James W. Hill Public School students strolled the streets of Paris, France and explored the wonders of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – all from the confines of their classroom in Oakville.
Welcome to the world of virtual reality (VR) learning.
Grade 8 students in teacher Victoria Caron’s class have been engaging in new ways of learning and they include delving into 21st century approaches such as virtual reality. It involves students wearing VR glasses or a form of head mounted display, which is connected to an outside media device. Through this set up, students interact with whatever they see through the glasses.
Caron said she was intrigued by this style of learning after attending a Google Apps For Education summit last spring in Kitchener.
“I was blown away by the cool-tech factor and wanted to bring this same experience to my school and students,” she explained.
The school’s parent council provided funds and the school now has 30 virtual reality viewers, 30 android devices and a tablet. They are embarking on another VR adventure this week.
The use of virtual reality connects seamlessly to the curriculum, Caron said, including social science, geography and history. Taking part in an urban hike in Paris, France and visiting the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, students experience different geographical regions, landscapes, and cultural celebrations.
“We are using VR right now in Grade 1 and 2 classes to teach descriptive and experiential writing. French classes are using it to explore Quebec City and spark French conversations. There are so many ways, we haven't even had a chance to try all of them yet.”
Students were impressed by the versatility of virtual reality learning. They said some students excel at hands-on learning and VR provides this kind of instruction.
“It's cool how you were standing in one place but you are experiencing another type of environment,” said Grade 8 student, Ethan. “Instead of researching places, and just imagining it yourself, you can actually experience it with your eyes, which would be helpful for a lot of students.”
The potential of VR seems endless, Caron said.
“The discussions, as a result of this learning experience, are incredible and makes us believe we're onto something meaningful with this,” she said. “Using VR, they can construct their own ideas through the experience of being in a place, rather than simply reading text about a place or looking at a picture. Students are immersed into the environment and can truly experience what it feels like to go around the world – all from their classroom.”
The Halton District School Board supports 21st century learning through professional development workshops and seminars.