Pedagogies & VR

Want to take students on virtual field trips? Improve understanding of spatial relationships? Let them practice using tools of the trade? Regardless of what you want to do, this area will help you to learn more about VR and AR and how to use them in the classroom.

Getting Started

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR) takes us out of the real environment around us to immerse us in a world generated by a computer. This can include virtual worlds displayed on a computer screen, such as second life, as well as fully immersive worlds experienced using a head-mounted display (HMD), ranging from smartphones with Google Cardboard viewers to computer-based devices like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality (AR) overlays computer generated content to enhance our senses within the environment around us. Mobile devices and tablets are commonly used platforms for viewing augmented reality content, but wearable devices are also emerging, such as Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens or MagicLeap.

Do my students and I need special equipment to use these technologies?

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VR technology »
No! As you explore these materials you will find that there are many opportunities to create and explore VR/AR content with just a smartphone or a tablet. While some experiences will require a headset and hand controllers and one day it may be feasible that all students will have access to such resources, do not let this limit your ability to provide amazing learning opportunities with their phone today!

How can these help me in the classroom?

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VR in education »
Both AR and VR can enable you to enhance learning about environments around the world without leaving the classroom. VR is best if you want to take students somewhere (or sometime) else, such as on a virtual field trip. AR is better when you want to bring materials into your classroom, such as to have students investigate a scaled 3D model of a virtual outcrop with their phone, or to enhance a learning experience when you go to the field by adding content overlays that augment a student's natural senses.

When considering the use of AR/VR in teaching, it is important to clearly define the objectives for the experience. In some cases, the goal of an experience may be to simply increase student interest in the geosciences through field-based storytelling. In this case, affective outcomes may be emphasized through stunning visuals or visiting interesting places. In other cases, the focus may be on 'what' students learn, i.e., the content. These outcomes could range from reinforcing specific theoretical content to building spatial reasoning or procedural knowledge (e.g., how to use a field instrument). It is therefore important to think carefully about the learning outcomes and assessment that will be needed BEFORE selecting a particular approach or technology for implementing an AR or VR teaching activity.

Examples of learning benefits that are typically associated with field experiences that are readily transferable to VR field experiences were recently summarized by Moysey and Lazar (2019):

  • Affect: emotional and aesthetic responses; place attachment; development of interest, enjoyment, motivation, prosocial behaviors; personal and societal relevance
  • Cognition: understanding and application of theoretical concepts to real-world settings; integration and synthesis of conceptual knowledge
  • Professional Development: identification of patterns in complex environments; spatial cognition; specialized field skills; observational skills; use of and interpretation of inscriptions (e.g., maps); collaboration, communication, and socialization
  • Inquiry: construction of mental models and hypothesis testing based on field observations; open-ended investigations and multiple pathways to completion; independent exploration and goal setting

It will be helpful to consider explicitly which of these learning outcomes you wish to achieve before starting to plan or develop a VR experience.

As you plan through what type of VR activity you would like to use in your teaching, the figure below may be a helpful guide to ensure that you consider the available technologies, the affordances they provide, and the learning outcomes you hope to achieve.

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