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.

 

 

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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).

What the VR School Study is bringing you in 2022

During 2022, the VR School Study will be reporting on research conducted in collaboration with the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA) and their member schools — SEDA College, Pembroke School and Trinity College — located in Adelaide. The research is also a partnership with 360° VR company VRTY. The research will focus on students as VR content creators in junior secondary school STEM with occasional forays into primary (elementary) school. We will be exploring pedagogical approaches to leveraging VR in STEM classrooms for Deeper Learning and creativity, sharing curriculum ideas, and showcasing the 360° VR content students create for authentic audiences with their unique perspectives on learning through the technology. We will report on progress through numbered project updates from each school which will use the same cover image so that they will be easily identifiable as part of set.  Look out for these as well as other posts that will pull together findings across schools. Let the VR School Study in 2022 begin!

New VR research launch

Exciting news. Today the VR School Study launches a new research partnership with the The Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA) and 360° VR education company VRTY to explore how student content creation can develop the deeper learning skills of content mastery, collaboration, problem solving, communication, creativity, and self directed learning.

The collaboration involves teachers from Seda College, Trinity College, and Pembroke School as co-researchers (see the Team page of this website for bios on these innovative educators). Each school will conduct a bespoke study over time based on the same research questions. This will build a cumulative evidence base on curriculum design and pedagogical choices for powerful learning through 360° VR across STEM-related subjects.

The beauty of the VRTY platform is that students do not need coding skills to create VR environments. This makes it accessible for all students to tell their learning story in VR sophisticated ways, and importantly, share this with others. With the buzz about a metaverse on the horizon, it will be important to empower students to actively engage as content creators of new digital content instead of them being situated as passive consumers. The use of an accessible type of VR for content creation in this project opens up the possibility for all students to have a stake in what is to come.

The VR School Study is unique in its approach to investigating — in all its practical, technical and pedagogical complexity — how VR can be embedded into real school classrooms to value-add to learning, with the project producing useful resources for teachers as well as scholarly insights. The research collaboration with VRTY, AISSA and the three school communities promises credible findings for scaling up the technology. As usual, we will be reporting on our progress as the research unfolds, so stay tuned.

This post bought to you by A/Prof Erica Southgate, Research Lead, the VR School Study.

The metaverse

Ever since Facebook announced its vision for their metaverse on 28 October 2021, including the company’s name change to Meta, there has been a buzz about what it might mean for the future of the internet and our digital (and real) lives.  

Of course, this announcement was set against the recent warnings from a reputable whistle-blower about the harm the social media company is doing including to children and young people through its algorithms that shape user beliefs and behaviour, and inadequate moderation of harmful content.  

This blog post unpacks the idea of the metaverse, taking into account Facebook’s vision but also extending beyond it, to understand its history and highlight some implications for teachers.

Where does the term metaverse come from?

English teachers – You Are Up!

The term metaverse was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 cyber punk novel Snow Crash. It referred to a computer generated universe.

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Snow Crash is a rollicking sci fi read that has fired-up the imagination of those interested in possible technology futures with its fascinating portrayal of the persistent immersive 3D digital world of the metaverse that can be jacked into through a personal headset or public booths that produce a lower grade, glitchy avatar. In fact, the novel popularised the word avatar. It also highlighted the dangers of corporate and government control of knowledge and its infrastructures, dreamt up a devastating hybrid DNA and digital virus, and featured deadly semi-autonomous weapons called ‘rat things’.

An aside: For an earlier version of the metaverse, but this one was called the ‘matrix’, see William Gibson’s (1984) Neuromancer, a dazzling tale about a VR universe inhabited by mastermind AIs that influenced the Matrix film trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy).

What will the metaverse be?

The idea of the metaverse extends beyond Facebook’s (proprietary?) influence and has been described as a spatialised interoperable version of the internet. At the moment no one really knows what the metaverse might be like although there are current smart glasses, persistent VR spaces and gaming sites that provide a window into social, commercial, communication and creative aspects of it. Users will probably connect with the persistent interfaces, spaces and layers of the metaverse using a VR headset or smart glasses or on a screen (or with some type of yet-to-be-invented hardware that can integrate aspects of these). There is also a future vision, and investment into research, for direct human brain-computer interface. The metaverse will be populated with people in avatar form and by AI-powered virtual characters in human and other forms.

