Ever wonder what happens when VR is used in real classrooms?

How can the real environment of the classroom interact and intersect with the virtual environment for deep learning and fun?

Virtual reality is becoming ubiquitous and affordable with people asking how it might be used to offer students, of all ages, wondrous learning experiences. When I scroll through my twitter feed, I see all kinds of educational technology (EdTech) articles on virtual and augmented technologies, usually featuring glossy stock photos of children and young people sporting the wide-mouth VR gape, a kind of visual short-hand for just how amazing an immersive VR experience can be. Most of the articles that accompany these images are about how the special affordances of VR (its properties or possibilities for action) can be used for learning – for example, virtual field trips to amazing places on and beyond the planet and the ability to manipulate the scale of virtual objects from the smallest (exploring a single human cell that appears as large as person) to the largest (zooming in and out of archaeological sites from an aerial view to a single in-situ artefact).

While there is imaginative thought in EdTech, evangelist articles, there is also a surprising lack of evidence on what actually happens when immersive technologies are introduced into real live schools.

There is research from the field of computer science and health on lab-based or clinical experimentation using immersive VR with children but this research often has small numbers of participants and can be limited in its implications to everyday ‘natural’ settings. Classrooms are dynamic natural settings where learning, in all its complexity, is influenced by a range of factors from the individual differences of students and their socio-cultural and geographic backgrounds, peer interaction, mandated curriculum and assessment options, and the pedagogy or the instructional choices teachers make every time they plan a lesson or step into a classroom.

So what happens when you provide students and teachers with the opportunity to use  virtual reality for learning?

How can the curriculum be tailored to use immersive virtual reality for deep learning and how can we assess if VR actually enhances learning?

What are the opportunities and challenges of using the latest VR technology in school communities, including equity concerns?

How do students and teachers experience VR in their classrooms?

Importantly, given the developmental stages of learners, how can we use this type of technology safely and ethically in schools?

The purpose of the VR School Study is to create a robust, evidence-informed dialogue on these questions based on the data collected during our collaborative research with teachers in real schools. The project involves openly sharing insights and the resources so that the use of VR in classrooms across subject areas. The focus is on developmentally and pedagogically appropriate and imaginative uses of the technology for deeper learning. We welcome dialogue from students, teachers, policy-makers, researchers and developers on using VR in schools and other educational settings.

This website is regularly updated with new insights and resources so follow it or check back every so often to find out what we are up to.

Erica Southgate (PhD), VR Enthusiast and Associate Professor of Emerging Technologies for Education, University of Newcastle, Australia.

 

 

Featured post

On researching VR with teachers in schools

I recently did a podcast with VR enthusiast and educator Craig Frehlich on why we need to do more research WITH teachers, and not on them, to really understand the enablers and barriers to integrating a wide range of powerful, curriculum-aligned VR learning opportunities into classrooms:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-82-vr-participatory-research-and-pedagogy/id1333244708?i=1000580379562

This of course extends to providing genuine opportunities within research projects for students to provide their perspectives on the use of the technology for learning and to showcase their virtual creations to authentic audiences (more on this in a future blog post).

Pedagogical strategies for introducing 360° VR in class

Year 7 students at Trinity College are set the task of creating a vision of the school of the future using 360° VR as the medium of communication; these VR visions used to inform conversations in the school community from a student perspective. Before they begin the project, the class does an initial lesson to become familiar with the hardware and is guided through two brainstorming activities by teachers Jessica Simons and Steve Grant. These brainstorming activities are intended to get students thinking about safety in VR and have them identify engaging design feature of a 360° VR experience.

Students are asked to work in their small groups to use their desks which as whiteboards to write down a set of safety pointers for using VR. The teachers then guide a whole class discussion to come up with a set of safety guidelines that are synthesised by the teacher on a whiteboard. Here are some of the student’s safety ideas:

TRinity safety 2

Trinity safety 1

Trinity safety 4

This activity was followed by students experiencing a 360° tour using the headset and then having a whole class discussion about what made the tour engaging and what might have been improved. Here is a video except is from the whole group discussion on 360° design features guided by their teachers: 

These pedagogical strategies for first lessons with VR promote student agency and responsibility for safety and prime their imaginations and critical thinking skills through evaluation a user experience of the technology.

