‘Persi in Citta’ unit of work for the Athelstone School VR project

Developing units of work that allow for student VR content creation involves: (a) sequencing and scaffolding learning for curriculum-mandated content and skill acquisition; and, (b) allowing time for students to develop new technology expertise via problem-solving, creative experimentation and collaboration.

In the Athelstone School VR project, primary (elementary) school students use the 360° VRTY platform to create a travel journey that demonstrates Italian language acquisition and knowledge of Italian culture. The learning objectives derive directly from the Australian Curriculum.

Below is the unit of work ‘Persi in Citta’ (Lost in the City), developed for the VR project by Athelstone language teacher Angelica Cardone and Jo Romeo. The unit of work was implemented this term with primary school students in Year 6 (11-12 years of age).

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‘Persi in Citta’ (Lost in the City) unit of work

Learning Intention – to use and develop directional language in the VR platform whilst creating different scenes in Italian cities.

Lesson 1

  • Introduce the booklets and go through it as a class (VRTY student handbook)
  • Re – familiarize themselves with the platform and look at where students were in Term 1 in terms of importing 360 degree images, information markers, portal markers and importing pictures etc.
  • Allow time to work on their world.

Lesson 2

  • Students to work on their information markers, limit to at least 4 per picture or scene.
  • Information marker must have information about the landmark they have chosen to use, information must be in English and have the Italian translation.

Lesson 3

  • After information markers have been used and checked by the teacher students to use portal markers so they can move through scenes.
  • Once portal markers have been used to move in and out of scenes directions will need to be written in to allow others to use the world as a new traveller to Italy. E.g. – Excuse me where is the Colosseum? Scusa dov’e` il Colosseo?

Lesson 4

  • Use directional language learnt in lessons and put them in their scenes.
  • Portal markers will need to transport the visitors to the location.

Lesson 5

  • Proposal to use the headsets and phones to view the worlds they have created in the VRTY platform. Proposal to use the 360 camera for producing own images to import into the VRTY platform.

Australian Curriculum Achievement Standards

Communication

  • Informing – Gather information from a range of sources (ACLITC043) and represent information appropriately for different audiences using a variety of modes (ACLITC044).
  • Creating – Create imaginative texts for different audiences such as digital stories using characters, places, ideas and events (ACLITC046)
  • Translating – Create simple bi lingual texts and discuss what translates easily or not (ACLITC048)

Understanding

  • Systems of Language – Use grammatical knowledge to interpret and create meaning in Italian (ACLITU052)
  • Language variation and change – Recognise that language use varies according to the context of situation and culture (ACLITU054)

Success criteria

 YesDeveloping
Can student import a 360 degree image correctly.  
Can student import an information marker and use effectively.  
Student can import a portal marker and use effectively.  
Student can use directional language appropriately to navigate through the scene.  
Was able to work collaboratively in pairs or small groups.  
Used the student handbook effectively for assistance if required.  

In addition to the Languages Curriculum outcomes the unit of work develops the following Level 4 General Capabilities from the Australian Curriculum:

ICT CAPABILITY

Investigating with ICT

  • Locate generate and access data and information: locate, retrieve or generate information using search engines and simple search functions and classify information in meaningful ways

Creating with ICT

  • Generate ideas plans and processes: use ICT effectively to record ideas, represent thinking and plan solutions
  • Generate solutions to challenges and learning area tasks: independently or collaboratively create and modify digital solutions, creative outputs or data representation/transformation for articular audiences and purposes

Communicating with ICT

  • Collaborate share and exchange: select and use appropriate ICT tools safely to share and exchange information and to safely collaborate with others

CRITICAL AND CREATIVE THINKING CAPABILITY

Inquiring – identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas

  • Identify and clarify information and ideas: identify and clarify relevant information and prioritise ideas
  • Organise and process information: analyse, condense and combine relevant information from multiple sources

Generating ideas, possibilities and actions

  • Imagine possibilities and connect ideas: combine ideas in a variety of ways and from a range of sources to create new possibilities

