Updated: Mar 2
I participated in the Central Alberta Teachers conference on Feb 24. I had three lectures lined up – block coding, students' interests and virtual reality (VR). The first two lectures went as expected, with no major surprises. But the VR one was a bit unexpected. I had a great conversation with two high school teachers who, after trying VR, were very adamant that it would never work in the public system. For many reasons, price point and stress of solving tech issues with the implementation are the main factors. I am not going to lie, that bothered me a bit. I genuinely think that VR will replace laptops as laptops replaced books in the classroom (to some extent, but laptops are more common now than they were 10 years ago).
Thus, this article. I want to share my take on using VR to enhance the classroom experience and believe me, I have a thing or two to say about it. Let’s talk a bit about the classroom demonstrations I assisted with, the interactivity it provides and an example of a field trip simulation.
Use of Virtual Reality in Classroom Demonstrations Virtual reality can be used to enhance classroom demonstrations and bring abstract concepts to life. For example, VR can be used to simulate scientific experiments (from a lab to a field study setting), allowing students to observe and interact with the process in a way that is not possible through books or images. Once I used an Anatomy VR app to showcase students body systems. This app (3D Organon) allows you to isolate specific organs, tissues and even systems from a VR body. This unique experience is only achievable in an anatomy laboratory from a University, and it is very costly to maintain an anatomy lab. Students could be inside an organ to see events such as digestion, heart pumping blood and how fat can clog an artery. These ones are not achievable in an anatomy lab. This is what makes VR unique for classroom use – it allows students to be immersed in environments, simulations and situations that are not achievable in the real world.
Enhancing Interactive Learning Experiences Virtual reality can be used to create interactive learning experiences that engage students and bring course material to life. For example, my favourite creative app (called Gravity Sketch) allows students to design in 3D… in real 3D (not 2D converted into 3D like in Tinkercad). It is like playing with clay but in VR and without the messiness clay can create. I have ongoing Gravity sketch clubs with Strathcona Tweedsmuir school. I teach kids the basics of design, let them play solo and then we move to a co-lab – a collaborative virtual environment where students can co-create 3D designs. The type of tech that the industry is using nowadays (and grades 4+ are experiencing in school). Kids interact with themselves, with their design and with their design classes. This intertwining of interactions enriches learning and makes it super meaningful. In 2023, the kids coming to my winter clubs would normally arrive 10-15 minutes BEFORE the club starts just so they can get ahead of their design. I call that a win. Virtual Field Trips and Simulations Virtual reality can be used to provide virtual field trips and simulations, allowing students to explore places and scenarios that may be difficult or impossible to visit in person. I once had to teach a residency at a public school here in Calgary that focused on the new ENS curriculum and renewable resources. None of the kids in the class ever visited a hydro plant in real life. So why not bring them to one in VR? I found an interactive 360º/VR video that allowed students to see the workings of a hydro plant. Much cheaper than taking kids to a real hydro plant (imagine the logistics of it). And guess what? The video was free, and the VR gear can be used many times! That saves money in the long run and allows teachers to give students experiences without a lot of logistics and paperwork.
In conclusion, virtual reality technology has the potential to greatly enhance the classroom experience for students, providing them with hands-on and interactive learning experiences that bring course material to life. The gear is expensive and there are many challenges in setting it up properly. But the long-term benefits are immense, from enhanced experiences to money saving. Also, who does not want to be ahead in the teaching competition when VR becomes more common in schools?
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