P.S. In case you want to put a face to the teachers in the video, Steve and Jessica are pictured below after the delivery of this lesson. To find out more about them go to the Team page of the VR School website.

Designing a 360° VR boating safety resource for children

Associate Professor Erica Southgate has partnered with 360° company VRTY and NSW Maritime, the government agency responsible for marine safety and regulation, to develop a unique learning resource on boating safety for primary school aged students.

NSW Maritime currently undertake education programs on boating safety in schools and are now investing in the development of this digital learning resource to complement face-to-face delivery and promote mobile learning opportunities for students.

The 360° learning resource will cover areas such as the importance of life jackets, essential safety equipment on boats, and on-water awareness. It will include a child-centred narrative and interactive and informative multi-media pop-ups. Some of these pop-ups will be ‘easter eggs’ or fun findable content embedded in the resource for discovery learning. The learning affordances or special properties of 360° media are well suited to a learning resource on boating safety as students can be virtually transported out to a waterway to get a real feeling of what it is like to travel in vessel while maintaining awareness of safety. They can learn and practice this awareness in the security of the classroom or home. The project includes a participatory component where children will provide feedback on the design of the resource.

So far, we have brainstormed and storyboarded the resource with NSW Maritime staff. And, we have just returned from capturing 360° footage as the video illustrates. Throughout the rest of 2022, we will keep you updated on our progress on 360° Boating Safety Resource. Stay tuned.

Students co-creating safety guidelines for VR

Throughout 2022, we are focused on students as educational VR content creators. This includes students taking an active role in designing their own guidelines for safely using VR equipment. A visit to Trinity College at the start of their VR project saw Steve Grant, Director of Innovation and Creativity, facilitate a brainstorming session with Year 7 students where they worked together to come up with safety guidance for their project. In addition, students also worked as a whole class to develop ideas about good design in VR. At Southern Montessori School, teacher Toni Maddock led her middle school class through a similar co-design process. This video provides a great insight into the start of the project at Southern Montessori with students working together to develop their own safety instructions. As these teachers demonstrate, facilitating powerful VR learning experiences involves empowering students from the very first lesson.

Southern Montessori School joins the VR School Study

Southern Montessori Middle School is excited to launch our VR project. Southern Montessori’s VR project is part of an integrated Humanities and Science unit based on the inquiry question: ‘How can we secure food for our future?’ Students will be using VR to create their own biome, identify problems arising from human impact, and find solutions to these problems. Students will be challenged to demonstrate their learning in a creative and engaging manner.

Southern Montessori Middle School is a mixed age year 7-9 community located in the southern suburbs of Adelaide with a strong focus on academics. We combine our thirty six Year 7, 8 and 9 students together and work in small, ability-based groups following the Australian Curriculum but presented with Montessori principles. We are committed to innovative approaches to learning that are not only relevant and engaging, but also prepare our students for their future.

Teachers Siobhan Curran and Toni Maddock have developed this unit of work and series of activities designed for students to not only think critically and creatively about the content, but also think creatively about how VR technology can be used as a tool to assist their learning. Having not used VR in the past, students and teachers alike are excited to take part in this research and to see what the students can achieve.

This post bought to you by teacher and co-researcher Toni Maddock

Against reductionism: VR for education

I recently received an intriguing inquiry asking if there was a standard for measuring the effective use of VR in education? What a thought-provoking question (and I thank my colleague for this because it really got me thinking). It got me thinking that now is the time to disrupt some common assumptions about VR (and XR – eXtended Reality) technology for learning so that we can genuinely work out how to best to use the tech in schools and other formal educational settings.

Reductivist assumptions – reducing the complexity of learning and of learning with VR – are sometimes evident in the field of VR for education. These assumptions will prevent us from understanding the many and varied issues related to designing educational VR applications and implementing these at scale in classrooms, virtual and real. Reductionist assumptions restrict our critical engagement and our ability to imagine possibilities for VR in classrooms. Reductionism is a hasty and lazy intellectual and practical position that seeks to simplify the multi-dimensionality of phenomena (things in the world such as this thing we call ‘learning’). While reductionist accounts of using VR for education can offer comforting and easily digestible ‘answers’ to difficult or intransigent issues, this approach will, overall, act as a roadblock for educators navigating towards use of the technology to realise its creative, cognitive, moral and social potential for humans.

