There is a lot going on at the moment in the sphere of virtual reality for the classroom. Google Expeditions looks like a fantastic opportunity but wouldn’t be available for all. You can sign up for the Expeditions Pioneer Kit here and read about the impact of it on Lee Parkinson’s blog. However, do we need to go to this level of complication to introduce VR into our classrooms? Whilst the idea of each child being able to go on their own virtual journey is appealing, it is possible to merge the ideas of Talk for Writing and VR exploration in one lesson, using one device and one viewer.
Last year I was teaching a Y6 group for a STEM project. We were designing, modelling, testing and finally building shelters, loosely based on the book Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. At this time there were limited apps available on iOS for Google Cardboard, mainly just the cardboard demo. However one of the demo VR settings was Mars, captured from the camera onboard the Mars Rover.
The key was in how it was built up. Since having worked with Mark Anderson on another topic I have become interested in “Awe and Wonder” to stimulate learning. I believe this doesn’t need to be some techno-whizzbang thing all the time but sometimes just a simple bending of the truth. In this case it was my very secret, super special, NASA feed which was only available to us for a short time in class. Carefully choosing the correct child to see the feed was key – a child that i wished would use more description in their writing. This child would be the only one to see “the feed”. They would then have to tell the others what was going on and what they could see. Asking the others to drop everything and either write down what they heard or, perhaps even more powerful, drawing what was being described worked well.
Not having lots of tech in the class can be liberating. Children have to learn to take turns, maybe even to miss out on occasion and it makes it more special when they do use it. What we need to do is be more effective at grasping the opportunities when they arrive in our class – yes a whole day of Google Expeditions would be fantastic but so is one device and one set of VR goggles.
Where we must be careful is with what devices we use in class. A lot of schools won’t have an iPhone/Android handset so we get to a situation where the teacher’s own device gets used. Putting (sometimes literally) your whole life in the palm of a primary school child can be daunting, especially if your friends are likely to text/snapchat/whatsapp etc in the middle of the day. So we need to be sensible.
Don’t be scared of VR though and don’t think that you need lots of equipment. An iPad can be used to view Google Expeditions, you just don’t get the depth that a stereoscopic viewer like Cardboard will give you, but you do get enough to have an effect on learning. Why not use Google Streetview to look at the local area before you go out on a trip, why not use Expeditions to visit places you will never ever go to. This technology exists to bring these worlds into our classrooms and provide experiences for our children that were not available before. My class are looking at rainforests at the moment – I’m off to take them to Borneo…