Augmented Reality as a Sustainable Technology to Improve Academic Achievement in Students with and without Special Educational Needs
Virtual reality has impacted education, where progressively more educational institutions consider its inclusion. The research problem derives from the need to study the educational possibilities provided by integrating augmented reality into the curriculum and its effect on academic achievement in a diverse class, specifically in chemistry. This study examines 60 school-age participants with and without special educational needs, and addresses three overarching questions: (a)Would integrating augmented reality (AR) technology result in better academic achievement? (b)Would knowledge be retained longer by using AR? (c) Is there any relationship between academic achievement, acceptance and motivation regarding the use of this technology? Embracing the socio-constructivist theory of learning and collaborative and immersive learning as a framework, this study was carried out using a quantitative approach and a pre-experimental design.
The AR VR Molecules Editor application was used in chemistry lessons. Main results showed significant immediate academic achievement and content retention. Despite classroom diversity, immersive technologies enhance students’ learning regardless of whether they have special educational needs (SEN) or not. They also acknowledge that AR is a suitable sustainable technology that may foster social and cognitive justice and inclusive education, and train students that are equally prepared for the dynamic future.
Currently, the Chilean Educational Reform, with its pillars of inclusion as well as comprehensive, quality and public education, has promoted a process of transformation in the educational system. Through public policy, it also has traced a route to transit, with a rights-based approach, towards quality education in which all students participate and progress in learning and comprehensive development . The Educational Inclusive Law N°20.845  in this country states that schools must guarantee the right to education to all people in the community by working on the elimination of discrimination and an approach to diversity. Therefore, they must guarantee the access, permanence, learning and participation of every student, recognizing their diversity and favoring a pedagogical work more pertinent to their identities, abilities, needs and real motivation .||
Moreover, the Ministry of Education’s 2015 formal resolution on special education, called Decree 83, approves guidelines and criteria for curricular adaptation. It also promotes the diversification of teaching, not only for those students with special educational needs (SEN) but with the understanding that any child or young person in the classroom, by virtue of their individual characteristics or the circumstances of their context, could find barriers for learning, developing or participating in culture, curriculum and life at some point in their schooling. Additionally, it specifies more or less specialized or personalized support . In this sense, it pursues promoting the ability of teachers and professionals in general, to innovate their pedagogical practices through a theoretical-practical approach called Universal Design of Learning (UDL). It is assumed that implementing UDL facilitates greater opportunities for participation and access to learning in a multicultural and diverse school. It also encourages all students to achieve the essential and fundamental learning objectives established in the school curriculum .
To provide an understanding of the concept of inclusive education, we agree with the UNESCO  approach, which considers it as the process of strengthening the capacity of the educational system to reach out to all learners. As learners, we understand all students in a classroom, with and without disabilities . For us, this concept is broad and enhances all the diversity of students that can be presented in a classroom. However, in this study, we emphasize students with special educational needs.
Meanwhile, the incorporation of information and communication technologies in education has managed to become an educational resource that facilitates student learning in a didactic, creative and motivating way. Technologies have had an essential role in the development of Universal Learning Design (known as DUA in Chile) since its origin, and the use of digital materials in classrooms shows that students with disabilities obtain better results than with printed materials . Learning is also enhanced for students without disabilities. ICT enables the students’ ways of learning in science subjects (physics, biology and chemistry) where students have presented serious difficulties for decades. Research has shown that these difficulties are related to the traditional one-way, teacher-centered, expository and rote teaching, causing a lack of motivation and study techniques by the students .
Different studies show that the use of technology in general, and of immersive technology specifically, favors educational processes. Both virtual reality and augmented reality improve student achievements, as it is possible to have better results with technological means. It also improves and increases interest, motivation to learn and positive acceptance in the use of technologies in educational processes [7,9,10,11,12,13].
In Chile, studies on immersive technologies are mostly carried out at the tertiary levels [14,15,16], and findings in K-12 are rather scarce, especially using technology with students with special educational needs [17,18]. In this context, the research problem derives from the necessity to study educational possibilities provided by the curricular integration of immersive technology such as augmented reality and its effect on academic achievement in a diverse class of secondary students taking chemistry.
In this context, the research questions are: (Q1) Would integrating augmented reality technology in the learning process of chemistry result in a better academic achievement of students with and without special educational needs? (Q2) Would the knowledge be retained longer by using augmented reality? (Q3) Is there any relationship between the academic achievement, acceptance and motivation to use augmented reality technology of students with and without special educational needs after integrating this immersive technology in their learning processes?