PERSONAL AND SOCIAL CAPABILITY

Self-management

  • Work independently and show initiative: assess the value of working independently, and taking initiative to do so where appropriate
  • Become confident resilient and adaptable: devise strategies and formulate plans to assist in the completion of challenging tasks and the maintenance of personal safety

Social management

  • Communicate effectively: identify and explain factors that influence effective communication in a variety of situations
  • Work collaboratively: contribute to groups and teams, suggesting improvements in methods used for group investigations and projects
  • Make decisions: identify factors that influence decision making and consider the usefulness of these in making their own decisions

VR safety and 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 Year 6 (11-12 years old).

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

References

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.

Immersive VR: A literature review and infographic for teachers

I was recently commissioned to write a literature review on immersive virtual reality for teachers by the New South Wales Department of Education. The Department kindly distilled the literature review into an infographic to guide teacher practice

The report is: ‘Immersive virtual reality, children and school education: A literature review for teachers.’

I welcome dialogue on the literature review from teachers, researchers and developers – A/Prof Erica Southgate

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!

A new research article from the VR School Study

This is the second article we have published from phase 1 of the VR School Study. This article reviews the literature on immersive virtual reality and children, and examines ethics and safety, technical issues, and the role of play when learning in highly immersive virtual reality.  It is co-authored with teachers from Callaghan College, Newcastle, Australia.

To cite this article in APA:

Southgate, E., Buchanan, R., Cividino, C., Saxby, S., Eather, G., Smith, S.P., Bergin, C., Kilham., Summerville, D. & Scevak, J. (2018). What teachers should know about highly immersive virtual reality: Insights from the VR School Study. Scan37(4). Retrieved https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-37/research-highly-immersive-virtual-reality

Implementing immersive VR safely in classrooms: A paper from the VR School Study

This paper reflects on the ethical and safety implications of implementing highly immersive virtual reality in junior high school classrooms from data collected during phase 1 of the VR School Study.

It should be referenced (APA 6th):

Southgate, E., Smith, S.P., Eather, G., Saxby, S., Cividino, C., Bergin, C., … Scevak, J. (2018). Ethical conduct and student safety in immersive virtual reality: Protocols and resources from the VR School Research Project.  IEEE VR Third Workshop on K-12+ Embodied Learning through Virtual & Augmented Reality (KELVAR) which is a part of the IEEE VR Conference, Reutlingen, Germany, 18-22 March, 2018 (pre-publication version).

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

The spiders are coming! VR guardian systems are not always enough

Fully immersive VR is a truly embodied experience. You move and interact with virtual objects and characters and, if the virtual environment is networked, with other players. It’s not like watching a movie, it’s like being in it and you can make things happen. This feeling of ‘being there’ in the virtual world is called presence or, when you are with others, social presence.

Immersive VR systems (Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) are designed so that the user is ‘protected’ or ‘contained’ by a virtual Guardian or Chaperone system. These systems consist of a 3D grid cage which pops up when the user strays beyond the safe, object free area that they have set up when configuring the equipment (see the screenshot below for Oculus Rift). Guardian systems temporarily break the sense of immersive presence by providing a visual cue that the user needs to move back into the safe zone.

Guardian system pic for blog

During phase 1 of the VR School Project, we observed that students moved in very different ways especially in Minecraft VR where there is a great deal of autonomy in the open world game.

Some students moved very little, favoring small hand gestures and head movements and minor body rotations. Others rotated a lot but within a fairly restricted footprint but moved their heads, hands and arms more freely. There were also students who were very kinetic; they danced, boxed, galloped on the spot on virtual horses, waved their arms around, crouched down, kicked and repeatedly rotated, often getting the tether (which attaches the headset to the laptop) wrapped around their bodies.