Here is a description of what the metaverse might be:

“The metaverse is the idea of a shared digital universe in the cloud created by merging virtual spaces that are physically persistent together with augmented reality (AR) layered over the real world. The metaverse is singular because the concept includes the sum of all virtual and online worlds along with all AR layers enhancing the physical world… Besides games and hangouts, it will include social media platforms, workplace tools, investing resources, online shops and much more. You’ll be able to immerse yourself completely in this spatial internet using virtual reality (VR) technology or just interact with bits of it that are layered over your physical space via AR. Instead of a profile picture, you’ll be represented by a complete digital avatar or persona. You’ll be able to meet up with your friends’ digital personas and wander around visiting virtual places and attending virtual events.” https://history-computer.com/metaverse-the-complete-guide/

For those interested in how Facebook’s metaverse might be designed in stages see this excellent article from Avi Bar-Zeev, veteran developer of and commentator on all things eXtended Reality (XR).

What does the metaverse mean for teachers and students?

1. Be curious but don’t believe the hype: There is a fair bit of publicity around the metaverse, and this will infiltrate the EdTech space – just remember that the metaverse isn’t here yet (at least in a scaled-up interoperable way), and some suggest it may never arrive. So, it’s good to be intrigued without buying into the hype.

2. Keep up with current research on immersive learning: We are still in the early days of building the evidence base for the effectiveness of immersive technologies for learning using headset-mediated VR and augmented reality experienced through glasses or via screen, especially in schools.  Results are promising but ongoing rigorous research is needed so that we can confidently embed immersive learning into school classrooms in ways that make pedagogical sense and align with curriculum across subject areas. Asking questions about the evidence base and keeping up with the research on immersive learning is vital as knowledge about this will allow us to ask the right educational questions as the metaverse evolves.  

3. Get interested in the (dry) but important areas of privacy law, digital legislation and regulation, and AI ethics: The idea of the metaverse only amplifies existing concerns regarding the automated harvesting, sharing and use of data without user consent including biometric data which is about and of the user body (facial recognition, pupil dilation, gaze and movement tracking etc.) and which can be highly identifying. There are many different forms of biometric data and plenty of biometric harvesting tools available and so we need to watch this space carefully. Automated nudging of behaviour and the affective moods of users will be diffused through the metaverse as current visions see this as a place to advertise and sell products to us as well as collect our personal data in ways which will be highly embodied and emotional. The inclusion of cameras in smart glasses and VR headsets adds another layer of complexity to maintenance of privacy. The Internet of Things will seamlessly fuse with the Internet of Bodies creating legal, ethical and social dilemmas for all of us, personally and professionally. Children and young people will be differently impacted at each stage of their physical, cognitive, moral, and social development. The teaching profession needs to ask who will regulate the metaverse, define its standards, and build and control its infrastructure and content, as this should inform decision making on procurement of technology for schools. No teacher wants to bring unethical technology into the classroom and so we need to start understanding and applying ethical frameworks now and into the future as the metaverse merges with aspects of our everyday lives in work, leisure and learning.

4. Empower children and young people to have a say in what the metaverse should be: Look for places in the curriculum where students can investigate and use the technologies related to the metaverse as well as explore public and industry discourse about its ethical and social implications. Such opportunities should expand the boundaries of digital literacy education to take in civics and citizenship, the environmental impacts of technology, ideas about human-machine relationships, and re-formed conceptions of learning, creativity and identity in the new machine age. Some industry doyens, such as the CEO of the child-targeted Roblox gaming platform which has 42 million daily users logins, suggest that children are already in a proto-metaverse and that one day such platforms will be pivotal to a metaverse providing everything from learning, shopping and business communication tools. Schooling systems rarely recognise the digital leisure life of children and youth, and yet industry is watching and factoring this into their plans for the metaverse. It is important that we as educators facilitate children’s critical engagement and agency in this space so that they are not viewed just as consumers or as data points. The voices and visions of children and young people should be integral to shaping a metaverse which upholds human rights including the rights of child.

The post bought to you by A/Prof Erica Southgate who is looking forward to having a snazzy Star Trek Borg avatar in the metaverse.

