Extended Reality (XR)

Extended Reality (XR) is a simple term used to describe emerging technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). This site contains a curated compilation of resources designed to help you understand these advancing technologies. 

Background on XR 


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In VR, the user can feel like they are present in a digitally created space. The brain treats the VR experience as a real experience and the viewer feels the sensation of "being there" (Bailenson, 2018). It's not suprising that workforce training is an area of early adoption for VR given that experience is the number one affordance of VR. Experiences that can be leveraged across an organization by many people or experiences that are dangerous, too costly, or not possible in real life are good use cases for VR. 

VR applications range from being non-immersive (viewed with a computer or mobile device) to fully immersive (viewed with a Head-Mounted Display, or HMD). Recent interest in VR is attributed to mass mobile technology production that advanced the component technology behind XR and reduced the cost of access to XR experiences (Bailenson, 2018). Watch the short video clip below to get a sense of how VR is being used in teaching and learning as an alternate to real-time, 2D Webinar classes. Stanford VR Researcher, Jeremy Bailenon, talks about a course on the topic of VR that is also taught inside a VR platform.


AR applications ‘add-on’ to a user’s physical world to enhance it digitally. In a teaching and learning context, imagine engineering students using their mobile device to display text and visual overlays while performing electrical procedure training in the lab. An AR activity like this was explored as a solution to alleviate over-populated labs while helping students master specific competencies and proficiency (Martín-Gutiérrez et al., 2015).  AR experiences are called assisted reality or mixed reality depending on whether the user feels like the digital enhancement is overlaid onto, or integrated withln their physical environment, as described in Fig. 1 below (Rauschnabel et al., 2022). MR is considered a complex form of AR and often associated with the Microsoft HoloLens device. 

The University of Maryland has a terrific resource on Augmented Reality in Education: Interactive Classrooms



Fig 1. Four examples on the Assisted-Mixed-Reality Continuum.

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Emergence of XR in the Workplace

The list below provides a breadth of use cases for immersive technology that are emerging in Industry.  To learn more about Industry Verticals, visit the VR/AR Association. To access an online directory of XR focused companies, vist the XR EcoMap.

uWaterloo Library Login may be required to access articles below.

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Teaching and Learning Examples

“XR is an effective technology for active and experiential learning, enabling users to gain concrete experience that might not otherwise be available. By providing “hands on” experience, XR helps promote student engagement with learning materials and deepens student interaction with complex problems.”

Pomerantz & Rode (2020)

The potential of XR as a learning tool is gaining interest from researchers across the disciplines. The examples below show a breadth of XR use cases for teaching and learning.  

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uWaterloo Library Login may be required to access articles below.

See XR Additional Reading by Topic Area for more.

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Where to Start: XR for Teaching and Learning

Consider the variety of ways below that you can introduce students to immersive technology (both as creators or consumers of the technologies). 360 VR, Social VR platforms, Open Content for XR, AR and VR development tools, and Custom Simulations/Games are all part of the growing ecosystem of types of immersive experiences that are emerging across the disciplines. Picking the right experience for your students will depend on your goals, learning outcomes, audience, and either your comfort level with the new technology or your need for custom support. 

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With 360°VR, a user can navigate up, down, and around in a full circle, allowing them to feel immersed in the environment of the photograph or video. 360VR is a good starting point for showing students immersive technology since there are easy to use creation tools and free content sources. Future students can explore photospheres to tour University of Waterloo Campus. The Chemical Engineering (ChE) 360° Interactive 3D VR Distillation Laboratory is an example of a desktop, 360 VR tour (connected photospheres). It is an experience that is designed to prepare students for their inperson, safety training.

Across the disciplines, 360°video can be used for observational, reflective or interactive learning, to illustrate theory and practice to increase learning motivation or for immersive learning experiences (Rosendahl and Wagner, 2023).



