VR safety & hygiene protocol for the Athelstone School Study

The VR School Study has always been concerned with safe and ethical use of immersive technologies especially with children and young people, and in schools. We were the first to create safety resources and procedures for teachers and students and, in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, we continue to make safety and hygiene the top priority.

Hence, we have developed a safety protocol and set of related resources to address hygiene and safety for VR headsets that use mobile phones – this is the type of equipment we are using for the 360° VR content creation that is the basis of the Athelstone Italian language learning study. The resources were developed for training primary (elementary) school aged children in Years 5/6.

Context always matters when assessing and addressing risk including VR use in classrooms, especially during a pandemic. When undertaking risk assessment and development of protocols and resources to mitigate risk for VR (or any equipment digital or otherwise), each school must address their local conditions, follow expert advice on hygiene and safety, and develop their own risk assessment, protocols and resources.

For the Covid-19 state-of-play in South Australia (SA), where Athelstone School is located, see the SA government updates here – https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/home/dashboard and the SA Department of Education website on Covid-19 here – https://www.education.sa.gov.au/supporting-students/health-e-safety-and-wellbeing/covid-19-coronavirus. Our protocol and resources were developed in August 2020 when the Covid-19 situation was reflected in the snapshot from the government website below:

Here is a summary of the risks identified and the proposed mitigation strategies developed in relation to context:

Potential riskMitigation strategy
Covid-19 transmission through student sharing of VR headsets and phones– Assign each student their own headset, box for headset storage and phone
– Label headsets, storage box and phone with the name of the student to allow students and teachers to monitor the use of personally assigned equipment.
– Teachers train students in not sharing headsets, storage box or phones and to always return headset to its assigned box.
– Reinforce safety and hygiene messages and procedure in class at the beginning of the lesson and with a poster displayed at the front of the classroom and with a laminated version on each desk.
– Teachers in-class monitoring that students use their assign headset and pack headset into assigned box.
– For the duration of the research no other students or classes use equipment.  
Lack of compliance with Education Department Covid-19 advice for schools  – Principal does daily online checks of Department’s Covid-19 advice for schools to ensure compliance and that the project’s risk mitigation strategies do not contravene advice.
Poor VR headset and phone hygiene– At the beginning and end of each lesson students wash/sanitise their hands.
– At the end of each lesson students use disposable sanitiser wipes to clean their assigned headset (except for lenses) and phone at the end of each lesson and return VR headset to its assigned box.  
Teacher handling of phone after it’s been sanitised may put them at risk  – Teachers use disposable gloves to collect phones from students and connect these to charging station.
Desk contamination with from VR headset– At the end of the lesson and after wiping their headsets and phones, students use sanitiser wipes to clean their desk and the laminated safety poster which is on their desk.  
Improper disposal of used sanitiser wipes and gloves– At the end of each lesson students dispose of used disinfectant/alcohol cloths in plastic bag that has no tears or holes in it and this is tied shut by teachers who dispose of it directly into school skip bin.
– Teachers dispose of used gloves in plastic bag that has no tears or holes in it and this is tied shut by teachers who dispose of it directly in to school skip bin.  
Students experience cybersickness– Students trained to recognise signs of cybersickness or discomfort and to immediately take headset off and tell teacher.
– The training message is reinforced on safety poster displayed in classroom with a laminated version on each desk.
– Students buddy-up to check on each other during use of headset.
– Limit of 15 minutes per lesson in headset monitored by teacher and student-buddy.  
Students move out of seat with VR headset on and injury themselves or others– Students receive training on staying seated while they have the headset on.
– The training message is reinforced on safety poster displayed in classroom with a laminated version on each desk.
– Students buddy up to make sure each remains seated and teachers monitor this in class.  

Here are the teacher-delivered safety and hygiene training script for students:

Here is the teacher safety and hygiene classroom procedure:

The ‘Be VR Safe’ poster for display in classrooms and on student’s desks is a child-friendly version of the safety and hygiene procedure outlined in the training script.

All these resources can be downloaded from the resources section of this website.

On a related note – Since the beginning of the pandemic, the VR research and industry sectors have been working overtime to define and address safe use of high-end VR (where the computing is in the headset) and although there is no definitive advice this article covers some of the issues –  https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/evaluating-immersive-experiences-during-covid-19-and-beyond

Until next time, stay safe.

