What is virtual reality?

Virtual Reality (VR) creates the illusion that a person is somewhere else. Through a computer-generated world, a person can feel fully immersed and able to move and interact in that world (Milgram, & Kishino, 1994).

What benefits does VR offer teaching and learning?

Virtual reality has been around for years. In 2015, I personally bought and used two Google Cardboard VR sets with basic smartphones to add a touch of virtual reality to a higher primary classroom. Unsurprisingly, the experience was a hit with students and I simply did not have enough sets to go around. A couple of years later, I had a full set of class VR Goggles, but with financial constraints, these were again basic versions that required the use of a smartphone. These experiences were both in New Zealand classrooms. Although there were indeed challenges, it quickly became apparent that virtual reality has a place in our 21st-century classrooms and holds huge potential in igniting students’ interest and increasing engagement.

Although research is somewhat limited in an Irish context, there are numerous international studies that highlight the potential virtual reality has in education. Recurring themes include engagement, sustained effort and persistence, interactivity, visualisation, memory retention, positive impact on learners emotions, social engagement and an eagerness to return to the learning content (Allcoat & von Muhlenen, 2018; Mount et al., 2009; McMahon, 2016). The list goes on! Overall, as educators, we can surely all acknowledge that active engagement is an important aspect of the learning process and perhaps this alone is a reason to explore the potential virtual reality could have in our classrooms? Or indeed, we have all heard of the Universal Design for Learning framework, wouldn’t virtual reality be an ideal way to provide multiple means of engagement, representation, action and expression?

So, why are we not unlocking this potential in Irish classrooms on a larger scale?

Several questions come to mind.

Are our educational environments innovation-friendly?
Without incorporating progressive technology in education, are we failing to prepare learners for their future?

In this and subsequent posts, we will explore one Further Education and Training setting’s leap of faith into incorporating virtual reality in their curriculum delivery. Challenges are expected and the outcome is unknown. Perhaps, there are multiple reasons the uptake of virtual reality in Irish classrooms is not greater? Will this setting reveal what these are? Or will this setting discover that the benefits out way the potential challenges?

VR in Education: Where does one start?

First and foremost, a setting must look at the financial implications. There is a wide range of options available; from cheap and cheerful  Google Cardboard (needs a smartphone), to high tech stand-alone devices. Next up, research research and more research! The market is vast and full of technical jargon so this is no easy task. From an educators’ perspective, we need to explore: how the equipment and content will align with our teaching and learning programmes. Know your why!

The journey begins!

After a great deal of head-spinning research, from our untechnical educators’ perspective, there seemed to be three main options grabbing our attention: RedboxVR, Oculus Quest 2 and ClassVR. What made these stand out was the fact they are stand-alone (no wires attached to another device – a classroom hazard!) and all three have educational content available. Where to from here? A simple framework was used to compare the options.

From the above, we ruled out Oculus Quest 2, for the simple reason we wanted the experience to be as easy and secure as possible for teachers and students. Oculus Quest does indeed offer some great VR apps for education, but headsets need to be managed and maintained individually.

In comparison, we felt more secure going with either Redbox VR or ClassVR as both focus on education and offer a high level of student safety, as well as ongoing teacher support.

In the end, the explicitly linked curriculum content, easy to follow lesson plans and the fact teachers could use their current laptops to explore, plan and deliver virtual reality sessions meant ClassVR won us over. On reflection, this could have a lot to do with their marketing team, they have overview videos like this:

and curriculum-linked content overview documents like this:

Success vs Failure: What lies ahead?

Have we made the right decision to put time and energy into incorporating virtual reality? Have we chosen the correct option to make this a success? Will the challenges overcome us? The journey has only just begun! At the very least, we are modelling risk-taking and being willing to fail with learners (valuable 21st-century skills I would argue). In subsequent blogs, we will be sharing how the journey has unfolded from the perspective of management, staff and students. 

Do you believe VR has a place in our Irish classrooms? Have you tried incorporating VR in your classroom – what has worked well and what challenges do you envisage for us as we move forward? We would love to hear your thoughts! 

References

Allcoat, D. and von Mühlenen, A., 2018. Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement. Research in Learning Technology, 26(0).

McMahon, D., Cihak, D. F., Wright, R.E., & Bell, S. M., (2016) Augmented reality for teaching science vocabulary to postsecondary education students with intellectual disabilities and autism. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 48(1), 38-56

Milgram, P., & Kishino, F. (1994). A taxonomy of mixed reality visual displays. IEICE Transactions on Information Systems, 12, 1321–1329. 

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