Incorporating virtual reality (VR) in the classroom presents a great opportunity to diversify the education landscape, facilitate cross-cultural interactions, and prompt the exploration of a melting pot of cultures and environments that otherwise, would not be possible for students.
On this episode of ExpertsConnect, Director, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking (CIET), at the San Diego Jewish Academy, Kwaku Aning, MA, explains the notion of virtual reality and provides examples of how he has applied it in his classroom. He further describes how immersive VR has been used as a teaching aid to enhance self-learning. He also talks about how VR can be used to teach empathy in the classroom. In addition, he reflects on the design process surrounding the design of VR applications. Finally, he shares his perceptions about adopting VR in the classroom as a pedagogical aid in the future.
What is virtual reality? [2:02] | Kwaku explains that it is basically using technology, a headset, to completely cut yourself off from the world that you're in, and then having another world visualized in front of you [2:11].
How are you using virtual reality with your students? [2:37] | Kwaku mentions that he worked on a project with students who built their own virtual reality game based upon photosynthesis, which they based upon another game that they played in VR. He's also working with one student who is building out her own VR experience to help people get past phobias [2:46].
Can students learn empathy through virtual reality? [4:22] | Kwaku recounted that he worked on a project with students a few years ago, which was done in collaboration with a children's hospital. And the students had to basically answer two questions. One, the effect of this hospital on the nation, it's a National Hospital chain, it was St. Jude, Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and then assess the effect of that hospital on helping children with cancer. And so a big part of that was that the students interviewed a former cancer patient, and then the parents of a child who was diagnosed and was in recovery from cancer. They had to essentially create an experience from the perspective of the combination of these two people to demonstrate the effect of this hospital on helping children with cancer. And all of that was rooted in empathy [5:22].
How can virtual reality prepare students for their future? [7:07] | Kwaku explains, that there's going to be a confluence of a few things. One, the price of VR just in the past five years has been significantly reduced. And then with the prospect of 5g, it will be easier to use VR in a lot of other instances, which makes it a powerful tool and skill set that will be utilized in a lot of different fields. Currently, it's being used minimally in education and gaming, but there are a lot of healthcare applications that have been developed for it. He further discusses that it's relevant for workplace training, whether it be from the police, or the military, or Walmart. There's going to be a need for people who can create that content. Consequently, the earlier students can learn about that process and not just the experience of using the art, but the design process around that, i.e., how to really utilize the medium to help people to learn, once the students learn that, then the more valuable that this knowledge will be in the workplace in the next five years.
How can virtual reality revolutionize the education system in this COVID-19 era? [14:40] | Kwaku mentions that prior to Covid, VR was used to provide access e.g., to places one has never been before. However, at this point, the way the technology has increased, it is also the access has increased to whether it be experts, or other teachers or other students. He stresses that VR provides a connection in a way that isn't different or isn't better, but it's different than a phone call or a zoom.
Inequality in Virtual Reality [16:19] | Kwaku argues that he thinks there is a level of VR, that's too expensive for marginalized communities in the United States. He further explains that it is really a small subset of students that have the ability to even experience it, or even understand how it works. And so he is working with some of his colleagues on projects to help create that connection and that access to emerging technology like VR.
The future of virtual reality in the classroom [21:08] | Kwaku asserts that in the short term, VR can be leveraged to create vital and unique learning opportunities within the classroom. In the longterm, VR is basically redefining what the term classroom means. He raises the questions and provides an example. “Will it mean that you go to one place to learn? Or that you have access to a series of places from home in the way that we are using Zoom to do the same thing as you are? You're in Europe, and I am in Southern California? Typically, this might be a phone call. But we were using Zoom, to make it a different type of experience, I feel that VR can do the same thing for education."
Notable Quotes from Kwaku Aning (MA)
“[…] I would just sort of give them the opportunity to play in VR and just experience it. And they went through this process where they learned about the design aspect of whether it be the experience of building game building, that sort of thing. And then they sort of combine that with essentially trying to achieve the things that they enjoyed within VR, while simultaneously teaching people how to problem solve within VR.” [3:45]
“But the power of VR is the idea of being transported to another place or being able to feel something in a way that you couldn't feel it in the real world in the way that you would not even feel it but you would have the opportunity to feel in the real world and that is centered in being Able to empathize with another perspective.” [4:42]
“[…] the design process, I think, is very similar to the design process for a variety of things, whether it be filmmaking, storytelling, essentially, at its core. Ideally, when you are when you're making a film, or you are shooting a series of photographs, you have a fixed lens that you work with. And then if you are doing something, let's say for a 360 video or an animated VR piece, you do not have a fixed lens, essentially, your viewer, your participant can be focused on anything. And so as a result, the idea of how to tell a story without being able to control where your participant is viewing is, is a really specific challenge and skill within the design, and the idea of also combining the right cues and also making sure that the perspective that you're creating is authentic enough to produce the empathy, which will also lead to the cognitive piece of being able to retain a new skill, or, or story. And then finally, there's the haptic part there is a tonne of research around how haptic activity or motion within learning helps to reinforce that process and build the schema that's needed to take something from your short-term memory into your long-term memory.” [8:44]
“[…] to be honest, I kind of want the novelty effect to wear off. Because it's at the end of the day, all of this is really more about the process and less about the product itself. […] So they can get past the novelty and get to the point where they can be creative with it. But the novelty wearing off is tied to actually really sort of losing yourself in the experience and getting used to it, and being able to get past the wow factor and get into understanding. ” [10:50]
“VR can be used to teach anything. VR can easily be used to teach any of the humanities classes, especially a character study or something within history, which is heavily dependent on perspective.” [12:39]
“[…] it's a privilege to even be able to use VR. And that there is whether you're in the States or in Europe, there is money through foundations and grants. […] you can access those funds to bring the hardware into your classroom. But more importantly, than bringing the hardware into your classroom, is grounding the use of it into something that is engaging to students, but also empowering. How do you create a medium where they can share their work to a larger audience so that they have intrinsic motivation to utilize it? How do you create an experience where students can tell their stories using this medium? How do you create the motivation around the building and then layer that with opportunities for them to learn about different topics, as opposed to just teaching your topic through that medium? I mean, these are at the end of the day, how people use VR and with their students is entirely up to them, and should be determined by the needs of their students.” [22:18]
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