Here are a five reductivist assumptions that need challenging:

Reductivist assumption 1: Learning is recalling facts and figures and VR should facilitate this.

Let’s not reduce the difficult and joyous processes of learning to just recalling facts and figures for a quiz. Sure, declarative knowledge acquisition (recalling facts, figures, data, information – the core stuff of content knowledge) is important. This is why remembering (or recall as educators say) is a foundational cognitive process of Blooms Revised Taxonomy (Figure 1) [1, 2].

Figure 1: Blooms Revised Taxonomy [1]

Blooms

Researchers often focus on the question of whether exposure to a VR experience can increase recall of declarative knowledge (facts and figures) especially compared to having the same content delivered via a different type of media or through a traditional instructional approach. This type of research is important as it provides a measure of content knowledge acquisition (usually in the short term, unless the researcher re-tests participants to see whether the knowledge has been retained). From a research perspective it is reasonably easy to give a pre and post quiz on facts and figures and compare the results (and perhaps even give learners other surveys that measure factors that might mediate declarative knowledge acquisition such as an individual’s self-efficacy, spatial awareness, motivation etc.).

However, we would be doing ourselves a disservice as educators and researchers if the only type of learning we cared about was recall of declarative knowledge. As Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy points out, we want to know if student understand the implications of what they can remember, can apply it to similar or novel situations (transfer), deploy that knowledge as part of critical analysis and evaluation, and use it as part of a process that creates completely novel perspectives and products.

We require more research on designing and using VR, and other XR tech such as augmented reality, to support learning that includes but moves well beyond the bottom layers of Bloom’s taxonomy. In practice this means examining VR products for their ‘baked in’ or implicit assumptions about what learning is – if applications only promote recall of declarative knowledge with some limited understanding, then that is fine, as long as we recognise this as only one (vital but limited) facet of learning.

We might also ask ourselves why we should make an investment in VR hardware and software if declarative knowledge recall is the only learning outcome from an app especially if this can be achieved through other more ubiquitous, cheaper technology and/or traditional classroom pedagogical practice?

Reductivist assumption 2: We just need a killer VR educational app and the pedagogical use case will follow.

Some technologists like to talk about killer apps (the one app to rule them all) and how it will create the ultimate “use case” (meaning the best way to pedagogically use VR even though they don’t use the word pedagogy). There are also educators who like to flip this and say, ‘pedagogy before technology’. Both positions are naive simplifications.

I’ve said it before, and I will continue saying it – Pedagogically, VR is not one thing.

As represented in Figure 3, we can think of VR as a new form of media that can empower learners through consumption of immersive experiences and some apps allow learners to create their own virtual objects and worlds to demonstrate learning. There are also VR apps that simulate total learning environments such as laboratories or clinical settings.

Figure 3. Conceptions of immersive VR for learning [3]

Conceptions of VR diagram Feature Image

VR applications can offer diverse types of learning experiences Consider the varying degree of active learning that students can have in different virtual environments (Table 1).

Table 1. Typology of VR environments by student learning interaction and autonomy [3].

Typology

We have a long way to go to theorise and explore the many different pedagogical uses for VR and which of these are most suitable for classrooms across age levels, subject areas, and for different types of learning objectives. I hope that there will be a smarm of killer apps that can create a buzz in the classroom and that these reflect beautiful, pedagogical diversity.

Equally, we need to be much more critical in interrogating the pedagogical assumptions that underpin conceptions of instruction and learning in VR apps. It’s no use saying ‘pedagogy before technology’ when VR applications (and other forms of Edtech) already have pedagogical assumptions baked in.

Reductivist assumption 3: VR is the curriculum

VR apps will never be the curriculum – they can never replace the complex and diverse ways that teachers interpret, enact and truly differentiate curriculum in their classrooms. Thinking that a killer VR app will arrive that will replace a teacher’s skillful mediation of curriculum to student diversity is a furphy. What teachers need are VR apps, with real classroom case studies attached to them, that can help them imagine possibilities and enhancements as they plan and implement their interpretation of curriculum for their students. We need to explore how teachers design curriculum that weaves VR apps through it to enhance specific types of learning.

