Monday, 15 April, 2019 - 16:15
Student on a Virtual Reality School Excursion

It’s long been used to help train pilots and surgeons, and now Virtual Reality (VR) is steadily moving into the classroom. But what exactly is VR – and how can it benefit your students? We look at applications of VR in the classroom, along with some of the VR school activities and school excursions available for your students.

Learning is not what it used to be. Along with the basics of literacy and numeracy, students in the 21st century also need to learn skills such as computational literacy, systems thinking and abstract reasoning.

Virtual reality, an immersive, hands-on tool for learning, can play a unique role in teaching these skills.

According to the Virtual Reality Society, VR is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of the virtual world or is immersed within the environment and while there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.

“The definition of virtual reality comes, naturally, from the definitions for both ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’,” the Society says. “The definition of ‘virtual’ is near and reality is what we experience as human beings. So the term ‘virtual reality’ basically means ‘near-reality’”.

Types of Virtual Reality

There are two key types of VR – fully immersive and non-immersive.

Fully immersive VR consists of three critical elements:

1. A detailed virtual world to explore, such as an ancient civilisation or the surface of the moon. This is referred to as a computer model or simulation.

2. A computer powerful enough to sense, and then adjust, the user’s experience so they can experience the simulation in ‘real time’.

3. Hardware linked to the computer that fully immerses the user in the virtual world; for example, a head-mounted display with screens and stereo sound.

Non-immersive VR is VR that allows the user to move around and explore, but doesn’t fully immerse them in the experience. For example, a three-dimensional reconstruction of an ancient civilisation may allow the user to move around and explore the huts people lived in, the food they cooked or the clothes they wore – but it doesn’t allow them to ‘see and do’ in the way fully immersive VR does.

VR the way of the future

According to a paper published recently in the International Journal of Innovation in Learning, students in the 21st century are in the ‘Experience Age’ – “where the vast majority of teens are online daily, playing games, livestreaming memorable experiences, sharing ephemeral moments on Snapchat or posting pictures of exciting daily occurrences on Instagram.”

The study authors, Elliot Hu-Au and Joey J. Lee, from the Department of Communications and Media at Columbia University, argue VR will increasingly play a role in bringing elements to the classroom traditional teaching cannot.

“Already, developers have created compelling experiences allowing people to travel through the cells of the body, to explore the Solar System, and to encounter recreations of ancient battles in history. VR promises to provide more immersive, engaging experiences, with applications in many domains….including education,” they said.

The paper asserts that VR can address a wide range of educational challenges, and lead to increased student engagement; provide active constructivist learning; increase frequency of authentic learning experiences; allow for empathetic experiences; enable students to exercise creativity; and provide an arena for visualising abstract concepts concretely.

Incorporating VR into your classroom, school activities, and school excursions

So, how can you adopt VR into your classroom, school activities and school excursions – and what unique learning experiences will your students enjoy as a result?

1. Fantasy field trips

Learning is far more exciting if students can ‘live and feel’ the experience. VR allows you to take your students to the summit of a mountain, deep into the rainforest or down to the sea bed – all from the safety and comfort of the classroom. Virtual field trips are emerging as a powerful and effective learning tool for classroom-based learning. Using an application such as Google Expeditions, VR field trips allow students to be transported to the far reaches of the globe, and beyond.

2. Bon Jour

Learning how to speak French or Chinese in the classroom is one thing; immersing students in a French marketplace to buy fresh fish, cheese and fruit for dinner; or into a Chinese restaurant to order a meal and drinks for six, is another. VR simulations allow students to fully immerse themselves into a new environment, so they can ‘live, feel, breathe and speak’ with the locals.

3. Skills training (with safety wheels)

Want to teach your students how to change a tyre, sharpen a knife or build a bonfire – without the risk attached? VR simulations let the user learn and practice skills in controlled, but real-life scenarios.

4. Game-based learning

Technology is already a valuable tool for educators who have introduced game-based learning into their curriculum. VR takes game-based learning to a new level – and can be adapted for all age groups, skill levels and learning needs. Research shows that game-based learning is effective in engaging students and motivating them – and is hugely enjoyable!

5. Fitness – the VR way

From the thrill of hurtling down a mountain on a bike, to trail running through a forest, to climbing the world’s highest peaks, VR adds an element of risk and excitement to fitness lessons. VR can also provide detailed information about the exercise we do and the effects it has on our bodies – all of which adds up to fitness that’s fun, motivational and educational.

What’s on offer? There are a number of exciting VR experiences suitable for school activities and school excursions. Two to consider are:

Viri VR

Viri VR is a venue in Melbourne’s CBD offering cutting edge entertainment technology for people of all ages.

In contrast to traditional video games, VR requires its users to actively move around in a simulated world.

At Viri VR, visitors start off with ‘The Plank,’ which simulates walking down the titular plank at a great height - a great introduction that shows off the capability of the technology to trick the brain.

Other experiences include a selection of games and simulations, including flight and racing simulators.

“Kids are not only excited by the games on offer, but it gives them valuable exposure to the technology that may shape their future,” said Viri VR Game Master, Chris Deakin.

“Virtual and mixed reality systems are likely to see increasing incorporation into professional environments, and experiences like the flight simulator may allow kids to explore a passion and gain experience in a field that would otherwise be very difficult to get started in. The added bonus of Viri being loads of fun will ensure that the kids are engaged with the experience.” 

Virtual Reality Rooms

Sydney-based Virtual Reality Rooms is a VR team-based escape games venue.

In the Cosmos adventure, a 2-6 person ‘Super Team’ is teleported onto Eden Space station to find a way to close the dark portal that’s threatening to destroy Earth. The team need to use keen observation and critical thinking to solve puzzles and, most importantly, communicate and collaborate with each other to achieve their mission to save Earth in 60 minutes.

In addition to VR escape games, Virtual Reality Rooms founder Christal Ho said Virtual Reality Rooms also offer VR educational programs that meet key learning outcomes for Technological And Applied Studies (TAS), Science, Human Society and Environment (HSIE), Creative Arts and other subjects. These include:

Game Design Workshop
Students learn the principles of game design, how to define and analyse a problem and storyboarding techniques.

Virtual Reality Art/Design Workshop Learn principles of virtual reality design and the tools, tips and techniques available. Create 3D artwork/fashion/design.

Location-Based Experiential Learning
Blending science, geography, history and culture. Students don virtual reality headsets to get a first-hand feel into a day in the life of a scientist in Antarctica; exploring Mars as an astronaut on Apollo 11; or following whale and reef migrations and the luminous abyss at the bottom of the ocean.