Virtual Reality Brings Lessons to Life

By Ian Phillips, Assistant Head and Director of Computing and ICT, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School

Five steps to achieving deeper learning in the classroom with virtual reality.

Virtual Reality (VR) promises to transform the learning experience, but school head teachers often grapple with how to get value from a technology that may seem daunting.

At Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, we integrated VR into the classroom by starting small, emphasising collaboration, and focusing on direct links to learning and academic achievement.


How Can We Use VR to Its Best Advantage in an Educational Setting?

Head teachers constantly grapple with the challenge of maximising the value of technology used in the classroom. Especially with technology like VR.

There’s no doubt that students will enthusiastically embrace VR, but how do we, as educators, use it to its best advantage? We need to fulfil our school’s goals for measurable achievement and the learning goals of our students and their parents. At the same time, we’re responsible for preparing students for the workplace of the future.

Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School is a high-performing school in Elstree, Hertfordshire, in the UK. We are rated among the top schools in the UK and received the Sunday Times Independent School of the Year award in 2017. This creates high expectations from parents, students, and staff alike.

When four students came to talk to me about using VR to create an immersive learning experience, I listened and noted their enthusiasm. Looking past their argument that they’d be, “less likely to fall asleep in class,” I realised that they might be onto something. If VR could engage and inspire students who were already high achievers, imagine how it could help those students who were not so strong academically.


Five Steps to Creating an Attainable and Sustainable VR Programme

After an initial trial, I started using VR in the classroom with technology from Intel, HP, SystemActive, and Microsoft. The following five steps are based on what we’ve learned at Haberdashers’ Aske’s as we’ve integrated VR into the classroom to build engagement and encourage deeper learning.

1) Test the Efficacy and Popularity of VR in Your School

Will it work in your school? Are the students interested? Are there staff members who can champion the use of the technology?

I put up a notice about a VR demo during a computer club session. The session was quickly with more students wanting to join in than we had capacity for.

Our technology partners ran taster sessions with their own equipment that allowed our students to try cutting-edge technology at little or no cost.

2) Find a Friend

There’s no reason to build a programme from scratch on your own. When I first started researching how to integrate VR into a viable learning programme, I visited a friend who is principal of five schools in Dubai, where he set up programmes using VR in the classroom. After a crash course in VR for education, I returned revived and ready to set something up. He’s now one of a growing group of educators I can confer with who are always willing to give advice.

With schools in the UK using VR with good results, and multiple technology partners now looking at its use in education, help is plentiful.

3) Start Small

A school doesn’t need full VR kit for every student. In fact, one of the best outcomes of using VR is that it fosters collaboration. For example, using a VR version of the game Crystal Maze, students work in teams on a mixture of physical, skill, and mystery maths puzzles. One student wears the headset while his team members guide him.

Schools can also share equipment. This provides a great opportunity to swap best practices and discuss experiences of what works most effectively.

4) Integrate VR into the Existing Curriculum

Integrating VR into the classroom is most successful when it’s a well-considered part of a lesson, not just a gimmick. Start with strong teaching pedagogy. All the bells and whistles of an exciting new technology are worth nothing if they can’t be anchored to good, solid learning.

Integrating VR into non-IT courses can offer an alternative way for students to acquire knowledge while creating deeper understanding of the subject. For example, if we talk about the bloodstream in class and then use a virtual environment to go inside the bloodstream, students instantly get a deeper understanding and will retain more information from the class.

5) Get Teachers and Parents Onboard Early

Some teachers may be afraid of the technology or of trying a teaching technique where students have more control over their learning. Find a few teachers who are prepared to use it in their classrooms and share how VR is making an impact in the way they teach.

You might meet with resistance from parents who don’t see the value of using a technology that could be used for gaming. This attitude generally changes quickly once students become more engaged in lessons and improve their exam results.


Students Are Engaged

Students who are at first intrigued by the technology quickly become immersed in the subject, turning from users to authors and creators. Not only are we making learning fun, but we’re enabling creativity and encouraging students to take ownership of their own education.

Parents Appreciate the Way Students Take Ownership of Their Learning

When you let go of the reins, students will surprise you. They start doing additional work or collaborate together virtually out of school hours. Others are not only playing educational games such as Crystal Maze—they’re also creating their own VR worlds. One group of students, for example, created a 360-degree virtual tour of their school.

Teachers Are Energised by a Collaborative Approach

When using VR in the classroom, lesson objectives are shared with students so they know what their goals are from the start. Teaching from above has turned into teaching as a collaborative experience. I walk away from a lesson feeling energised and revived.

Cutting-Edge Technology Helps Prepare Students for the Future World

I have no idea what problems my students are going to face in the next 10 years, but using cutting-edge technology such as VR in the classroom is helping them prepare for anything.

Intel® Education Visionary

Where to Get More Information

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