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.

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 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.

40651883._SY475_

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

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.

Student 360° content creation for learner agency

How do children go about planning the content and experiences of virtual environments that they are creating to demonstrate learning mastery? How do they think about creating virtual environments for their peers to learn in? What are the special learning outcomes related to this? Not much is known about these areas. 

The VR School Study is interested in students as virtual environment content creators. As part of the research, we collected data on the approaches students take when creating their own virtual worlds to demonstrate mastery of learning. This blog reports on interesting findings from the Athelstone School Innovative Languages project where primary (elementary) aged children are building their own 360° virtual tours to demonstrate mastery of the Italian language.

The students are using VRTY, a platform that allows them to plan and create their virtual worlds without needed to code. The platform provides easy-to-use tools with built in tutorials and a fun guide so that students can independently learn to use the platform after a couple of formal training sessions. Previous blog posts describe the VRTY platform and how it is leveraged through the teacher’s curriculum design. The first step, after training, is for students to research and plan their virtual tour. The planning involves storyboarding through VRTY. Students need to:

  1. Locate and choose the 360° photo scenes of Italy that best fit a tour narrative.
  2. Locate cultural and historical images that could be embedded in each scene.
  3. Create their own content to embed in the scene such as text and sound file that draw on the vocabulary mandated and reflect their research on cultural and historical information about Italy.
  4. Design a narrative through storyboarding in VRTY that reflects the story they want to tell and consider whether the tour experience should be linear or non-linear (the image below is of one student’s storyboard).
  5. Create each 360° scene and embed their content into it in an engaging way and place teleporter hotspots in the scenes so those experiencing the tour can move between scenes.  

Fourteen students from a mixed ability class chose to be part of the project with 11 virtual worlds in total created – some students chose to work in pairs. Equal numbers of boys and girls participated. On average student virtual worlds comprised six 360° scenes. Overall, students created 187 pieces of content to embed in scenes in their virtual worlds, including 50 sound files and 137 information markers. The cover image to this blog post is a screen shot from the student tour ‘Journey around Rome’ which shows student created information and sound markers embedded into the scene.

Interestingly, 7 of the 11 worlds were structured according to a non-linear narrative. Non-linear narratives allowed those experiencing the tour to move back and forth between all or most 360° scenes. Students who developed a non-linear narrative storyboard explained that this allowed have the freedom to go back and check out aspects of a scene they might have missed or enjoyed. The image below is of a non-linear narrative storyboard developed in VRTY. The virtual tour was created by a female student who called it ‘Journey around Rome’ and it allowed the traveler to move between a number of historic sites with all sorts of images, text and sound files in English and Italian embedded into them which used the mandated vocabulary and other Italian. Best still the traveler could return to a hotel room and decide which day trip they might take next or they could go back and visit somewhere they had already been.

The storyboard in VRTY for ‘Tour Around Rome’ illustrates the non-linear narrative created by the students with arrow indicating the direction of travel that was possible between 360° scenes.

This sophisticated non-linear narrative approach to constructing a user experience was premised on creating a sense of agency for those experiencing the tour (or other learners). In choosing non-linear narratives some children were tapping into the strength of developing learner agency when designing their virtual worlds. Non-linear narratives were not essential for developing agency but, in many cases, were important to this.

The significance of developing agency in learning cannot be underestimated, as Williams (2017) explains:

“Students with agency develop a self-perception that is based on their abilities as independent thinkers. Our task as educators is not to tell them what to think but to help reveal their thinking by reflecting back to them what we are observing and noticing and naming their acts of problem solving. This feedback builds a metacognitive awareness that reinforces their identities as capable thinkers who are able to construct their own understandings. This mode of learning shifts the locus of power from the teacher to the student, thus setting up students as the experts in their own learning.” (p. 11).

The Athelstone School VR project illustrates how many students themselves understand the significance of agency in creating engaging and efficacious 360° learning environments.

Reference

Williams, P. (2017). Student Agency for Powerful Learning. Knowledge Quest45(4), 8-15.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