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VR and classroom engagement: are they related?

Qualified teacher and former Google Expeditions associate Stuart Gent looks at how best to utilise VR in the classroom to increase engagement

Posted by Charley Rogers | August 14, 2017 | Secondary

During my time on the Google Expeditions Programme, I travelled 10,000 miles across the country, visiting small one-form entry schools in the Isle of Wight, to large secondary academies in Nottingham. Despite their differences in size and curriculum, they had one thing in common: their students loved using Virtual Reality (VR).

One phrase that was repeatedly used by teachers to describe the experience was ‘awe and wonder’. This phrase was new to me (I didn’t come across it whilst teaching in a secondary school) but it quickly became apparent that it was a big deal in primary schools. That ‘awe and wonder moment’ is when students look fascinated or amazed, and they react with words like “wow” or “this is awesome”. During my time spent on the programme, one thing became very clear; VR helps to increase engagement in the classroom. However, does VR improve learning and attainment?

It’s difficult to make an assessment on this as my school visits during the programme were only for a day. However, surely if students are more engaged in the lesson and show more interest in a topic they are going to show more progress? VR is a great tool for making a topic more relevant and relatable; students can be immersed in volcanoes, travel through the human body, visit famous landmarks around the world, and even venture into outer space. Without VR, teachers are restricted to opening students’ imaginations through pictures in textbooks and video clips on YouTube. However, some critics believe that VR is just a ‘passing fad’ and that the investment in equipment would be better spent elsewhere.

I don’t agree with this argument and I think that VR is only going to continue to develop and help transform the way that students learn in the classroom. However, there is one piece of advice that I regularly give to schools and that is, don’t overuse VR in your classroom. VR should only be used as a complimentary learning tool and teachers need to make sure that they know what they want their students to achieve from the experience. If teachers overuse VR (without giving it a purpose) that ‘awe and wonder’ moment will very quickly fade away. When planning your scheme of work (SOW), think about where you will use VR; whether that’s at the start, middle or end of a SOW.

Whilst working on the Google Expeditions Programme, schools regularly asked me how they could get started with VR. There are a few options available for schools: purchase a kit, build your own kit, or rent a kit. There are benefits and drawbacks for each option.

Purchasing or building your own kit is expensive, but you have access to VR everyday (should you wish to use it everyday). Renting a kit is a much more cost effective method but it doesn’t give you access to VR everyday. Personally, I think that renting a kit for one day every half term (to coincide with each new topic) is the best option, as this gives teachers an opportunity to bring the curriculum to life and create that ‘awe and wonder’ moment without overusing it. 

After finishing my contract on the Google Expeditions Programme, I founded PrimeVR with the aim of making VR more accessible for schools. Seeing VR being used in over 100 schools has given me a unique insight and has helped me to develop a range of resources for the classroom. A large proportion of my time during the Google Expeditions Programme was spent in hotels away from home, which as you can expect, provides a lot of free time. During this free time, I decided to create lesson plan ideas and resources that can be used alongside Google Expeditions. You can find these resources on our website here.

If you would like any more information about VR, or you would like to discuss how you could incorporate VR into your school, contact stuart@primevr.co.uk.

Stuart Gent, the founder of PrimeVR, is a qualified teacher and former Google Expeditions associate. He spent 6 months travelling the UK, where he visited over 100 schools, trained over 2,000 teachers and gave over 40,000 students the opportunity to try Google’s latest Virtual Reality (VR) software, Google Expeditions. 

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