With the acquisition of Oculus Rift by Facebook just approved, virtual reality is set to become much more of a… reality (ergh!). But how could this impact classrooms and learning? And is it really practical in a school environment? Well, let’s take a look.
In the below video, the class at St Kieran’s NS in County Offaly, Ireland, use the Oculus Rift headset to explore and collaborate in a self-built virtual replica of the ancient monastic site, Clonmacnoise.
The project, put together by virtual reality company MissionV, is currently being beta-tested in eleven Irish schools. The technology uses OpenSimulator, the open source version of Linden Labs Second Life, running on a closed server, so that access can be controlled by their teacher.
School principal Esther Lambe says the students are eager and excited about the project, queuing outside the classroom door in the morning. The learning covers mathematics and computer programming, literacy and project management, history, archaeology and design. It is accelerated by the fun they are having. It is collaborative and self-directed: “Somebody finds a solution to a problem, and then they tell everybody else.”
To me, the technology, be it Oculus Rift or 3D modeling is not the star of this show. It is not the the single reason this exercise is a valuable learning experience. It is the combination of all the technology, the environment it is presented in, the freedom given to students and the passion shown the teachers. This is the catalyst to promote deep, focused and positive learning with technology.
The fact that it’s so creative, that they’re solving problems, that’s the amazing part of it as far as I’m concerned. Because that leads to good teamwork, it leads to the kids teaching each other, and they don’t know their doing it.
What is so inspiring about the project is how learning happens organically when students are engaged and interested. How passions and interests emerge when students are having fun. And how when presented with the right mix of relevant technology, 10 – 12 year old students will independently learn 3D modeling, scripting, raid the web for textures and images, and recreate a historic site.
The kids didn’t realise this is all about education, it’s all about history, it’s all about project management and typing up reports and spelling. To them it’s fun.
So could you see this model of virtual learning working in your classroom? Do you think every student will have an Oculus Rift in five years time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Author’s note: As an Australian living in Ireland I have had awkward moments with certain nuances of the Irish accent. From reading the automated YouTube transcript of this video it also looks like Google’s speech-to-text algorithms are too. If you want a quick chuckle, check it out. I don’t remember Ms Lambe saying anything about “Vietnamese” or a “BBQ”. Enjoy :)
Feature image Virtual-Reality icon designed by Ali Riza Saçan for The Noun Project.