All students in VR needed supervision, even the less active movers. In the VR School project, either the researcher or another students acted as a ‘spotter’. The spotter’s role was to make sure that the students in VR did not collide with objects or student spectators. This role was necessary because the engineered solution to safety, in this case the Guardian system, was sometimes ‘ignored’ by students. I have put the word ‘ignored’ in quote marks because it did not appear that students consciously put themselves at risk of bumping into objects. Rather, some students appeared to be so immersed that they automatically continued their actions outside of the safe area and seemed surprised when the spotter told them they were too close to objects and needed reorientation.

Furthermore, it appeared that the intensity of immersive VR could occasionally trigger a flight or fright response. For example, on one occasion when using the survival mode of Minecraft VR, a student was violently startled when spiders began to approach her. She began to crab-walk sideways at speed and the researcher had to speak loudly to her and place a hand on her shoulder to stop her running off.

There is certainly much more research that needs to be done on the adequacy of Guardian systems in breaking intense feelings of presence in VR, especially for those who are new to the experience but also in relation to startle responses. Some research suggests that young people can become so immersed in virtual and augmented reality environments that they enact unsafe behaviour due to a lack of awareness.

In most cases the Guardian system combined with the physical sensation of being tethered broke the feeling of presence enough so that student regulated their own safety in VR. The current version of the Oculus Rift is tethered, however the new Oculus Go is not. There are certainly safety issue to be explored with untethered design and practical and duty of care issues regarding the need for constant supervision of students who are in immersive VR. Much more public discussion regarding these issues is required.

 

Associate Professor Erica Southgate

Metacognition and/in virtual reality: Some observations

Educators have become increasingly interested in the idea of metacognition. Metacognition is often simply defined as ‘thinking about thinking’ but to understand its implications for learning we need to look closely at a specific set of thinking processes and behaviours.

These include: how a learner plans how they will go about a task and the goals they set in relation to it; how they assess their understanding of what they’ve learnt; and how they go about evaluating their performance for future improvement.

Metacognitive processes are part of self-regulated learning. This is where learner takes control of their own learning. Self-regulated learners have a deeper understanding of content knowledge, the ability to transfer knowledge and skills, and more powerful higher order thinking strategies for problem solving, logical thought and critical thinking.

In research, there are a number of methods used to identify metacognition in learners including questionnaires, interviews and ‘think-aloud’ protocols. Observational methods can also be used and this is a key component of the VR School Project.

In our project we are collecting information through audio and video recordings of student learning in the VR room at the high schools and by using screen capture to record what is happening in the virtual environment. We then triangulate this (or look at each source of information systematically in relation to the other) and code it for metacognitive and self-regulated behaviours, and pedagogical and collaborative interaction. This is supplemented by post VR experience interviews with students and teachers. One benefit of systematic observation is that it pays attention to both verbal and non-verbal action and this is ideal for exploring metacognition and self regulation in the natural setting of the school.

Observations from the VR School Project indicate the social nature of learning in the virtual environment and the VR room. We have observed five way conversations/interactions across these two realities. These are:

  1. Self-talk as students verbalise their experience in real time.
  2. Talking to the game’s non-player character (robot, horse).
  3. Dialogue with student teammates who are in the same virtual environment and working cooperatively on the learning task.
  4. Conversations between students in VR and classmates who are watching on about the VR experience and the learning task.
  5. Dialogue between the student in VR with the teacher or researcher about the experience and seeking feedback on learning task.

The permeable, social nature of cognition and learning in VR illuminates three types of metacognitive regulation: (1) Self-regulation where students regulate their own behaviours through self-talk and talk to non-player characters; (2) Other-regulation where students working together in VR steer each other back (through talk or action) to aspects of the learning task or to features of the game; and, (3) Shared-regulation where students in VR have conversations with others, both in the virtual environment and outside of it, to process the VR experience, learn new skills  and to progress the task through co-operative learning.

Understanding how virtual reality might be used to develop and enhance metacognitive skills and self-regulation is important if we are to advance beyond a ‘digital toys for classroom’ approach when introducing new technologies into schools.

 

This post bought to you by Associate Professor Erica Southgate and Dr Jill Scevak – We love learning!

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