A/Prof Erica Southgate

Cover photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Conceptions of VR + signature pedagogies = learning fit

In my recent book, I provide some explanatory frameworks on the pedagogical uses of VR. While much of the public discourse centres around technical differences between types of VR (i.e. the difference between 3 Degree of Freedom [DOF] vs 6 DOF) or whether 360° technology is ‘real’ VR, as an educator I think it is more important to focus on the pedagogical utility of the technology. One way of making pedagogical sense of VR is to conceptualise its different possibilities for learning with explicit connection to the signature pedagogies of disciplines (or school subjects derived from disciplines).

The diagram below (developed for the book) illustrates some key conceptions of VR for learning. VR applications can reflect one or more of these concepts.

When teachers are considering VR they should explore the learning experiences the application offers and how this might fit with the range of instructional strategies commonly used in specific subjects. For example, if you were teaching history you might ask if the software offers a means for transporting students to another place or time because this would fit well with the instructional repertoire usually deployed in the subject area. A core instructional strategy used in a subject is called a ‘signature pedagogy’ (Shulman, 2005). Signature pedagogies are important because they:

implicitly define what counts as knowledge in a field and how things become known…. They define the functions of expertise in a field. (Shulman, 2005, p. 56)

In the case of sparking the imagination through a historical re-creation experience (re-creation being a signature pedagogy of the discipline of history), a time-travel experience would traditionally be facilitated through the instructional use of text, maps, or video. Choosing a time-travel VR experience for history makes good pedagogical sense because it leverages or extends on the signature pedagogy of that particular discipline. Relatedly, this is why VR resonates with the types of place-based pedagogy used in subjects such as geography or in professional training simulations. The technology can be used to take the learner elsewhere and its spatial affordances (properties) fit with the signature pedagogy of geography which is the field trip or professions where situated learning in workplaces (placements) are key (such as clinical health or teacher education).

Let’s look at another example using the diagram. In order to teach science, an educator might want to  provide students with the opportunity to conduct experiments that are too complex or dangerous for a school laboratory – experimentation in labs being a signature pedagogy of the discipline of science. The teacher would therefore investigate if there was a total learning environment in the form of a virtual laboratory available so that experiments could be safely simulated.

A performing arts teacher might find that a virtual studio would be a great addition to the actual studio of the drama classroom because it offered a range of tools for her student to design sets and costumes. VR design studios allow for ease of prototyping (click of the controller for creating, erasing and changing elements) at actual scale and let students easily share design ideas for rapid feedback from the teacher and peers (the book has a case study on how a real teacher did this in a rural school).  In this case, the virtual environment offers tools to support the signature pedagogy of drama teaching which involve facilitating the creative processes through improvisation and iteration.

Finally, some VR applications enable student content creation – this might be through coding (using game engines such as Unreal and Unity for example) or with more accessible ‘no code create’ drag-and-drop software. In this pedagogical conception of VR, students use the technology as a form of immersive media that can tell a learning story. Students create their own worlds and tell their own stories to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes and to communicate with, and teach, others.

This pedagogical conception of VR as media informs our latest research on using 360° content creation for second language learning at Athelstone primary school. The 360° platform, VRTY, offers ‘no code create’ opportunities for primary school students to create their own ‘surround’ worlds that acts as a foundation to embed other media into (other media includes gaze-activated pop-up text, sound files, photos, videos, gifs and animations). Students are required to demonstrate that they meet learning outcomes, such as oral or written mastery of Italian vocabulary, by creating a 360°world that is enriched with other digital content they have created. Students can link 360° environments together through gaze-activated portals. The many layers of media content creation entail students planning, experimenting, designing, and evaluating the story they want to tell in their virtual worlds. They then share their creations with peers and the teacher for authentic feedback. They are making media-rich narratives to educate others about the Italian language and culture while demonstrating content mastery.

One our key research questions involves understanding how language teachers can leverage their signature pedagogies to take advantage of the learning affordances of 360° media creation in ways that enhance student engagement and learning. Concentrating on the instructional utility of VR in direct relation to the distinctive pedagogies of the subject being taught – its signature pedagogies –  will yield theoretically rich and salient insights for teaching and curriculum design. You are invited to follow our adventure. Stay tuned.

Bought to you by A/Prof Erica Southgate on behalf of the Athelstone School VR School Team


Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus134(3), 52-59.

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

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