Guest blog by Mr. Will Barnes AP Human Geography and AP European History teacher at Cleburne High School in Cleburne ISD.
Creating and facilitating meaningful and engaging lessons where students are allowed to hone soft skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration are crucial in preparing today’s learners for future job markets. 21st century learners need increasingly diverse environments that spark their creativity and allow them access to relevant technology. Virtual Reality is a new platform that offers a unique opportunity for students to be visually immersed in places and situations that do not have the constraints of space and time. Although the platform is relatively new, theoretically students can be anywhere at any time provided the time and place has been created. This is an educational game changer……for now. Technology is fluid and the only constant is change. It is our job as educators to stay with the ever changing face of technology and use the tools at our disposal to increase student learning. The VR platform will be here for a while and will be improved upon over time. Jumping on the VR bandwagon now will give students and educators the ability to understand VR from the foundational level and grow with the platform as it matures.
So, how does VR transform teaching? Much like other tech fads that come and go VR does not replace good pedagogy and content knowledge. VR does, however, allow educators to enhance their lessons while assisting students in experiencing learning. Google Expeditions is the application that I use most for facilitating VR learning experiences, but there are other applications such as Nearpod that offer VR lessons that can be used at all grade levels and content areas. Furthermore, more educational VR applications are on the horizon as the platform is augmented and enriched to warrant superior learning encounters.
As a Social Studies teacher religion is an area that I have taught from both a historical and a cultural perspective. I have always wanted to show my students different places of worship around the world and the historically significant areas of religious conflict that have shaped human history. Enter Google Expeditions. The app is free (shout out to Google for being so good to educators) and after a quick download we are off and running. The neatest part of Google Expeditions is that the teacher can be the “guide” and lead the expeditions while the students follow. This allows teachers to highlight areas of the expedition that students should be paying attention to and deliver content while all students are visually immersed in the same environment. My search within the Google Expeditions app revealed two expeditions of interest, Places of Faith around the World and Holy Places of Jerusalem. I loaded the Places of Faith around the World and was able to take my students to Jerusalem and see the historical significance of this holy place to the world’s religions. The students then headed to the 1200 year old Buddhist temple at Borobudur, and finished with a trip to the Taj Mahal in India. As the religion unit was tackled each year I knew that my students were missing something. I could show videos or still photographs, but I wanted them to experience the feeling of being in these places that have been so fundamental to the shaping of human history. VR allowed me to do just that.
VR is simply a tool that enhances student learning. Teachers will craft some of their lessons around the use of VR. Students could write about their VR experience, create collaborative projects based on the visually rich VR backdrop, or find solutions to problems posed by the educator. The possibilities are endless, and teachers can use as much or as little VR in a lesson as they see fit. The expeditions cross content areas and can be used to discover biomes, body systems, planets, historical places, and the moon to name a few. The VR platform is in its infancy, and as it grows more and more possibilities will emerge to increase student learning. Interestingly, each time I have used VR in a lesson I have had highly engaged students and their feedback and assessments tell me scholarship is expanding and they are enjoying learning. Virtual Reality can change the educational game and transform teaching by breaking down the walls of the classroom and removing the limits of time and space.
If you want additional information on how to make Virtual Reality possible on your campus or in your classroom feel free to contact me at:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat: @barneshistory