By Simon Lewis
Virtual Reality (VR) is now readily available and affordable for schools – students can explore every corner of the earth, journey beyond our planet, or even travel to different points in time from the comfort of their chair in their classroom. VR enables students control their own learning; with VR the student can enter a limitless selection of worlds (including historical, geographical, scientific and narrative based) and learn about it by choosing the part of the world they want to look at and interact it. It gives students an opportunity to learn in a truly immersive manner, to overcome barriers, facilitate different learning styles, and achieve results in a way that was previously, and is otherwise, impossible. We will start our series of VR articles by looking at its use in geography lessons; follow-up articles will go on to look at language and full curriculum integration.
Google Expeditions is probably the best known tool to allow children to virtually go to almost anywhere in the world. There are hundreds of places that pupils can visit using this tool armed with affordable and accessible VR technology (including Google cardboard). For example, a teacher can bring the pupils on a guided tour of Antarctica, following the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton. However, why settle for the earth, when they can be brought to the International Space Station!
Google Street View allows students to transport themselves into the middle of any local area and explore any aspect of the geography curriculum. Whether they are learning about far away countries or a different part of Ireland, Google Street View empowers students to do this without leaving their desks. You can of course go beyond simply looking around and set challenges specific to learning objectives; sample task – how many different types of street furniture can you find in the local village/ town?
Moving deeper into the world of VR, we have virtual reality videos. These videos (free on YouTube) enable the student to become immersed in a film, giving them the ability to view any part of the scenery (above, below, left, right, behind) and lead their own learning while a virtual teacher tells them exactly what they are looking at. Students can climb snowy mountains, go deep sea diving or do tour the rainforest – see here for a rainforest tour or here for a walk around Ancient Jerusalem.
Like all technology, VR’s best use for your classroom will be when it is needed. Nobody wants VR to simply be a nifty gizmo; it needs to be used as a meaningful pedagogy that embeds into traditional subject areas to achieve established learning objectives. You can get started with VR easily by getting Google Cardboard goggles and a smartphone (only certain models will work), or get in touch with our team to discuss a VR immersion day at the school, or to purchase your own VR kits.