With the start of a new year, it is always a great time to explore new ideas or try some new methods that may be a bit different from what we have traditionally done. I always think it is a great opportunity to stretch ourselves professionally, especially after a break or during the spring months.
Finding ways to boost student engagement is important, and what I have found is that by using tools like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), we can immerse students in unique and personalized learning experiences. The use of augmented and virtual reality has increased in K-12 and Higher Ed, especially during the past two years, as educators have sought new ways to facilitate learning and give students the chance to connect more with the content. The use of these technologies is increasing in the workplace, as well.
With all of these technologies, we now have endless opportunities to take learning beyond what has been a confined classroom “space” and access the entire world with the right devices.
Virtual Reality learning experiences in the classroom and beyond
VR tools help connect students with learning in more authentic and meaningful ways, especially when we provide them with the chance to create using these tools.
As with all technology, particularly when it comes to more immersive technologies like VR, figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. However, when bringing technology to our classrooms, we should always focus first on the purpose. That means establishing clear goals for what a specific method or tool is going to help our students do differently and how it will positively impact their educational experience.
Emerging technologies like VR are a good way to encourage students to explore independently. They become curious about learning, share their ideas, make predictions or create with the tools. We can use these tools with methods such as Genius Hour or even project-based learning (PBL).
4 Virtual Reality tools for the classroom
With the different educational VR tools now available, we not only afford students the possibility of interacting with different objects or exploring new places, but this also enables us to design a more engaging opportunity for them to develop the essential skills that will benefit them in the future.
As they learn how to create with these tools and, in some cases, even collaborate with their peers on projects, it will help students to develop critical 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication and will enhance their creativity in the learning process. We also promote social and emotional learning (SEL) development when we explore using some of these tools.
Here are four platforms to get started:
This VR platform has been a favorite of my eighth-grade students as well as my Spanish classes. Teaching a STEAM course was a little more challenging during virtual learning; however, with tools like CoSpaces, students can explore emerging technologies and collaborate from wherever they are! They can create a space in 360, design a parkour game, write an interactive story or build a fun space to explore. Students can also develop coding skills too. With CoSpaces, there is a Merge Cube add-on, that enables students to hold their Cospaces creation in their hands!
Google offers a lot of free resources for educators focused on various topics. It has many VRy options. Start by checking out the experiences which include resources to learn about math, the human body, science and more. You can also bring prehistoric creatures or other animals into your environment.
Nearpod is an interactive multimedia learning platform that provides a quick way for educators to get started with VR. I used Nearpod to get started in my Spanish classes and there are thousands of lessons to download that can include 3D objects for students to explore and VR field trips powered by 360 cities. Lessons can be found easily through the VR filter, and some favorites include the college tours and exploring South America, the Great Wonders, even career explorations.
Sites in VR is an app available for download on Android and iOS devices. The locations can be searched based on their type, such as nature, parks, museums, towers and more. Users can choose to explore through the device or by using a headset.
Collaborating in Virtual Reality Meeting Spaces
We have spent so much time using tools like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or Zoom during school closures or for other work. While we can communicate in these spaces, we don't truly get the feeling of being in the same “space.” This is where I believe that using VR tools can make an impact. Depending on your role or the grade level that you might teach, several platforms might work. While not all may be a good fit for your classroom, it's good to know that there are options out there that we can try, if only to explore and promote a discussion with our students about the potential impact of these technologies.
This tool makes it possible to experience VR directly from our browsers. With Web VR, there is no need for a specific device or headset. Everyone can experience VR. My first experience with Web VR was through some Web VR experiments for playing games that I tried with the eighth-grade students in my STEAM course. There are many Web VR options out there that can be used for education or even as a way to explore a different way to connect with families and friends.
It may be the most complex, but again as with some of the other options, it does not take too long to get started or, at the very least, to experience what Frame VR offers. My first time exploring this was with my friend Jaime Donally. Frame VR enables you to design a more immersive space for collaboration that can be experienced through your web browser, desktop computer, mobile devices or using a VR headset. You can simply share a link with others to join, and even do a presentation which includes sharing a whiteboard or screen sharing, engaging in conversations and more. With the photospheres, you can provide virtual field trips or tours.
My students really enjoyed trying Mozilla and did not need much from me as for how to get started. With Mozilla, you create a virtual meeting room. You choose an avatar to represent you and can interact with students or other educators, in a different way from being in our traditional class or school meetings. For anyone who prefers not to have the camera on, this is a way to be involved in a class but in a more visually engaging way. It is a space where 3D objects and other content like PDFs and videos can be shared. You can also upload images or take photos with you and the other “people” in the space.
Virtual Reality learning experiences are the future
Regardless of the grade level or content area we teach, we can all bring VR tools into our classrooms. It is important to inform our students about these tools because they may need to learn or interact in one of these web VR spaces sooner than later. There are many benefits of using VR in the classroom. In my own experience, it provides students with a space to take more ownership in learning. It creates an opportunity for students to build global knowledge and explore different ideas and perspectives. We can use VR as a way to connect our students with classrooms and experts from around the world and build more than content and technology skills.