An update from the VR School Study

As we move into Phase 2 of the VR School Study, the team thought that we would give you a quick video update on what we have learnt so far and what we hope to achieve over the next few months. Here is Associate Professor Erica Southgate with the low down!

And how cool is the featured picture (top). It is a student work sample from Phase 1 of the study. On the left is a bluebell that the student created in Minecraft VR and on the right is how he labelled the cross-section of the flower by drawing on his research on the different parts and functions of a plant.  He took Erica on an amazing guided tour of his creation where they both flew around the flower (like bees) while he explained the meaning of the labelled cross-section to her. It was a thoroughly researched scientific experience and great fun to boot!

Students speak out about using immersive VR for learning

What do high school students say about using immersive virtual reality (VR) for learning? Student reflections from the VR School Project provide unique insights into the educational potential and problems of using immersive VR in real classrooms.

‘VR is really cool because different types of learners are able to effectively absorb the information they need to be taught. It’s also fun, and has a reputation for being fun.’

Fifty four students aged 13-15 years participated in phase 1 of the research. As the quote above indicates, the majority students were excited to be given the opportunity to use Minecraft with the Oculus Rift to do their science or ICT lessons. Some talked about the experience as being ‘FUN, FUN, FUN’, saying they ‘would recommend it to anyone.’

Other students thought that immersive VR had the potential to transform learning in the classroom:

‘I personally think learning with Virtual Reality will change students perspective of learning in a majorly good way as it gives the student a whole new way to learn and interact with the stuff they are learning.’

Some were more equivocal, observing that ‘Although it (VR) removes distractions, it also adds them’ and it ‘was easier to get distracted by VR (version of Minecraft) than computer (version)’. The distraction factor may be a result of the novelty of the experience, however it is worth investigating further how the intensity of the experience — the sense of presence and freedom of agency (autonomy of navigation, manipulation and creativity) which Minecraft VR allows — may interfere with on-task behaviour.

A few students also mentioned cybersickness as a ‘negative’:

‘Our virtual reality tasks are entertaining and more engaging than any other normal science class, although while engaging in this task I have motion sickness which causes me to finish earlier than I normally would. There aren’t really any downsides apart from motion sickness.’

The student perspective from Phase 1 of the VR School project has yielded several ‘leads’ to be explored during phase 2 of the study which will be conducted in the first half of 2018. Harnessing student enthusiasm for immersive VR for increased on-task learning is vital if the technology is to enhance education.

Furthermore, as part of the project we screened for potential susceptibility to cybersickness and educated students about the condition, actively checking on their well-being while they were in VR. Students themselves exhibited good awareness of cybersickness and appeared to monitor how they were feeling during the VR experience, with most opting to get out at the first signs of discomfort. While there were a very few cases of cybersickness witnessed by the team, we will more closely examine the phenomenon from the student perspective during phase 2 of the project.

 

Associate Professor Erica Southgate on behalf of the awesomeness which is VR School team.

 

Photo: m.i.m.i ‘Shout!’ https://flic.kr/p/aCcip5

Information for parents, carers and students on the VR School project

To take part in the VR School project, parents, carers and their child must give their written permission (this is also called consent). Details on the project can be found in the video Information Statement and the written Information Statement. A Parent/Carer and Student Consent (permission) Form is also available. The consent form has a section for students to give their agreement to take part in the project. The Information Statement and Consent Form are also available online through the College’s Canvas learning system.

Associate Professor Erica Southgate

Feature image from Tom Magliery-  ‘i’ – https://flic.kr/p/feYd9f – original image cropped.

VR School wins Callaghan College a Top Innovative Schools award

Callaghan College  has been named by The Educator magazine as one of the ‘Top 40 innovative schools in Australia’ for the VR School project. VR School is a partnership between the College and the University of Newcastle’s Digital Identity, Curation and Education (DICE) research network. The project uses the Oculus Rift to provide immersive learning experiences for Year 9 students in science and is producing world-first ethical, health and safety, and pedagogical resources for the use of immersive virtual reality in real classrooms. Impacts on student learning are also being evaluated.

Callaghan College has previously been recognised as a top innovative school by The Educator for its whole of College professional learning in 21st Century pedagogy (2015), and the design, development and implementation of a National first program in Certificate III Aviation – Remote Drone Pilot (Line of Sight) (2016).

Mr Graham Eather, College Principal, & Associate Professor Erica Southgate, DICE Research Network.

