It’s the year 2020. As a child, I imagined this year being full of technological wonders such as flying cars and Star Trek level space exploration. Though our technology continues to surprise us, not all of my childhood imaginations have come to life. However, there is one thing that I never thought about or imagined that has filled me with awe and wonder – virtual reality. The way that I can slip on a headset and disappear to another world is amazing. If you haven’t ever tried a VR experience I would highly recommend it. As much as I enjoy using this technological advancement for fun, as a teacher my brain was always wondering “how can I get this into my classroom?”

Our focus the last couple of weeks has been on ISTE standards for educators 5 and 7. Reading through them I realized I had an opportunity to meld my VR and teaching passion together. I chose to focus on standard 5, specifically two indicators. They read:

5a. Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.

5b. Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.

Reading these in my mind I was already thinking about using VR to help students do authentic learning in the classroom that normally wouldn’t be possible. It can be used to simulate a hike up Mt. Everest, or a dive to deep reaches of the ocean. In my own practice, I have taken my students on quite a few virtual field trips thanks to technology, but I wanted to look into more than just field trips. I wanted to learn about ways to personalize instruction such as in math or ELA which would allow students to meet their different needs. A colleague brought up augmented reality to me and the benefits teachers have seen with it in classrooms, so I included it in my search.

Initial Findings

Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vheNg_WOEI&feature=emb_logo

After watching the above video, I started my research looking for reasons why to include XR (extended reality) in classrooms. When I talk about XR it includes both AR and VR. Personally, I need no convincing but I wanted to make sure I had reasons to share with colleague’s other than “trust me, it’s awesome”. I landed on an article from EdTech that gives some reasons why to included XR in teaching.

  • XR helps students focus: Students are immersed in their own work and can block out other classroom distractions. XR technology can make lectures and books more immersive and interactive which also helps distraction.
  • XR helps students practice “soft” skills: Schools have a big focus on team work and problem-solving. Students who struggle with this can practice using XR modules. There was one situation where there were virtual situations created for students with autism to learn how to work, talk, and collaborate in various settings, allowing them to practice in a safe environment.
  • Allows ALL students the opportunity to explore: VR is a way to go beyond the walls of the school and to take students to places they would not be able to go otherwise. This is still a major draw.
Along with the reasons above, I found this graphic persuasive. Retrieved from https://www.teachthought.com/technology/10-reasons-use-virtual-reality-classroom/

Tools

After finding some reasons why XR is beneficial in the classroom I searched for some tools so that teachers can actually see it in action. There are so many different resources out there. The ones I am sharing are either ones that I have used, or have really attracted my attention. Each school system would have to decide what is best for them with the resources they have available. I am going to start with some of the basics that you could try to dip your toe into the virtual ocean.

  • Nearpod – This is an instructional program where you can create or use pre-made interactive lessons with students. It has different levels of access depending on what your school system chooses. There are free accounts available with some pre-made lessons. There is also a paid version where depending on what is purchased, you get access to many more pre-made lessons. Teachers can edit the lessons, import their own presentations, or do a combination. They can do the lesson live or student-paced. When students finish the lesson, teachers can look at the data collected during the lesson. My district has paid for this program so I use it with my students regularly. There is a section called NearpodVR where students can take virtual field trips to different places around the world. It is designed to work with or without a headset. This is a good starting point for teachers just wanting to try something a little more interactive with students, but in a familiar presentation platform. To get the best lessons you do need to pay for an account, so that can be a drawback.
  • Google Cardboard – Google has created a VR headset that is made out of cardboard. They have since expanded since they initially released it. This could be ideal for a classroom who wants to try VR but can’t or isn’t ready to foot more money on more sophisticated headsets. With Google Cardboard, your own smartphone gets placed in the headset as the VR. Your phone does need to have VR programs or apps downloaded onto it for it to work. Depending on what you pick you can spend a very low amount on a headset. Your classroom would need to have smartphones or iPods to make this work.
  • MEL Kids – This is mainly an AR program. It focuses on science topics. You can download the app onto an iPhone or Android. There is no login or fee to use the app. From there students can use AR or 3D to watch/interact with different tools. You can also choose to sign up for the monthly kits which include a hands-on science kit delivered monthly. It is a pretty low-cost subscription of $24 a month. I could see this being use with students as a station or small group activity. It would not replace instruction. With the free app, it is an easy opportunity to try AR in the classroom.
  • Wonderscope – This is another AR program. It mixes content areas with storytelling. It is an app available for iOS. When I downloaded it, a character named Blob helped me set it all up. I can talk to him with my voice. This also happens during some of the stories, being able to respond to characters. It did not require me to sign up or log in, but does have some paid content. It would be another easy try for teachers with their students, but would have to be on an apple device.
  • ClassVR – When your school is ready to go all in on XR, this is a program that checked most of my boxes. This system would provide headsets that teachers can monitor and control. Assignments can be given to students in various content areas. There are lessons you can use and you can also create your own. It has support and training teams.  As this is a paid for system, I haven’t tried it. What I really like is the way teachers can create or use what is already there. I like that the system would allow you to control and deliver materials to your students. There is also the option to allow students to go at their own pace. With their head tracking, you can also see where students are looking in their headsets which would allow you to provide support when needed. This is something that I imagine would cost a district a lot of money. It could be hard to keep it up and running if you need to continuously pay for support. The really great aspect of this is that it is so planned out with teachers and students in mind that teachers would have so much support in managing and setting it up in their classrooms.

Conclusion

I shared the tools and programs above because they were ones that spoke to me. Tools that I thought teachers could implement with success. I played around on them and used them as if I were a student. We are in an ever-changing world. It can be scary allowing these technologies into our classrooms, especially if we aren’t comfortable using it. On the other hand, our world is increasingly becoming more digital. As teachers, I know we would all love to provide each student with customized materials to best help them learn as an individual. Unfortunately that can’t be done at all times. Taking advantage of XR can give our students what they need and allow them to practice their skills in a safe environment. Let me know your successes, worries, or recommended tools below! We’re in this together.

Resources

2 thoughts on “Using Virtual Realities to Individualize Learning

  1. Thank you for sharing this. AR/VR has always been something that I have wanted to try but just have never been able to. I’ve used Nearpod’s VR field trips before but like the idea of something more than a field trip. I actually just signed my daughter up for the MEL kids kits but we have not had a chance to try it out yet. I am excited to try out the VR portion of it though.

  2. Rachel, thanks for explaining the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality, and extended reality. I have only thought of virtual reality as a way for students to explore environments that would otherwise be impossible for them to visit, like NASA space station. I was impressed with Jullia Lim’s HoloLens simulation game. I see she has developed it with Special Needs students in mind, but I was thinking that something similar could be a great tool to help all students navigate and practice social interaction skills.

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