On researching VR with teachers in schools

I recently did a podcast with VR enthusiast and educator Craig Frehlich on why we need to do more research WITH teachers, and not on them, to really understand the enablers and barriers to integrating a wide range of powerful, curriculum-aligned VR learning opportunities into classrooms:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-82-vr-participatory-research-and-pedagogy/id1333244708?i=1000580379562

This of course extends to providing genuine opportunities within research projects for students to provide their perspectives on the use of the technology for learning and to showcase their virtual creations to authentic audiences (more on this in a future blog post).

Students co-creating safety guidelines for VR

Throughout 2022, we are focused on students as educational VR content creators. This includes students taking an active role in designing their own guidelines for safely using VR equipment. A visit to Trinity College at the start of their VR project saw Steve Grant, Director of Innovation and Creativity, facilitate a brainstorming session with Year 7 students where they worked together to come up with safety guidance for their project. In addition, students also worked as a whole class to develop ideas about good design in VR. At Southern Montessori School, teacher Toni Maddock led her middle school class through a similar co-design process. This video provides a great insight into the start of the project at Southern Montessori with students working together to develop their own safety instructions. As these teachers demonstrate, facilitating powerful VR learning experiences involves empowering students from the very first lesson.

New paper – Students creating a VR learning resource

In 2021, Trinity College, located in Adelaide, undertook a pilot study to explore how junior secondary students could create a 360° virtual reality learning resource on the science of energy for primary (elementary) school students. This collaborative project was important because there are very few studies on how school students can become VR content creators and use the power of the technology for authentic learning. Authentic learning involves actively demonstrating content mastery for real world applications – in this case using the new media of VR to teach younger peers about the wonders of science.

The team learnt a lot during the study with the main factor impacting the project being time due to curriculum constraints rather than secondary student creativity and engagement. Secondary female students were graded highly on the virtual world content creation task indicating that VR content creation can promote good learning outcomes and interest in emerging educational technology for girls.

Younger students generally found the VRTY platform easy to use and most enjoyed experiencing the 360° learning resource produced by their older peers. While the content knowledge of primary school students did not increase after using the learning resource, the project did provide promising results in shifting the current emphasis away from passive VR consumption in secondary school classrooms to active VR content creation by students, for students.

A research paper from the project will be presented at the 2022 IEEE VR KELVAR Workshop: K-12+ Embodied Learning through Virtual and Augmented Reality. The accepted version of the paper ‘School students creating a virtual reality learning resource for children’, is available in the University of Newcastle’s NOVA repository – http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/1430150

To cite this paper:

Southgate, E., Grant, S., Ostrowski, S., Norwood, A., Williams, M. and Tafazoli, D. (2022). School students creating a virtual reality learning resource for children. Proceedings 2022 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW).

This research is conducted in collaboration with, and funded by, the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA).

What the VR School Study is bringing you in 2022

During 2022, the VR School Study will be reporting on research conducted in collaboration with the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA) and their member schools — SEDA College, Pembroke School and Trinity College — located in Adelaide. The research is also a partnership with 360° VR company VRTY. The research will focus on students as VR content creators in junior secondary school STEM with occasional forays into primary (elementary) school. We will be exploring pedagogical approaches to leveraging VR in STEM classrooms for Deeper Learning and creativity, sharing curriculum ideas, and showcasing the 360° VR content students create for authentic audiences with their unique perspectives on learning through the technology. We will report on progress through numbered project updates from each school which will use the same cover image so that they will be easily identifiable as part of set.  Look out for these as well as other posts that will pull together findings across schools. Let the VR School Study in 2022 begin!

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.

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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

Happy 5th birthday to the VR School Study

In late August 2021, the VR School study celebrated 5 years of ground-breaking research. Associate Professor Erica Southgate highlights three key findings from research so far:

Research papers and teaching resources are available on the VR School website under the Resources tab and there is a book for those who are interested:

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.

An interview about the VR School Study

The VR School Study has featured in an interview published by the Independent Schools Association of NSW (AISNSW). The interview covers areas such as leveraging the learning affordances of VR to develop deeper understanding, problem-solving and creativity with students. You can read the interview here.

Researching VR for education

This post provides a snapshot of some of the ways the VR School Study researches the use of VR in schools, with the framework also applicable to other formal educational contexts. VR School is an ongoing multi-site study that employs a mixed-methodology (qualitative and quantitative) approach to research. The study is premised on a multi-perspectival conceptual of education with and in VR. The diagram below outlines some of the key areas that are explored in the research.

Each of these areas prompts a range of questions about virtual reality for education. The table below highlights some of these questions with associated methods for collecting data that might shed light on them.

AREARESEARCHQUESTIONSMETHOD
PedagogyHow can teachers leverage the signature pedagogies of their subject areas/disciplines to ensure deeper learning through VR for their students?
How can teachers leverage the learning affordances of VR for deeper learning?
What are the pedagogical principles or assumptions the are evident in VR applications?
Classroom observation
Teacher reflection
Surveys
CurriculumHow can VR be woven into a unit of work which includes the normal range of conventional learning activities in a curriculum-aligned way?
Can curriculum objectives be adapted to take advantage of the learning affordances of VR?
Classroom observation
Teacher written and verbal reflection
Document (curriculum) analysis
AssessmentHow can VR be used to develop novel, engaging and authentic types of formative and summative assessment?
How can student peer and self-assessment be built into VR projects?
How can VR be used to develop novel, engaging and authentic types of formative and summative assessment?
What are strengths and limitations of conventional assessment types in understanding learning?
Teacher and student written and verbal reflection
Document (curriculum) analysis
Achievement analysis
Student work sample analysis
Student learningHow can students use VR to demonstrate content mastery, collaboration and communication skills, new conceptual understandings, problem-solving skills, metacognition and an academic mindset?
What is the student experience of learning through and in VR?
How can students move beyond the novel effect of new technology to develop deeper learning?
Surveys
Student work sample analysis
Student and teacher written and verbal reflection
Achievement analysis
Student talk and behavioural analysis
Observation
Teacher professional learningWhat is the teacher experience of learning to use an emerging technology in the classroom?
What types of formal professional learning, expert and peer support do teachers require?
How do teachers learn from each other and students during VR projects?
Teacher written and verbal reflection
Observation
Survey
Ethics and safetyWhat are the ethical, legal, safety and child development issues related to using VR in classrooms?Document analysis
Observation and testing
Surveys and experiments (cross-sectional and longitudinal)
Organisational arrangements and cultureWhat are the technical, practical and organisational enablers and barriers to embedding VR in classrooms in a curriculum-aligned way?
What conditions are required for pedagogical risk taking using an emerging technology?
How does the culture of the school support or impede innovation?
Teacher and student written and verbal reflection
Observation
Survey
Document analysis

While these are only some of the questions and approaches to data collection that the VR School study is exploring across primary and secondary schools and in different subject areas, it is worth noting that there is a commitment to participatory research: That is research with teachers and students, not on them. Elevating the knowledges of teachers and students will be key to understanding where VR fits best in education and in scaling up immersive learning in schools.

Cover image from Pexel.

‘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).

………………………………………………………………………………….

‘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

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