with mixed reality used to visualise how data travels through various network components. The intervention involves a two-step process for students, with a physical 3D printed component provided first to allow students to build a network, followed by an app that can simulate network operations over the physical network that was built by students using augmented reality.

Results of software usability testing showed that students found the intervention useful, and comments from students and from the research assistant observer supported the ability of the visualization to help students clarify concepts and interact with the model. However, they also showed the importance of scaffolding and structuring to help students with their initial experience as highlighted by the usability results. Hence, despite the small sample size, this work has proved useful as a first loop of the study to gather usability data that will be used to modify the tool in the future.

The study contributes to the research community by demonstrating the effectiveness of mixed reality in enhancing students' understanding of complex theoretical concepts, and specifically providing a solution to the lack of physical model in computer networking, a field where this issue has not yet been fully resolved.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherApple App Store
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2017


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