Teachers talking VR safety

Teachers have an important duty of care towards their students. To support this, we developed a script for teachers to use in their classrooms to teach students about staying safe in immersive VR.

The script is part of a suite of health and safety resources we developed as part of the VR School Project. It covers things such using hair nets for hygiene, what students should do if they feel cybersick, not staying in immersive VR for too long, and looking out for each other, particular when using VR in ‘moving around mode’ with the controllers.

The script reinforces and elaborates on the advice given on the ‘Be VR Aware’ classroom posters.  It can be found in Resources.

Erica Southgate, VR Enthusiast and Associate Professor of Education, University of Newcastle, Australia

‘Be VR Aware’ classroom posters

Everyone needs reminding to stay safe, so as part of the project we decided to design the ‘Be VR Aware’ classroom posters.

We produced two versions of the poster, one of which has been designed according to accessibility principles. Both versions can be found in Resources.

VR School Project Classroom Safety Poster_Accessible

Emojis representing specific safety aspects, combined with simple text, allow students with lower literacy levels to understand the safety messages. For learners with good literacy, the use of visual representation with text allows for a dual coding of the information during cognition, helping the learner to better recall the message.

The accessible version has the black background. It reflects advice from Vision Australia and the UK Government. The text used in the posters is predominately Verdana, a Sans Serif font, which is ideal for readability.

 

We used plain English, avoiding colloquialisms and complicated phrasing. The text colour is white for maximum contrast against the black background. To test this we used the colour contrast check available at snook.ca. The background is simple and black to provide a contrast with the white text. Complicated backgrounds are not recommended for accessibility purposes. Black was used as it allows the simple colours of the emojis to stand out. It is also recommended for use for people who are colour blind. The tool available at vischeck.com was used to test this.

Please let us know what you think of the posters or if you use them.

Accessibility resources

Vischeck site

Vision Australia accessibility advice

Penn State University accessibility advice

UK Government accessibility advice

 

Erica Southgate, VR Enthusiast and Associate Professor of Education, University of Newcastle, Australia

Keeping students safe and well in VR

Have you ever been cybersick? It’s just like being seasick or car sick. It can range from feeling mildly ill to being highly nauseated. Not everyone gets cybersick but many people do and it’s just one aspect of health and safety that needs consideration when using immersive VR in classrooms.

A lot of research is going on to determine who is most susceptible to cybersickness, and under what conditions. Cybersickness can come on even after a very short period of exposure, particularly in highly immersive VR where a person can have intense feelings of ‘being there’ and ‘move’ in the environment through navigation or interaction.

At this stage, not much is known about the health effects of highly immersive VR, especially on children and young people. In light of this, the VR School Research Team are committed to conducting the project with caution and to the highest ethical and safety standards. Before using highly immersive VR, teachers should read the safety and regulatory guidelines provided by manufacturers on their websites. These guidelines recommend minimum age of use requirements and outline potential adverse reactions including, but not limited to, photo sensitivity and a range of physical and psychological impacts. It should also be noted that current commercial head mounted displays (headsets) are not designed for the size of children’s heads in terms of fit and lens distance for correct alignment with the eyes of the user.

To identify potential adverse reactions, we reviewed the scientific literature and the safety and regulatory guidelines produced by manufacturers. From these, the team designed a VR School Health and Safety Survey, that can be found in Resources. We used this to screen for potential adverse reactions and minimise risk of harm to students and disruption to learning. For example, a student with moderate or severe cybersickness would have a recovery time that impacted not only their learning during the VR lesson, but into the school day.

Disruption to learning caused by exposure to VR is simply not acceptable, nor is the potential for more serious health impacts on student health.

The screening survey we developed was sent home to parents and carers with an information sheet on the project so that they could discuss health and safety with their child, and ensure informed consent.

As the field of immersive VR for learning matures, we welcome the open sharing of information from teachers, students and researchers alike on how to screen for and minimise health risks for students. This is an important new area that requires the formalisation of guidelines, the development of practical tools, and the documentation of case studies so that we can all use VR safely in classrooms.

Erica Southgate, VR Enthusiast and Associate Professor of Education, University of Newcastle, Australia

Ever wonder what happens when immersive 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 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 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 Callaghan College school community. 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

 

Photo: Principal Graham Eather of Callaghan College, Australia, trying virtual reality for the first time during a teacher professional development session at the senior campus. Dr Shamus Smith of the VR School project is in the background.

 

 

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