P.S. For those interested, here is the full Facebook Meta announcement.

Snow Crash novel cover featured in this post is from https://www.amazon.com/Snow-Crash-Neal-Stephenson/dp/0553380958

Happy 5th birthday to the VR School Study

In late August 2021, the VR School study celebrated 5 years of ground-breaking research. Associate Professor Erica Southgate highlights three key findings from research so far:

Research papers and teaching resources are available on the VR School website under the Resources tab and there is a book for those who are interested:

Teachers reflect on 360° VR for language learning

This post reports on Athelstone School teachers’ views on using VRTY, a 360° content creation platform, for learning Italian with primary (elementary) school students. To catch-up on the research go here and here.

Language teachers Jo Romeo and Angelica Cardone provided extensive reflections in video and written form throughout the study. They noted that most students were engaged in the learning task of creating their virtual tour of Italy and incorporate the mandated Italian directional language and greetings. Teachers were particularly pleased to see less technologically confident students gain skills by collaborating with their peers either in pairs to create one virtual world or through peer-to-peer interaction more generally.

Teacher written reflections suggested that throughout the unit of work students were developing the Deeper Learning capacities of effective communication and problem solving through self-directed learning and an academic mindset featuring persistence when confronted with a range of difficulties:

“(The project) has enabled aspects of learning as they (students) have designed and created their own (virtual) worlds without too much teacher input. They have explored the platform on their own and used it to showcase their language and IT skills. Students did their own research on well-known landmarks as well as using their prior knowledge to include in their VR worlds. This has enabled them to learn factual historical information about different Italian landmarks and has also improved their vocabulary on directional language.… Students enjoyed recording their voices for the sound markers (that were embedded in the 360° scenes) and some students also researched how to pronounce particular words. They became independent workers as most of the time they problem solved on their own trying different strategies to see if they worked or didn’t. This displayed determination and commitment to successfully complete their (virtual worlds).”

Throughout the research, teachers learnt about the potential of immersive storytelling for language learning and students learnt about this too, guided by a mix of instructional strategies and creative processes. Instructional strategies included explicit teaching, scaffolding of student independent research and student production of different types of interactive media in Italian and English to be embedded in the scenes of their virtual Italian tour. After students had created several interconnected 360° scenes, teachers encouraged them to make audio files of themselves (sometimes with peers) orally using the directional language central to the curriculum. These voice recordings were then embedded in appropriate places in 360° scenes along with other media students had sourced or created such as photo and text information pop-ups providing historical or cultural facts related to the scene.

Students exhibited joy when experiencing their 360° creations through a VR headset, as the teachers explain:

“Most students reacted (to the immersive experience) with expressions such as ‘This is amazing’, ‘This is so cool!’. They were actually able to experience firsthand by being engaged in their virtual world. … (T)hey were able to interact more with the world they created using the headsets because for them it felt like they were in Italy and experiencing the tour around Italy rather than just seeing it on the screen.”

“The students were excited and eager to view their worlds in VR using the headsets. It was fantastic to see their enthusiasm and wonder at being able to view what they had created on a screen using the VRTY platform into what felt like ‘real life’.”

Longitudinal, deep teacher reflection is a key source of data for the VR School Study. Teacher reflections over time provide important insights in to growth in teacher professional learning, student learning and the success of different pedagogical strategies and curriculum planning approaches when using VR real classrooms.

Cover picture: Our last real-life team selfie before the Covid pandemic hit – Front: A/Prof Erica Southgate; Rear (Left to Right): Athelstone School language teachers Angelica Cardone and Jo Romeo, and Principal (and language teacher) Gyllian Godfrey. The study was funded through the South Australian Department for Education Innovative Language Program Grant.

State of eXtended Reality (XR) and Learning Report

The inaugural Immersive Learning Research Network ‘State of XR & Immersive Learning Outlook Report’ has recently been released. eXtended Reality (XR) is an umbrella term for virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies and immersive learning is a concept used to cover education via these technologies. Associate Professor Erica Southgate, Lead Researcher on the VR School Study, was one of a hundred international experts consulted as part of the report. She is quoted several times on the pedagogical and ethical implications of using VR in schools. This free report is a must read for educators everywhere and can be downloaded here – https://immersivelrn.org/stateofxr_2021/

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