Venturing into Virtual Reality

VRcardboardWhen I first discovered Google Cardboard a few years ago, I was instantly intrigued.  The idea that cardboard, magnets, lenses and a smartphone could create an interactive, immersive virtual reality experience excited me. I purchased a few headsets, placed them into the hands of a few eighth-grade students and watched their amazement as they rode roller coasters and swam with sharks.   My interest was piqued and I was eager to explore more uses in the educational setting.

What is VR?
Virtual reality refers to the use of headsets and digital technologies to create experiences simulating real or imaginary environments.  These experiences are often immersive, combining images, videos, and sounds.  In recent years, headsets have become more affordable and accessible and there has been an explosion of VR content.

Uses in Education

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Teachthought.com

Virtual reality can support a number of learning objectives. Students can harness the power of VR to visit worlds impossible within the confines of the school day, to develop empathy or to experience the impossible, such as traveling through the human body. There are a number of content providers out there, many schools use Google Expeditions to provide immersive learning landscapes for students.

VR Creation Tools
When I decided to take the plunge and introduce VR into my own teaching, my focus was for students to become creators of VR content, rather than consumers. I wanted my students to feel empowered using this new tech medium, to create authentic pieces of work.  I chose CoSpaces Edu, a platform for creating virtual worlds, because of its easy learning curve and option for coding using Blockly or JavaScript.  There is also a robust CoSpaces Edu community on social media and I found others’ advice and guidance useful. Other platforms I considered were Thinglink , Roundme and CodeHs.

We began the class by exploring real world examples of virtual reality experiences, used not only in education but across other fields.  We learned about the technology behind VR, the headsets and the digital content used to create it. Students were then given cardboard headsets and assembled their own to use throughout the trimester.

After completing some basic tutorials on CoSpaces, students chose a theme upon which to base their own VR world. Students created projects intended to inspire empathy, to gamify education and to simulate a time and place in history. I was pleased with the outcome of their work. Reflecting on my experience, I would teach this project again. I would change the project, however, by considering the following:

  1. Engage in a deeper examination of the power of virtual reality for various purposes.
  2. Encourage more sophisticated programming and interactivity.
  3. Have students explore the use of more than one tool to create their experiences.
CoSpaces
Click to view an example of student work. These students were inspired by Elie Wiesel’s Night.

My experience using CoSpaces Edu also allowed me to support a colleague, eager to use virtual reality in her 5th grade English class.  Her students recreated scenes from historical fiction books and excitedly shared their creations using VR headsets.

Have you ventured into the world of VR in your classroom? What lessons have you learned? Is there a place for virtual reality in today’s educational landscape?

 

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