Virtual Reality An Experiment in the classroom

VR Inquiry Project

How can emergent technologies, like VR be leveraged in the classroom to enhance student inquiry, exploration, and creativity?

Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming. -- MARK ZUCKERBERG

The Process

The Renfrew County District School Board recently purchased a full VR set up to allow for exploration and experimentation with this groundbreaking and emergent technology. Jonathan Pratt - a Technology Enabled Learning & Teaching Contact with the RCDSB has facilitated the tour of the VR equipment to Arts classes in the secondary schools. While sometimes it has been possible to experiment in other curriculum and program areas, the focus for this project has been on the student exploration and creativity of digital content creation in the Arts class. Harnessing the awesome power of virtual reality for educational uses will permanently change the nature and course of how children learn. (W. Sykes & Reid, R., 1999)

Visual arts activities engage students in the use of current technologies... as creative media, (and) as an analysis of the impact of various technologies on contemporary society -- THE ONTARIO CURRICULUM

The Equipment

There are still limited options available for fully immersive and interactive VR on the consumer market. Of those that were looked at, HTC VIVE offered the richest experience with the best 360' tracking at room scale.

This headset is the closest we can get right now to a Star Trek-style holodeck. -- GEARBRAIN.COM
Wireless Controllers, PC, & Headset

One of the most important features of this emergent technology is not just in the consumption of digital media, but in allowing students to become the creators of digital content. Google offered the perfect solution in Tilt Brush - a VR program that allows users to create amazing 3D lifesize art taking advantage of the full room-scale VR experience offered by the HTC VIVE. By experimenting with students use of Tilt Brush, we hoped to uncover the possibilities, future use, and transformative nature of these technologies.

I can see my dreams. -- TILT BRUSH USER
The Software

The Experience

Throughout the project, the attempt has been made to ensure that the maximum number of students can spend the maximum amount of time possible inside VR. While all students are offered the opportunity to experience VR, not every student chooses to. Timetabling has also allowed for other teachers and classes to utilize the equipment, and there have been a wide variety of learners who have experienced it. One way or another, through the creative or consumptive aspects of VR it seems that irrespective of their learning styles, all learners can benefit from the VR experience (Chen, C., 2005).

Virtual reality is the first step in a grand adventure into the landscape of the imagination. -- FRANK BIOCCA

Arts Classes - Google Tilt Brush

As the VR equipment has been on tour, the focus has been on placing it in secondary school visual Arts classes throughout the RCDSB. Typically, all students are given an opportunity to try and experiment in the space during class time and then a few will really start to develop fine works of art beyond the initial introduction. During the class time, students are able to see what is being done in Tilt Brush by viewing the developing work being projected to a nearby wall. This allows for more immediate feedback from teachers and peers while the work is being created. Indeed, students have been able to collaborate on elaborate artworks this way.

Very detailed collaborative work - Fire appears to be flowing in VR

Life Skills Class - Google Tilt Brush

One of the most interesting applications for VR and an area that some preliminary research has already been done is in the area of Special Education. So far, the available research (Ludlow, 2015) suggests that the focus has been on experiencing calming environments such as a virtual tropical beach setting, or job preparation through simulated work. Google Tilt Brush enabled the Life Skills students at MVD an opportunity to move beyond passive consumption and build on established visual art skills in the virtual space. It really didn't take long for students to fully understand the basic functionality of Tilt Brush - selecting brush type, colour, and size and moving around the 3D space to build their artwork.

Creativity with light, colour, and shape

Geography Class - Google Earth VR

A Geography class at MVD had an opportunity to explore the world in Google Earth VR. Students chose locations around the world that highlighted current geographic issues and visited those locations in the virtual environment. Students were able to experience cities, landforms, scale, and gain a geographic sense like never before. Because there is not a 'search' function built in, students must actually navigate to chosen locations - this lead to an amazing collaboration with students outside the headset. Outside students were able to search for and communicate to the VR user how to successfully navigate around the world, encouraging descriptive use of geographic language, both political and natural features, and enhance directional vocabulary.

The view from inside the HTC VIVE - 3D photorealistic buildings and landforms

Student Tilt Brush Creations

[In Tilt Brush] his fingertips become a fiery paintbrush in the sky. A flick of the wrist rotates the clouds. He can jump effortlessly from one world he created to another. -- REBECCA SEARLES

Creating New Worlds

A student at MVD spent 5 hours creating this intricately detailed world. As a prospective post-secondary Arts students, this work can be submitted as part of a digital portfolio. All elements of this work were created by the student, right down to the delicate work of creating individual leaves and blades of grass.

Waterfall detail - The water flows in VR
Bridge detail - All the lights dance and sparkle in VR

Collaborative Work

Two FHS students collaborated on this piece over the course of a few days. Each contributed to the various elements they had discussed before entering the VR environment. By following along on the projected screen, they were able to provide immediate feedback and build on each others creativity.

Dragon head close-up detail
Working Together - Students provide feedback, support, and encouragement to each other.

Additional Student Work Samples

From top left clockwise: A sparkling tree, An eagle takes flight, Study in colour, light, and shape, Fire breathing creature, Whimsical scene
From top clockwise: A flower surrounded by leaves, The lone tree, Happy snowman

Next Steps

There's nobody who works in VR saying, "Oh, I'm bored with this." Everybody comes back. -- GABE NEWELL

This is truly just the beginning of the use of VR in the RCDSB. It will take a few months before the equipment has made it around to all of the arts classes in the district. There have been so many requests for access that the system will continue to be fully booked for the rest of the year. Teachers and students who have already worked with it have also wanted to have it back almost immediately. VR, in general, is becoming more widely used in the fields of education and training due to its potentials is stimulating interactivity and motivation (Freina, L., 2015)

While there are many wonderful experiences to be had inside the VR environment that include meeting a blue whale, (The Blu) taking a rollercoaster ride, (Desert Ride Coaster) and touring virtual museums (The VR Museum of Fine Art) the true power of this technology is in the creative possibilities from programs like Tilt Brush. As the development of VR continues, the selection of these powerful creative tools will continue to grow and the already seemingly limitless opportunities will be astounding.

The RCDSB is now well positioned to continue the exploration and experimentation with VR in the classroom and as the technology continues to develop, students in the district will always have access to the best possible learning experience Virtual Reality has to offer.

Authored By: Jonathan Pratt, TELT-Contact - RCDSB

@MrJonathanPratt

Created By
Jonathan Pratt
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with images by wilhei - "electricity voltage light" • blickpixel - "board electronics computer" • PIRO4D - "virtual city utopia architecture" All other images - Jonathan Pratt

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