[The Montour School District, just outside the city of Pittsburgh, has taken the lead in integrating Virtual and Augmented Reality into their curriculum. I joined a team two years that wrote a grant to fund the zSpace Virtual Reality Lab that helped to put the school district on the VR/AR map. In this Edsurge article Justin Aglio, the Director of Innovation, outlines how the district is using the emerging technologies to create more active classrooms.]
In the fall of 2015, the Montour School District opened its doors to a new Virtual Immersion Lab. At first, students did not know what to expect (nor the teachers). However, on his first day using the lab, a physics student engage with virtual reality and expressed, “This is like hands-on learning, without wanting to let go.”
It was clear the risk was worth the reward.
Though new virtual reality and augmented tools come out and hit markets seemingly every month (like Pokemon GO—you knew I was going to bring it up somewhere), the educational value of VR and AR may still be unknown to many educators. However, there is no slowing down for new development of VR and AR technologies. And at Montour, there’s no slowing down, either.
Here’s a peek inside how we’re bringing AR and VR to our students—and how you can, too.
Inside the Virtual Immersion Lab and Montour’s Plans
The Virtual Immersion Lab at Montour is powered by the virtual reality edtech tool zSpace, which creates a 3D learning experience for kids. Through zSpace, students are able to dissect an eye-ball, T-Rex, 1968 Dodge Challenger, or almost anything they want—virtually. Students are also using the virtual reality tool for electrical engineering, physics, biomedical engineering, and mold clay models.
[The growing popularity of Virtual Reality (VR) is moving in new directions. In this Edsurge article two schools share how they’re using VR as part of a focus on social and emotional learning. In the past simulations didn’t really engage students. The simulations were artificial. VR has the potential to change the equation. One of the leading researchers for VR is MindCET, an educational technology think tank in Israel. While they question some of the hype with VR, they feel that examples like the experiment at the Alpha School and Synapse School in California deserves our attention.]
What can virtual reality, the technology that arguably takes the viewer farthest away from the tangible world, teach students about expressing themselves and interacting with each other?
Two experiments at two very different California schools aimed to find out.
In May 2016 at San Jose’s Alpha Public Schools, a 13-year-old student named Jose met four Stanford computer science students bearing an Oculus headset and a laptop. Jose was among the first student to try Emoti, a virtual reality (VR) mindfulness exercise developed with the help of a $3,000 grant from inspirED, a partnership between Facebook and the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence.
Jose put on the headset, headphones and, lastly, a watch-like device designed to measure stress by tracking heart rate and sweat. The first thing he saw was a beach set against a pink sunset—a calming backdrop. Emoti’s simulation then taught him a mindfulness exercise—breathe deeply as he pressed his middle finger to his thumb—with text, CGI demonstrations of the hand motions and verbal instructions.
[While this Campus Technology article focuses on online learning for higher education, it’s worth examining for anyone looking for ways to use technology to transform learning. The success stories provide strong evidence how technology can make learning happen in ways not possible otherwise. The projects range from an avatar for nursing students to bring the Great Barrier Reef to students through teleconferencing.]
New ways to deploy artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, gamification and robotic telepresence are making their way into classrooms across the globe every day. Two leaders in the field of online learning are building a website called Virtually Inspired to curate examples of what they consider the most promising efforts.
Susan Aldridge, senior vice president for online learning at Drexel University and president of Drexel University Online, and Marci Powell, chair emerita of the U.S. Distance Learning Association, looked at more than 250 projects deploying new technologies in online learning and initially narrowed that number down to approximately 50 they plan to highlight on their website, which is still a work in progress.
Aldridge and Powell want the site to provide one-stop shopping for faculty and administrators looking for innovative approaches to online learning. Increasingly, Aldridge said, students will not sit still for talks in large lecture halls, and still too much of online education involves a talking-head video rather than an engaging experience. As she went looking for new approaches that might be applied to Drexel’s curriculum, she and Powell decided to share those findings with colleagues in higher education, who could pick and choose what might be beneficial for them.