Thursday, December 8, 2016

Lessons learned from experimenting with VR

We are investigating different ways to use augmented and virtual reality to enhance teaching and learning. At this point our approach may be a bit haphazard as we play with different free devices, apps, and triggers in our pursuit of a full curricular adoption of a VR platform. Such adoption is a long way off. In the meantime we are gaining increasing appreciation for the learning potential of a robust system as we watch our students interact with the modest tools in our makerspace.

A tool we have: a class set of cardboards
The obstacle we face: no devices to insert into the cardboards

Another tool: In addition to their BYOD devices, students bring smartphones to school
Another obstacle: our state has a student data privacy law that significantly restricts the digital platforms to which teachers can direct students for classroom exercises.

So here is what we have tried:
Having recently upgraded my phone, I donated my old android phone to our TechXperts. I showed them the roller coaster cardboard app and then got out of the way. They started by creating elastic head straps to turn the cardboards into hands-free devices. They scoured the play store for VR experiences compatible with the single device we have and began wandering the makerspace wearing the headset. Students started clambering: me, too! me, too! and the line formed of students waiting for a turn.

Lesson 1: Students are always game for a new learning experience.

Once the furor abated I tried out the apps they installed and wandered around a fantasy world for a while. I moved around my physical space as I moved around the virtual space. I jumped, squatted, spun, reached, walked... I moved.

Lesson 2When you are looking for ways to introduce movement into your classroom, VR is a great tool for kinesthetic learning!

After the fantasy exploration, the students tried to get me to cliff dive, and I was done. The roller coaster app was not enough for them. They needed to free-fall through space! I told them when I tried Google Expeditions at ISTE2015, and found myself on the side of Everest, I fell out of the chair was helped off the floor by a very sweet Googler who assured me that I wasn't the first person to do that. Still embarrassing.

Lesson 3: VR experiences are visceral and can help students develop empathy.

Augmented reality is cool, too. While less immersive, AR experiences have similar and important impact on teaching and learning. On a recent professional learning day, we set up a playground for teachers to visit between workshops or as a workshop session. One of the playground stations was an AR station. We downloaded the chemistry and anatomy triggers from Daqri, installed the Daqri app on the library iPads, and invited teachers to play with the element, heart, and body systems enhancements. Say goodbye to cellophane overlays that build the systems of the body in increasingly difficult to read layers! Now the systems can be added and removed by a touch of the finger and they layer and intertwine with one another as they do in a body.

Lessons 4&5: The interactive, multi-media, self-directed nature of VR and AR helps students orient to challenging concepts and gives them agency over their interaction with the content.

In the library specifically we are resurrecting a past initiative using Aurasma to create triggers out of book covers. When students meet in the library to select independent reading material, we are capturing short videos of them reviewing their books. Then, we make the video an overlay with the cover as a trigger. Students -- any library patron, really -- can follow our channel and scan the covers of books to see what fellow students say about them! Now, AR is not just about consuming information, but about the creation, by students, of new insights, learning, and content.

Lesson 6: In small and large ways, AR and VR experiences encourage students to explore previously inaccessible ideas and places expanding their passions and curiosity.

Needless to say there are much more expansive AR and VR experiences available for education than those in which we have dabbled. Our little experiences are helping us build a plan for more curricular integration of such experiences -- and more financial investment, too. In the meantime, these dabbles are helping us to expand our thinking about how to enhance teaching and learning, beyond the wow! factor.

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