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 twitter feed, I see all kinds of educational technology (ed tech) 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 ed tech, evangelist-style articles, there is also a surprising lack of evidence on what actually happens when immersive technologies are introduced into real live schools.
There is some 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 immersive virtual reality, in this case access to Oculus Rift, 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 low-income school communities?
How do students and teachers experience immersive 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 project is to create a robust, evidence-based dialogue on these questions based on the data we collect during our collaborative research with the the urban Callaghan College school community and rural Dungog High School. We intend to openly and ethically share our insights and the resources we produce as part of the project so that the use of immersive VR in classrooms is thoughtful and powerful for learning. We welcome dialogue from students, teachers, policy-makers, researchers and developers on using immersive technology in schools and other educational settings.
Erica Southgate, VR Enthusiast and Associate Professor of Education, University of Newcastle, Australia