Friday, October 14, 2016

Does virtual reality really have a place in education?

I've recently had a few opportunities to work with some colleagues who are trying to infuse VR components into their curriculum.  For me, watching people experience VR is hugely motivating.  I love seeing kids engage in a lesson that they otherwise wouldn't because VR gives them a different mode of experiencing the content than the traditional methods.

The goal isn't to recreate reality but to create brief opportunities to escape it.

Particularly in a school setting, virtual reality allows kids a chance to focus in on what they are learning and can help pull them away from some of the distractions in their everyday lives.  It sounds almost counterintuitive but the distraction of VR somehow allows kids to focus more.

Is VR a gimmick?

I feel like the same could be said about almost every new "technology" that has ever been developed in the history of humankind.  I'm sure that there will always be a certain amount of resistance to doing things in new ways.  However, I do find it interesting that kids don't ever seem deterred by that more adult thought process.  For kids, virtual reality is just a reality--another way of connecting to technology and something to be explored.

In each and every opportunity I've had to work with kids using VR in an educational setting, I'm reminded of the place that VR has in education.  It has the power to excite, the power to engage, and the power to transport.  VR is one of the technologies on the cutting edge of innovation and creativity, exactly what we aim to inspire in our students.

Sunday, October 2, 2016 and their Secret Recipe to Educational VR

Anyone who knows my opinions on VR or has read through some of my blog posts knows my mantra when it comes to the usefulness of VR in education; it has to involve the ability to create.  Being able to easily create VR experiences from within the classroom that are custom-tailored to the lesson on hand is transformational. 

Recently I had the chance to partner with a teacher inside the Spanish classroom to take Cospaces for a spin.  This thing has some pretty amazing potential!

Having taught Spanish for 9 years, I felt like I had a dog in this fight. 

The rough outline to the lesson went as follows:
  • Brief introduction to what Cospaces is and a five-minute tutorial on how to navigate with the touchpad on the student Chromebooks.
  • Group kids into groups of 2-3 students.
  • We were using this activity as review of vocabulary so a quick reminder of the vocabulary that the kids were working on.
  • The bulk of the time spent was in creating “virtual flashcards” that represented the words that the kids were learning in VR.

Since this was the debut performance of using at our school, we mostly wanted to get a feel for management and ease of use.  I’m happy to report that both of those things worked out fine in a class of just over 20 and another class of 35 students.  The kids were incredibly engaged throughout and came up with some pretty cool displays of their flashcards.  I had prepared by bringing a crate of google cardboard viewers but found it easier to simply walk around and show the kids their projects in real time by loading it up on my phone for them to view on the Gear VR.

The good people at Cospaces were kind enough to unlock one of their beta features for me that allowed me to create a template for the kids to work from and then share a link so that we could skip signing up for accounts.  Basically the whole class worked out of my single account which also made it nice in the end to have all the student work under my single account.

Next steps.

It was truly a neat experience being able to let the kids create a VR experience that they could view immediately.  Engagement was super high for a simple activity that was useful in practicing their vocabulary.  The next steps will be to have the kids develop a narrative in Spanish and work in groups to create a few slides that tell a story in Cospaces.