Virtual Reality and Learning

In the spring of 2015 I was accepted to beta test a new app from Google before it’s general release. It’s title was Expeditions and it would allow me (as a classroom teacher) to curate virtual field trips to hundreds of destinations around the world without having to leave my classroom. I downloaded the app on my phone and tablet at home and I was amazed by it’s potential–if I was having so much fun with it myself, I knew my students would be drawn in just as quickly!

Here in Nova Scotia, there are several options for teachers interested in applying for funding for innovative teaching methods in their classrooms. The most accessible is Brilliant Labs. Based in New Brunswick, this team of forward-thinkers has made STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, & math) materials accessible for teachers across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to motivate students to create and learn in meaningful ways.

Brilliant Labs funded my project and helped me purchase five Asus Zenfone 2 and five Google Cardboard units to bring virtual reality to my students.

Jaws dropped. We could all see the potential for this as a learning tool right away. Software options have expanded dramatically over the past year, and now in 2017 many more uses for these Android phones have surfaced in my classroom. In addition to the 10+ VR apps installed, They are also used to code and control robots (Sphero, Dash & Dot, drones), to create worlds in Minecraft, as a translator for English language learners, and even to make stop-motion animation.

This past fall I discovered the web-tool that to me, is where VR in education needed to go. There are countless ways for students to consume VR content, but there hadn’t yet been an accessible way to create it. Then I discovered CoSpaces.io.

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Grade 5 students exploring CoSpaces.io for the first time.

CoSpaces is a website that allows users to easily create 3D environments. But it gets better! Students can use the CoSpaces app on a phone and a VR headset and visit and explore the world they created! They can walk (or fly) around inside their own creation! They recently added options for Blockly coding integration (check out an example here). Here in Nova Scotia, coding is a part of our curriculum. Students learn and apply coding in the classroom. Using CoSpaces, students can create a world and use coding to create objects and characters that their audience can interact with. This means that a student could build a 3D virtual diorama of Ancient Egypt, and code it to (verbally or in text) share information about how the pyramid was built, it’s materials, area, weight, etc. Check out their blog about student created exhibits. Students can make it completely interactive with sounds, movement, text, and narration. So often we use technology in schools for consuming content. The STEAM education movement turns our students into content creators!

I teach in a classroom that has 1-to-1 Chromebooks. I see everyday how well planned lessons and projects can motivate and engage students in meaningful learning activities that they get excited about! The generous contribution of Brilliant Labs to bring VR into my classroom has sparked interest and empowerment for my students using this exciting technology. They feel like they are videogame designers!

We will undoubtedly see more applications for VR over the next few years. How do you see VR evolving in terms of its classroom accessibility and applications?

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