The metaphor needs to be weaving into curriculum not replacing it.

Reductivist assumption 4: We need a standard way to assess learning with VR

Assessing learning with VR will be as varied as its pedagogical uses and the learning objectives that flow from these. Learning is not one thing. Blooms Revised Taxonomy provides a window into the multidimensional cognitive aspects of learning and being clear about the learning objectives when selecting applications is vital. As teachers ask yourself these questions:

Are we using a VR application to assist with declarative knowledge acquisition? Or, to allow learners to develop procedural knowledge and skills they can practice in a VR simulation? Do we want applications that provide opportunities for transfer of existing knowledge? Or select VR environments that can, in-situ, foster ‘soft skills’ such as communication, collaboration, and time-management? Does a VR app assist with developing affective or moral learning related to empathy or examining belief systems, for example? Are we looking to provide opportunities for learning that involve verbal and non-verbal communication with others for (inter)cultural understanding and exchange? Or, to provide a virtual forum that gives students an opportunity to meet experts who can share their wisdom in dialogue and action?  Do we want to use VR applications that can fire up the imagination to promote creativity and the exchange of creative processes and products? Or select VR environments that give students access to unique artistic, intellectual, cultural or sporting events?

Just as VR is pedagogically not one thing, its potential nexus with the varied types of learning and learning objectives creates a rich educational tapestry. For each of the types of learning listed above, the teacher would identify or develop assessment criteria with metrics and non-quantifiable means of determining if learning objective/s had been met, and the role of VR in this.

While commercial VR is a young technology in formal educational contexts such as schools, we have reached a point where we need to complicate our conception about learning with the tech including our approach to assessment, not simply it.

Reductivist assumption 5: Hardware choices are technical choices

Hardware choices are difficult. In schools we are talking about investment of precious resources with an evolving yet not established evidence base on pedagogical models and efficacy for learning with VR. Hardware choices are not however only technical choices. The hardware, platform and software that teachers choose will have ethical implications for their schools and classrooms.

This is a space filled with tensions and unknowns when legally and ethically it should be clear to educators, students and their families exactly what data is being collected, harvested in real-time and shared/sold-on by tech companies whose VR hardware, software and integrated platforms are being used in classrooms. Artificial intelligence can automatically harvest vast amounts of highly identifiable biometric data (information about individual bodies such as gaze patterns and pupil dilation, movement, proximity to virtual objects, voice etc). Is this data being collected, for what purposes and with what consent? Camera built into VR headsets can capture the real environment that students are in – what implications does this have for privacy?

Manufacturers of hardware usually put an age limit in their online safety advice, and it would be wise for teachers to check this too before procurement. Educators should also be aware that social VR, while opening the world up to learners also has child protection issues.

Many countries have weak regulation regarding data harvesting and the selling-on of such sensitive data including biometrics, which is usually gathered without us knowing. It is up to teachers to think ahead on these types of ethical issues and make fully informed, justifiable procurement decisions. I know this is a difficult job and puts educators in a quandary, but technical choices in this field are also ethical choices.

FYI – The Voices of VR podcast frequently covers privacy in XR – https://voicesofvr.com/

This post is bought to you by A/Prof Erica Southgate.

References

[1] Vanderbilt University (n.d). Blooms Taxonomy Diagram. Retrieved https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

[2] Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice41(4), 212-218.

[3] Southgate, E. (2020). Virtual reality in curriculum and pedagogy: Evidence from secondary classrooms. Routledge.

Cover photo by Rodion Kutsaiev: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-and-brown-round-frame-7911758/

Developing curriculum for 360° VR

This update is from Pembroke School in Adelaide. Ella Camporeale, Assistant Head of Design and Technology and teacher on the VR study, explains how she has developed a unit of work which integrates student 360° VR content creation for her Year 9 Digital Design class:

Ella pic blurred background“I have developed a Semester-long course for my Year 9 Digital Design class using VR as a form of new media for students to demonstrate knowledge about sustainability and to educate others in the school community about this. The learning outcomes from the Australian Curriculum are aligned with the Technologies Learning Area, Year 9 and 10 band. Specifically, the outcomes relate to developing mastery of digital technology, design thinking and digital solutions.

