XR in K-12

While we value real-world experiences and problems for students we sometimes realize that we need to create a world in order for students to have greater success, test out ideas in a more safe environment, or explore worlds that they cannot see, hear, or process without technology. Today the worlds of virtual reality, augmented reality, 360 degree experiences, and simulations are grouped together as “Extended Reality” (XR). How are K-12 schools offering experiences for students to explore and create using XR? 

Voyage Project with Cornell Middle School

In 2018 students from the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) began to work with the Cornell Middle School, located about ten miles from Pittsburgh, on a STEM project. The educators at Cornell wanted to create an immersive experience for their students. According to the project website, “Voyage is a multiuser mobile virtual reality (VR) experience for Google Daydream that allows students to go on virtual field trips in which they immersively explore a deciduous forest biome. The experience is designed to be undertaken in a middle-school classroom and facilitated by a teacher using a tablet computer. Through this project, we explored different interaction techniques used to promote collaboration among students as well as between the students and the teacher.”

Susan Donnell, the science teacher from Cornell, explained the importance for this type of experience for her students who don’t have an opportunity to experience a wide variety of places. “It’s invaluable to take them some place. Even it’s virtual reality.”

According to Chris Hupp, the Director of Technology for the Cornell School District, “The project did give us a glimpse into the future. Some challenges include the number of students able to participate at the same time as well as the teacher trying to monitor students in a virtual space and physical space at the same time. The team developed an app on an iPad so the teacher didn’t need to put a headset on to see what the students were doing. “

Virtual Tour of Sewickley Academy campus

Student creating animation – Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Erin Whitaker, middle school Technology Coordinator and Teacher, for Sewickley Academy, an independent school located about ten miles from Pittsburgh, wanted to provide a collaborative learning experience for middle school students. She searched for a tool that would allow for a collaborative experience where students would be able to combine 360 degree photos, programming, animation, and research to create an animation. She discovered CoSpacesEDU, a software tool that provides all the tools for teams of students to produce a virtual or augmented reality product.

Erin divided the project into phases. Each student selected a part of the campus to research. The students created 360 degree photos for their campus section. Finally, the students had to include an animated guide to talk about the campus area. All of the individual projects were saved as one large file into CoSpacesEDU and then combined to generate a school-wide tour. For the final phase the students will share their tours with a real audience at the Grandparents and Special Friends Day at the end of the trimester.

What Education Might Look Like in the Next 5 Years

[Each year the New Media Group with CoSN publishes the Horizon Report for K-12. The report gathers information from a variety of experts across the globe to look at trends and emerging technologies. Here’s a summary from Mindshift.]

In a fast-moving field like education technology, it’s worth taking a moment to take stock of new developments, persistent trends and the challenges to effective tech implementation in real classrooms. The NMC Horizon 2015 K-12 report offers a snapshot of where ed tech stands now and where it is likely to go in the next five years, according to 56 education and technology experts from 22 countries.


Deeper Learning: The expert panel identified several long-term trends that will greatly influence the adoption of technology in classrooms over the next five years and beyond. They see worldwide educators focusing on “deeper learning” outcomes that try to connect what happens in the classroom to experts and experiences beyond school as an important trend.

Teachers at the cutting edge of this work are asking students to use technology to access and synthesize information in the service of finding solutions to multifaceted, complex problems they might encounter in the real world. The popularity of project-based learning, global collaboration and integrated learning experiences is driving this trend and powerful tech use as an extension of it.

Rethinking Traditions: Educators are also rethinking how school has traditionally worked, questioning everything from school schedules, to how individual disciplines are taught and how success and creativity are measured. This macro trend to shake up typical ways of schooling is opening new opportunities for technology to play an even bigger role in education. Finland took a big step toward reimagining school when it did away with many traditional subjects in favor of interdisciplinary classes that more accurately reflect a world in which disciplines influence one another. Some U.S districts have also tried to reimagine how school would look with movements toward competency-based models that don’t rely on time in class as the constant variable.

Read more…

Challenges in Education

Every year the New Media Consortium publishes with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the International Society for Technology and Education (ISTE) a report on emerging trends in K-12 education, Higher Education, and Museum Education. This year’s challenges are really the keys for what educators need to consider. Here are the challenges:

  1. Ongoing professional development needs to be valued and integrated into the culture of the schools – We know that without proper training teachers are much less likely to make the necessary changes in practices. We now have the opportunity to develop Communities of Practice or Professional Learning Communities to use tools for collaboration to change the dynamics for professional development. The research from people like Richard Dufour shows that when teachers collaborate and plan together the quality of learning improves. We need to think about personalizing the delivery of training and tap into community resources as well as students.
  2. Too often it is education’s own practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies. – I call this the “inertia factor.” It happens with every institution. However, K-12 education has been more recalcitrant, since there have been few incentives to innovate. Most schools do not reward taking chances or taking risks. In the Pittsburgh area the Propel Charter Schools are one good example where they are trying to overcome this challenge by promoting grant opportunities for students and educators who are willing to be “innovative.” This is what every school need to become. The South Fayette School District changed the title of their IT leader to Director of Technology and Innovation. Again this sends a signal that we’re not going to limit our scope. We are going to search for new and better ways to meet the needs of learners.
  3. New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to traditional models of schooling. – Blended learning is taking off. We need to look at the opportunity to tap into online and Internet resources. Flipping Learning is a great example of how to address the issue of “Time” and create more personalized learning opportunities. I’m working on a Carnegie Mellon University project with my colleague, Ananda Gunawardena, to add learning analytics and deeper conversation to Flipped Learning through the tool created by CMU, Classroom Salon. Starting in July there will be a free course through the HP Catalyst Academy to look at this strategy. (The HP Catalyst Academy also includes may other new models to examine.)

The Horizon Report highlights additional challenges as well as strategies to support changes to better meet the needs of learners. In my next posting I’ll address some of these other dimensions.