Social VR platforms enable students and instructors to collaborate in 3D with a desktop or with a VR headset in real-time. Social VR has the potential to break down physcial distance by offering users the perception of more digital presence than a 2D, flat screen, Webinar might, for example. The potential for Social VR is a wide open area of research for teaching and learning and is also rapidly advancing in the business sector. Educators are starting to see how Social VR may impact future professions. For example, uOttawa's Faculty of Law takes moot trials to the metaverse, is an example of how a discpline is examing future impacts of the technology through experiencing it firsthand.

The platforms below offer tools to build classrooms or provide prebuilt social experiences. 



Virtual World Building Tools

XR creation tools enable instructors and students to create immersive experiences. 



360 Virtual Tours

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XR Accessibility, Design, and Evaluation Resources

Existing user-centred design guidelines, emerging XR guidelines, and industry knowledge bases are good starting points for designing your specific experience. Guidance provided by aforementioned sources can be adjusted for the new abilities and requirements of XR experiences.

As with 2D experiences, best practice for 3D XR experiences is to proactively design with accessibility in mind. Accessibility challenges exist in 3D spaces.  


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  1. Organize the Spatial Environment to Maximize Efficiency
  2. Create Flexible Interactions and Environments
  3. Prioritize User’s Comfort
  4. Keep It Simple: Do Not Overwhelm the User
  5. Design Around Hardware Capabilities and Limitations
  6. Use Cues to Help Users Throughout Their Experience
  7. Create a Compelling XR Experience
  8. Build upon Real World Knowledge
  9. Provide Feedback and Consistency
  10. Allow Users to Feel in Control of the Experience
  11. Allow for Trial and Error  

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University of Waterloo Extended Reality XR AR/VR Community of Practice

The uWaterloo Extended Reality AR/VR Community of Practice  explores XR topics through termly events and a Teams channel for sharing XR news and events of interest. Suggest future topics or request to join the UW AR/VR group by contacting Gillian Dabrowski (CEL), Mark Morton (CTE), or Lynn Long co-facilitators of the group.  

Previous University of Waterloo XR AR/VR Community of Practice Events


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Funding Opportunities for XR Exploration

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 AR/VR News and Organizations

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XR Activities at the University of Waterloo

 The cross-disciplinary list below shows where XR research and exploration is happening at the University of Waterloo.

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XR is often refered to as part of the next computing platform but there are barriers to mainstream XR use. Many of the challenges are repeats of 2D technology that persist in the 3D environment (e.g. accessibility, scalability). Infrastructure, workforce training, complementary technologies, and policy and standards need to be established. More efficacy research is needed. More content is needed.
Resources below provide more information on XR challenges.


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Cybersickness is something that 8-10% of users may experience with HMD, VR headsets. Cybersickness is a good reason to stay with desktop VR in your experiments or pilots or have a plan to provide an alternate format for people who may experience cybersickness. There is active research on cybersickness happening to investigate how to mitigate the uncomfortable feeling that might result from a mismatch of the perception of movement that is created, digitally, from what is actually, physically happening. More is being discovered about how to design experiences to avoid sparking cybersickness in users. 

  • Virtual reality motion sickness may be predicted and counteracted
  • Seamas Weech, PhD Recent Publications on Cybersickenss
  • Design with Game Accessibility Guidelines below to reduce the potential for Simulation Sickness 
    The main strategy to avoid simulation sickness is to avoid differences between what the eye sees, and brain is expecting with regards to movement. 
    • Avoid a sense of movement that doesn’t match user movement  
    • Keep camera in full control of the user at all times
    • Reduce amount of peripheral vision during movement 
    • Give user a frame of reference (such as a desk or cockpit) 
    • Maintain a constant horizon 
    • Avoid objects quickly moving 
    • Avoid acceleration/deceleration 
    • Maintain constantly high framerate and low latency 
    • Avoid blur in peripheral vision 
    • Avoid requirement for fast head movement 



Interoperability is starting to be a focus in the XR industry. Organizations are working together to ensure there is cross vendor cross platform interoperability.

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