I am dividing the units of work into three topics. We are looking at sustainability more broadly, data on sustainability in the Middle School and the VR project which will allow students to work in groups to create a virtual reality environment on a topic related to sustainability. The data on sustainability we collect will be integrated into the VR component.

 We have been looking at the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of sustainable practice in the Middle School. This is all leading into the pitch the students will be giving for their VR project. We will narrow this down so groups of students work on a specific topic on sustainability in which they will develop their VR environment. Topics will be green space, water, waste, recycling, energy and materials. We hope to amalgamate the VR scenes each group creates to make a single educational resource on sustainability at school. 

Students will undertake a brainstorming activity on how they would like their VR project to look. It may be that they produce a story and develop a more gamified interface with characters designed as markers in the VR scene, it may be an education tool, or produced as a systems pitch. After brainstorming, students will start data collection, setting up interviews and surveys for key school stakeholders. This will allow them to gather and visualise data which will eventually be integrated into their VR project. Finally, students will storyboard and plan the VR component of the project, using a similar process as would be undertaken if using other digital media such as video or animation.

Processes of reflection and iteration will be important as students’ progress through each unit in the project, both in groups and individually.”

Stay tuned for more updates from Pembroke School on their VR journey in 2022.

SEDA College VR project launch

SEDA College in Adelaide launched its VR project on 16 March 2022. SEDA is a senior school with a focus on academics and sport with practical connections to industry. Classrooms are located in local sport, recreation, and community facilities and industry settings. It has a ‘one teacher, one classroom’ model that allows teachers to take on a mentoring approach to education.

SEDA’s VR project is part of an integrated (project-based) unit of work that addresses the driving question: How can 360° virtual reality be used to enhance stakeholder experience in sport? The project launch day was attended by representatives from Football South Australia, and saw students and teachers undertake individual and collaborative learning activities that were sequenced to develop initial knowledge and confidence.

Adrian launch day croppedAdrian Stenta (left), teacher and co-researcher on the VR project, developed a sequence of activities for the launch. The activities were designed to get students thinking about the learning objectives, using the technology for audience engagement, and familiarising themselves with the VRTY platform through guided play. 

Adrian reflected on what it was like for a teacher who had never used VR before to take part in the research and what he hoped he and his students would get out of it:

 

We will keep you updated on Adrian and the student’s VR learning journey. Look out for more updates throughout 2022.

New paper – Students creating a VR learning resource

In 2021, Trinity College, located in Adelaide, undertook a pilot study to explore how junior secondary students could create a 360° virtual reality learning resource on the science of energy for primary (elementary) school students. This collaborative project was important because there are very few studies on how school students can become VR content creators and use the power of the technology for authentic learning. Authentic learning involves actively demonstrating content mastery for real world applications – in this case using the new media of VR to teach younger peers about the wonders of science.

The team learnt a lot during the study with the main factor impacting the project being time due to curriculum constraints rather than secondary student creativity and engagement. Secondary female students were graded highly on the virtual world content creation task indicating that VR content creation can promote good learning outcomes and interest in emerging educational technology for girls.

Younger students generally found the VRTY platform easy to use and most enjoyed experiencing the 360° learning resource produced by their older peers. While the content knowledge of primary school students did not increase after using the learning resource, the project did provide promising results in shifting the current emphasis away from passive VR consumption in secondary school classrooms to active VR content creation by students, for students.

A research paper from the project will be presented at the 2022 IEEE VR KELVAR Workshop: K-12+ Embodied Learning through Virtual and Augmented Reality. The accepted version of the paper ‘School students creating a virtual reality learning resource for children’, is available in the University of Newcastle’s NOVA repository – http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/1430150

To cite this paper:

Southgate, E., Grant, S., Ostrowski, S., Norwood, A., Williams, M. and Tafazoli, D. (2022). School students creating a virtual reality learning resource for children. Proceedings 2022 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW).

This research is conducted in collaboration with, and funded by, the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA).

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