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To Infinity & Beyond: Immersive Learning with Virtual Reality

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Franklin’s words resonate with the ISTE Standards for Educators. Particularly since Virtual Reality allows teachers to design “authentic learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability” (ISTE Standards for Educators 5). Virtual reality and augmented reality offer students an interactive, three dimensional learning experience that “maximize student learning” so “students can gain mastery of content area knowledge.”

Google describes Expeditions as a technology tool to, “enable teachers to bring students on virtual trips to places like museums, underwater, and outer space. Expeditions are collections of linked virtual reality (VR) content and supporting materials that can be used alongside existing curriculum. These trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas — 360° panoramas and 3D images — annotated with details, points of interest, and questions” (Google, 2016).  Within Google Expeditions the teacher is the guide and facilitator, and the students are the explorers. For historical artifacts, scientific unit of study covering marine life, space, and even geography. There are over 500 Google Expeditions that students can participate in to have a visual and experiential learning opportunity. Learning can happen beyond the walls of the classroom with AR and VR.

Google is not the only one to offer virtual, experiential learning. Additional VR experiences are available through Discovery Education and are categorized by themes, free on the website. Discovery Education also offers Educational Events, virtual tours and webinars to help teachers get started with Virtual Field Trips.

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is one of many museums to offer virtual tours of their permanent exhibits. By downloading the The New York Times VR App, students can “stand alongside Iraqi forces during a battle with ISIS or walk on Mars.”  With virtual field trips there are no walls dividing learning spaces, VR allows students experience outer space, under water, and travel the world without leaving their seat.

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The educational platform Nearpod has over 350 ready to teach VR lessons and 3D objects that don’t require VR Headsets. I observed a high school teacher use Nearpod’s Virtual Field trips with a classroom of 10th graders in AP Global Studies class where they virtually toured Angor Wat in Cambodia from their desks in Rye, New York using cell phones and crome books. Schools can pay for a subscription to access the virtual field trips and along with the VR aspect of Nearpod, school licenses give more options to teachers creating interactive lessons on this digital platform. Nearpod works with Google Classroom and works on any digital device. The self paced lessons or teacher led lessons allow students to work at their own speed and can offer scaffolded materials to support diverse student learners.

Timelooper is history based VR platform that allows students to have a first person account of history. The website states, “Empower your students to experience history, inspiring them to ask questions, fueling a desire to learn more. Through comprehensive primary source-based lesson plans and the immersive VR experience your students will journey through moments that bent history, all without leaving the classroom.”

With.in creates story based virtual reality like Clouds Over Sidra, a VR experience with twelve year old Syrain Refugee, Sidra taking you on a tour of the refugee camp she is living at with her family in Jordan.

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Utilizing expeditions, promoting student talk and conversation, offering writing opportunities post expedition can help students build academic language proficiency and their knowledge of the content material. Expeditions and Virtual field trips are scaffolding opportunities to help make sense of larger concepts and ideas that might be difficult to read in a textbook or content specific texts.

What is engaging about virtual reality versus watching a video or slideshow, students are immersed in a learning experience. Museums have excellent resources to support teaching and learning but for a school unable to get there, VR is the next best thing. Virtual Reality and Augmented reality take global collaboration to the next level, connecting, engaging, exploring, and examining remote destinations from multiple viewpoints to broaden understanding and learning.

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