Stuart Gent, the founder of PrimeVR, is a qualified teacher and former Google Expeditions associate. He spent six 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.
What is VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) is a popular ‘buzzword’ at the moment, and many industries/sectors are researching how they can use it. One of the most forward-thinking sectors in terms of VR is education. VR gives users an opportunity to travel around the world and see sites that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience. That feeling of being immersed in your surroundings creates endless possibilities for VR in the classroom.
Not only does VR have the ability to transport students to famous landmarks and places of interest around the world, but it can also help students to understand and comprehend other topics, for example, the complexity of the human body. Rather than using pictures in a textbook or videos on YouTube, teachers can take students inside the body, for example, to analyse the structure of the heart or to follow the process of digestion. No matter what topic you are currently studying, VR can be used to help bring it to life and open students’ imaginations.
What do you need to get started?
VR is becoming more and more accessible, but it will depend on what application you are using. As a starting point, you will need a smartphone that contains a gyroscope and accelerometer (these are sensors which detect the orientation of the device). There are other factors that I would also recommend (although these are not essential) when choosing a device, and these include a 4.7” screen (to a maximum of 6”), 2 GB of RAM and a high-resolution screen (720p or 1080p).
The second component you need is a VR headset. These can differ vastly, and there is a huge range to choose from in the market. If you’re looking for an entry-level product, Google Cardboard is the one for you (you can pick unbranded ones up for as little as £5). If you fancy something a bit more up-market, you can pay more than £100 for a mobile VR headset. Personally, for education, I would recommend something more towards the Google Cardboard headset, as these are more budget-friendly and for what you will be doing in the classroom, it will suffice. My only word of caution about the Google Cardboard headsets is that they are not likely to last more than an academic year. If you want any more tips on choosing the right VR headset for your school, take a look at this article.
What apps can be used in the classroom?
There are a number of free VR apps that you can use in your classroom. Here are some of the most popular ones:
- Google Expeditions – this is probably the most well-known VR app in education and has been used by over 1,000,000 students in the UK. There are currently over 600 different expeditions that you can choose from.
- Titans of Space – this is an excellent resource for teaching about the solar system. Students can take on the role of an astronaut and go on a self-guided tour of the different planets in our solar system.
- Discovery VR – this is an app run by The Discovery Channel, and it contains a series of 360° videos from around the world. Examples include protecting pandas in China and taking a helicopter tour around Mount Everest.
VR is a great tool for encouraging students’ imaginations, and we have seen some great pieces of creative writing using these lesson ideas:
- Writing a travel brochure after visiting the seven wonders of the world – students ‘virtually’ visit each of the seven wonders of the world and then choose their favourite to write a travel brochure.
- Writing a postcard home after visiting the Congo – students explore the Congo jungle and come face-to-face with a huge silverback gorilla. After this experience, they write a postcard home to a friend/family member describing what they’ve seen!
- Understanding volcanoes – students are introduced to a number of key terms in relation to volcanoes, and they then visit a number of real volcanoes around the world, including the Supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park.
Lesson plans and resources linked to these ideas (and many more) are available to download below.
Using VR for classroom management
VR is a great bargaining chip and can be an effective way of reinforcing positive behaviour. In addition, depending on what VR app you decide to use, the app itself can be an effective method of managing behaviour. Google Expeditions, for example, gives the teacher the power to pause VR experiences so that students that aren’t listening or paying attention will pause everybody else’s experience (unfortunately, you can’t control individual headsets, and one action will impact everybody). However, if this student continues to defy instructions/expectations, you can always take their headset away from them. Another tip I would recommend with Google Expeditions is to convince your class that the headsets are noise activated, and if it gets too loud, headsets will automatically pause, and you will be unable to continue with the experience (you can probably guess that this only works in primary schools and some Y6 students won’t fall for it).
What is your number one tip for schools looking to use VR?
Don’t overuse VR in your classroom. I’ve seen VR being used in over 100 schools, and the best lessons I’ve seen have been those that you have used it to compliment the lesson rather than use it as the main focal point. VR should only be used for small periods of time, and you must be clear about what you want students to get from the experience, whether that’s to fuel imagination or provide relevant and relatable content.
VR kits can be really expensive, especially those that contain 30 headsets. Rather than investing in your own kit, why don’t you sign up to a VR learning subscription? This will provide you with a VR kit once every half term (to go along with each of your new topics) and will cost a fraction of buying your own kit. In addition, you won’t have to worry about the upkeep and maintenance of the kit, and you will be provided with staff training prior to your subscription starting. For more information about this option, visit www.primevr.co.uk or email Stuart at [email protected].