Shifting the vision on education with VR

Andy Perryer, Head of Digital Learning and Innovation at Putney High School, explains how virtual reality is transforming education

Whilst the technology for virtual reality has been around since the 1950s, it is only in recent years that it has moved from the realms of the gamer to a mainstream audience and is now knocking at the classroom door. And it’s not just adventurous start-ups that are exploring the world of VR. Corporate giants can see the value of the technology and are investing heavily in the educational arena. Plus, more than a million students (including many at Putney High School) have taken virtual adventures with Google’s VR Pioneer Expeditions programme. Here are some of the benefits of VR in the classroom:

Enhancing experiential learning

Body VR is just one of the many companies bringing lessons to life. Biology students are able to delve into the body and visualise the relationship of each component’s functions with the company’s educational virtual reality content.

 “VR is what we’ve been waiting for because it allows us to address one of the most important (and neglected) types of learning – experiential learning, learning by doing.” said Google for Education, UK Manager, James Leonard.

VR makes the learner an active participant in their own education, their learning is led by their own curiosity. This is a powerful tool for educator’s, helping them to create a learner led culture in the classrooms so that pupils become lifelong learners.

So does this spell the end of the classroom teacher? Not at all, Kim Majkut points out, educators can’t rely on VR to take the lesson: “Without that backbone of content, VR doesn’t have much importance. It becomes a merely an entertainment device.” 

Enriching cross-curricular learning

Pupils at Putney High School stood at the edge of the rock as Tolbachik volcano erupted over the town. There were audible gasps as students watched glowing lava roll across the landscape through their VR goggles as part of the Google Pioneers Expeditions programme. Later the 360⁰ experience was used as the basis for lessons in geology as well as forming the basis of powerfully descriptive poetry. The experiential learning experience gave context to their work as one Year 5 pupil succinctly said, “It all made sense.”

Cross-curricular learning improves learning, increases learner motivation and provides a meaningful way in which students can use knowledge learned in one context as a knowledge base in other contexts.

Improving teaching

At Putney High School we are using £300 360⁰ camera to improve our professional development programme. Teachers can review their lesson from different angles – choosing to concentrate on themselves as the move around the classroom, or view any of the groups of students as they interact during the lesson. Dr James McFarthing, Teacher of French and Spanish at Putney High School, said: “The system is fantastic. I can review not only any part of my lesson, but at any angle. I am able to reflect at greater depth about my practice and my interactions around the classroom, a static camera in the corner just cannot cover to this incredible extent.”

Later this year students in the Debating Society will have the opportunity to critique their own performance as they use the camera to watch themselves and their audience. This objective self-reflection empowers individuals to improve their performance in both teaching and learning.

Providing access to all

Some hail virtual reality as the great leveller in education as students will be able to access global experts in all subjects with a cardboard wearable and mobile phone. The Khan Academy started out by creating videos that focused on teaching mathematics it now offers learning materials in over 5,000 topics for all age groups in various languages. VR could be the next evolutionary step in providing quality education for all.

The future of shared experiences

Currently VR is a lone learning experience, as users don their goggles and ear phones they isolate themselves from the external world. Many valuable classroom lessons take place as students share a learning experience and current VR technology minimises the occurrence of this. At the Bett 2017 show digital leaders from Putney High School shared a journey to the stars in a 360° dome run by Immersive Experiences. As they watched the night sky students discussed what they could see. The digital leaders were so impressed with the technology they are currently making a case for the school to set aside some of the budget to bring it into the school. The future is exciting at Putney High School as VR creates a variety of exciting opportunities! 

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